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Eastern Group Publications: Staying Grounded in East L.A.

NCM Profile

NCM, Catherine Black and Martin Espinoza Posted: Jul 16, 2003

Although Eastern Group Publications (EGP) may not command the name recognition of other Los Angeles media outlets, EGP has cast a broad swath through a highly diversified, multi-channel media enterprise while still delivering strong local content covering most of East L.A.

Jonathan and Dolores Sanchez, publishers of EGP

EGP was founded in 1979 by the enterprising husband and wife team Jonathan and Dolores Sanchez, but its deep foundations in the community were laid much earlier by former East L.A. media pioneer Joseph Kovner. Kovner founded The Eastside Sun—EGP’s flagship newspaper—in 1945, gradually adding on the East Los Angeles Brooklyn-Belvedere Comet, the City Terrace Comet, the Mexican American Sun, the Wyvernwood Chronicle, the Montebello Comet and the Monterey Park Comet.

The Kovner papers had become the main source of news for L.A.’s eastside and surrounding communities, but by the time the Sanchez’s took over, it was on the brink of bankruptcy. Dolores Sanchez had long dreamed of publishing a newspaper in the community where she grew up, so the former Carter Administration labor commissioner and founding member of the University of California Annenberg School of Communications, Minority Newspaper Council assembled a small group of investors to buy out the Kovner chain.

A combination of the Sanchez’s perseverance, recognized community leadership and resourcefulness, saw the fledgling EGP through its first few years on a shoestring budget. By 1995, they had added three more newspapers to their chain: The Northeast Sun, The Commerce Comet and The Bell Gardens Sun.

Now boasting a combined audited circulation of 104,000 reaching an estimated 450,000 readers, the ten weekly newspapers comprising EGP have become institutions in East L.A.’s predominantly Latino communities. With plans to increase their distribution in Montebello, EGP associate publisher and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Sanchez estimates that circulation figures should rise up to 125,000 by the end of the year.

Distributed door-to-door as well as in newsstands, the newspapers command a penetration and audience loyalty that most other free weeklies dream of. “Numbers,” says Sanchez, “are not as important as credibility in the end.”

But the real strength of EGP’s editorial and business insight is its commitment to producing original, highly localized and community-oriented news. EGP offers its readers a core of common contents—sections like Health, General News, Government Action—and, more importantly, a significant number of unique beats developed in each newspaper’s target community.

For example, credited with having pioneered the bilingual format that has since been adopted by other Latino newspapers, EGP is highly sensitive to its audiences’ diverse linguistic needs in ways that most other bilingual media aren’t. For example, stories on changes in immigration laws are written in Spanish for immigrant readers. Articles on school board controversies might be written in English but translated into Spanish the following week. Stories on health, like diabetes and heart disease might be in both languages the same week as they are of immediate interest to everyone.

Perhaps reflecting Dolores Sanchez’s background in state politics, EGP consistently covers stories and issues that heighten its readers’ awareness of local and regional politics—from legislative datelines to investigative reporting on government initiatives and promises kept or broken. While not afraid of taking political positions, these are “only based on the input we get from our readers,” notes Jonathan Sanchez.

“We have a commitment to represent the voices of our readers, both here and up in Sacramento,” he adds. This commitment to local representation has won both husband and wife widespread recognition as community leaders and advocates in addition to being newspaper publishers.

For years, as the Chairman of the Western Region National Hispanic Publishers Association, Jonathan led an annual delegation to the State Capitol to meet with key legislators and educate them on issues affecting Latino communities. More recently, the Sanchez’s have brought community organizations, corporations and elected officials together to address questions ranging from healthcare to the public utilities.

By hosting “power breakfasts,” EGP has even facilitated cross-sector partnerships—for example, between corporate advertisers and community-based organizations—that would not happen otherwise. “We know how important relationships are in this business,” observes Jonathan, “and we’ve always invested a lot back into the community.”

This humanistic philosophy even translates into EGP’s editorial approach, giving it a more intimate and optimistic face than most mainstream or even large ethnic media outlets maintain. While discussing an upcoming profile of a Latino youth who overcame severe obstacles to his success, Jonathan explains, “We need to offset the negative stereotypes of Latinos that we’re so used to. It’s important to tell positive stories too, because I think that the statistics that come out are skewed and they skew our perception of ourselves.”

Over the past quarter century, EGP has created a valuable niche for itself as a voice for L.A.’s growing Latino audiences otherwise ill-represented by the media. “We can’t afford to allow that anymore, and that’s why it’s important that we continue to own our own media because it’s through this medium that we can carry honest information for and about our communities. We have a responsibility to do that.”

Eastern Group Publications is online at www.egpnews.com

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