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Media: Finding its Footing - Miami-Dade- May 2003

When Alberto Ibarg?en took over the publisher's seat at the Miami Herald in August 1998, circulation was falling, revenue was flat and newsroom morale was at an all-time low following yet another round of cutbacks. San Jose-based Knight Ridder, the Herald's owner, had given Ibarg?en a clear mandate: Increase the daily's profit margin from 18% to 22% within three years.

Ibarg?en says he achieved that goal a year early and has been exceeding it since then. Although he declined to provide figures, he says the Miami Herald today is among Knight Ridder's most profitable newspapers. Meanwhile, many news staffers, while lamenting the downsizing that has occurred at the Herald and other dailies nationwide, say a clearer editorial vision at the Herald in recent years has boosted morale.

"By just about any measure that Knight Ridder uses -- financial or editorial -- the Miami Herald is one of their top-performing newspapers," says Ibarg?en. "Our finances are good, but so is our self-image."

Ibarg?en attributes much of the financial turnaround to the Herald's decision to separate its Spanish-language supplement, El Nuevo Herald, and market it as a stand-alone daily.

"The reality of Miami-Dade is that there are a half a million people here who either can't read English or who prefer to read their news in Spanish," says Ibarg?en, a lawyer by training and the Herald's first Hispanic publisher. "By splitting the papers, we significantly extended our reach."

Indeed, the combined daily circulation of the two papers has bucked industry trends by jumping from about 349,000 five years ago to just under 392,000 -- 303,575 for the Herald and 88,024 for El Nuevo Herald. The Herald also produces the faux alternative newsweekly Street in addition to a number of tourist publications.

To be sure, the Herald, like other dailies in an industry that demands profit margins well in excess of 20%, is a leaner operation. Gone are many of the far-flung bureaus around the state and the globe that helped the paper garner an international reputation.

In their place, the Herald has shifted resources to the business news section, sports and most notably the investigative team, which routinely chronicles public corruption and the inefficiencies of local government.

Some worry if Knight Ridder's thirst for profits may lead to even more staff cuts and belt-tightening. Although Miami-Dade has fared better than most regions during the current economic downturn, advertisers are skittish, and the Herald's ad revenue is down.

"Newspapers are usually a very accurate reflection of a local economy," says Ibarg?en. "It's a very nervous time for us right now."


MEDLEY - Sysco Food Services of South Florida will build a 450,000-sq.-ft. distribution center in Medley. The new center will allow the company to add about 120 jobs to its existing payroll of 575.

MIAMI - The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta is transferring its check-processing operations in Miami to a similar branch in Jacksonville, affecting about 70 employees. The bank hasn't said how many workers it will lay off.

The city has awarded a $4-million contract to the Related Group of Florida to build a 1,000-foot pedestrian greenway at the mouth of the Miami River. The project is part of an effort to attract full-time residents to Miami's central business district. The Related's nearby One Miami tower will be the area's first residential high-rise in more than 50 years when it opens in 2005.

The City Commission gave the go-ahead for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau to build an $11.7-million headquarters on Watson Island, which city officials envision as a hub for tourism in Miami-Dade. Watson Island, with bridge access to both downtown Miami and Miami Beach, is also the site of the new Parrot Jungle Island attraction due to open this summer.

To the applause of preservationists, the city of Miami's historic City Hall has reopened following a $1.6-million restoration. The two-story art deco building was built in 1934 as a waterfront passenger terminal for Pan American World Airways' fleet of ocean-going seaplanes. Last summer workers discovered murals and other artistic details hidden behind ceilings and wall coverings.

MIAMI-DADE -- Overall violent crime in the unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade County dropped 5% in 2002. Since 1996 the rate has dropped 44%. The decline mirrors national trends, but local law enforcement officials also cite a list of crime-fighting initiatives.

Alienware Corp., a maker of high-end PCs and workstations, will build a 90,000-sq.-ft. headquarters and manufacturing facility in the Kendall-Tamiami area. The company expects to roughly double its existing workforce of 150 over the next three years.

Residents of two more Miami-Dade communities have voted to form their own cities. Voters in Doral, an affluent suburb west of Miami International Airport, overwhelmingly endorsed the plan. But county officials expressed surprise at the result of a similar referendum in a predominately black section of north Miami-Dade. Critics say residents of the new city (which has yet to select a name) may be forced to pay higher taxes.

Palm Beach County-based Agro Soils will open a 435,000-sq.-ft. facility in west Miami-Dade, adding about 22 jobs over the next three years. Agro Soils creates customized soils and products for the landscape industry.

Solidifying Miami's claim as the world's Latin music capital, the Latin Recording Academy of Arts & Sciences -- the group that sponsors the Latin Grammy Awards -- plans to establish its permanent headquarters here. Miami routinely competes against Los Angeles and New York to host the annual event.

Clothing manufacturer Perry Ellis International (Nasdaq-PERY) plans to acquire New York-based Salant Corp., the company that holds the rights to market and distribute products under the Perry Ellis label. By consolidating the manufacturing and marketing operations, executives hope to better compete against other name-brand clothing manufacturers.

MONROE COUNTY -- In a landmark case, the County Commission has agreed to pay $5.9 million to two Key Largo property owners who claim the county unfairly placed development restrictions on lands that public officials had targeted for conservation. The county acquired the land at a discount in 1990 when the owners exhausted their development efforts.


MIAMI-DADE -- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport continues to soar at the expense of its southern rival, Miami International Airport. The Broward airport reported a record 17 million passengers in 2002, up 3.8%, while Miami International Airport reported a drop of 5.1% -- its fifth consecutive decline -- to 30.1 million.

Lower landing fees and a large presence by discount carriers have kept ticket prices low at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood. Meanwhile, aging Miami International Airport continues to suffer from a weak Latin American economy and from passenger complaints. A recent Conde Nast Traveler magazine survey ranked the airport the sixth-worst in the U.S.; Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood was ranked 11th-best.