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On the road to Sao Paulo: Why The New York Times sees opportunity in Brazil

A growing economy, affluent readership, and international business are just a few of the reasons the Times is opening up a Portuguese-language site in 2013.

Foreign adventures seem to be in style for news companies these days, with newspapers and other media expanding their reach by opening up shop in new countries around the world.

On Monday, The New York Times announced it would launch a Portuguese-language site based in Brazil starting in 2013. This follows up the Times’ eastern expansion earlier this year with a Chinese-language edition. The setup in Sao Paulo will be similar to Beijing: The site will be a mix of translated articles from the Times and International Herald Tribune, alongside exclusive local content.

From a production-cost perspective, going abroad makes a sense for larger media companies that can afford it. If you’re publishing online, all you need is some staff, some translators, and office space. So why are media companies like the Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times set their sights on places like China and Brazil? (And in the case of The FT, a print edition no less.)

“It is the largest economy in Latin America, and as such it is a natural focus for Americans,” Joseph Kahn, the Times foreign editor, told me. A large economy that could mean another affluent audience to tap into for the Times and its advertisers. When the Times went into China, it lined up luxury brands like Cartier and Salvatore Ferragamo for launch. It’s likely they would be looking for similar high-end, global advertisers for the Brazilian market.

If they have reason to believe they will be successful in Brazil, it’s because the Times already has some name recognition. Times stories are syndicated in Portuguese through Brazilian newspapers through The New York Times News Service. In choosing Brazil for its latest outpost, the Times gets a country with ties to the U.S., international attention (the World Cup and summer Olympics will be coming there), and an entry into the Portuguese language market. “When you look at this specific country and foreign-language digital ventures, Portuguese is a very attractive language where we feel the western media is pretty lightly represented,” Kahn said.

Rosental Alves, director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and a native of Brazil, said Portuguese offers more opportunity for expansion for the Times right now. While Spanish would have offered an entry to more markets, Alves said the varying dialects and regional differences would have made it difficult to write for a universal audience.

More importantly, Alves said, Brazil is a home for a growing number of international companies. That gives the Times exposure to not just the local readers, but an international business audience. “The economy is booming,” he said. “Like Sulzberger said yesterday in Sao Paulo, Brazil is the place to invest at the moment.”

But there are a number of obstacles in the Brazilian market, Alves said. People in Sao Paulo are heavy information consumers who already have a steady stream of choices for news, he said. One of the bigger players is Terra, an information-portal that reaches readers throughout South America, Alves said.

At the moment, the Times is staffing up the Brazil site and plans to draw on Times reporters already located in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It’s a similar plan to the rollout in China. They’ll add a number of translators and local writers to round out the staff. Kahn told me the China site has offered a number of lessons they can apply when expanding into other international news sites.

“We’re learning a lot from the China site as we go along, in terms of what local readers who are not primarily English speakers are interested in reading from The New York Times,” he said.

One lesson from the China site, Kahn told me, is that readers wanted more news about China and Asia, even from an America media company. While that was expected, Kahn said they thought there would be more of an appetite for global and U.S. news as well. As a result, they are tinkering with their mix of local and international stories.

But Kahn said each new location will offer different challenges. One of the most important things for the Times to do is find local talent who can write locally with the style that is distinctive to the Times.

“At the end of the day, it will not just be a copy of the things we do in China, but tailored to what readers there want,” he said.

Image from autumnlight used under a Creative Commons license.

                                   
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