Why the New York Times chose Portuguese over Spanish

Sunday, October 21, 2012

After the recent announcement of the upcoming Portuguese edition of the New York Times (in 2013, only online), the next question to ask is why Portuguese over Spanish? One of the reasons is:

“The question with Spanish is, which Spanish? Mexico Spanish is different from Spain Spanish. [In addition,] there’s no great evidence that people in Mexico are desperately looking to know what’s going on in Argentina or vice versa.”

Point 1 is not really valid: Spanish, especially when written, is quite uniform and choosing to go with Mexican Spanish vs. Spain Spanish does not really make a difference in terms of readability, only atmosphere. But point 2 is valid: how does one acquire a readership? Simply having articles in Spanish does not mean that any Spanish speaker will flock to read them, and Spanish really is quite a fragmented language in terms of geopolitics and economy. You can't start a newspaper that mostly writes about Mexican politics and expect to get a lot of readership from Ecuador and Uruguay. A post I wrote two years ago comparing the GDP of Spanish vs. Portuguese makes this quite clear:

Spanish

Portuguese

So if you are a newspaper that wants to expand readership and is choosing between these two languages, your choices are: 1) go with Spanish and then debate which country to focus on, or continent, or focus on Spain and forget about Latin America, hmm... or 2) go with Portuguese, after which choosing Brazil is a no-brainer. Portuguese is much like English in this way. The place from which the language originates is a former empire that is not so empire-like anymore (UK, Portugal), there are a number of former colonies here and there (Canada/Australia/etc. and Angola/Macau/etc.), but one of the former colonies has now become the gravitational centre of the language (United States, Brazil) and the default area to appeal to when adding a new language to one's media empire.

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