The Washington Post Co. announced yesterday that it is buying El Tiempo Latino, an Arlington-based Spanish-language newsweekly, from Farragut Media Group Inc.

The purchase is The Post Co.'s most significant effort to date to connect with the rapidly growing Washington area Hispanic population, which now numbers roughly 447,000, according to 2000 census figures.

El Tiempo Latino, which has a circulation of 34,000, is distributed free at shops in the Hispanic community, at Metro stations and in selected Giant Food and 7-Eleven stores in the metropolitan area.

Its business and editorial operations will remain independent and under the control of its current leadership, although Post Co. executives and editors said The Post and El Tiempo Latino may collaborate on news gathering and advertising sales.

"El Tiempo Latino is an outstanding community newspaper, and it will play a vital role in The Post's ongoing efforts to reach the growing local Spanish-speaking community," Post publisher Boisfeuillet Jones Jr. said in a news release. "The transaction will help both El Tiempo Latino and The Post better meet the needs of Spanish-language readers and the advertisers who seek to reach them."

Post Co. officials would not disclose the purchase price.

El Tiempo is one of about two dozen weekly Spanish-language newspapers in the Washington area. One daily paper, three television stations, eight AM and FM radio stations, a cable network and various Web sites also serve the Spanish-speaking community.

Local Hispanic media leaders praised The Post's strategy of buying an established paper. "That does show some sensitivity on their part, to choose a partner with roots in the community," said Thomas Oliver, interim executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Publications. "The question is will [El Tiempo] be able to stay close to the values that are important to the Hispanic community?"

Since 2001, El Tiempo Latino and The Post have had an informal content-sharing relationship, in which El Tiempo Latino has the right to translate and reproduce Post staff stories and use staff photos. The Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr., said The Post and El Tiempo Latino may eventually "expand their cooperation on news coverage."

But Post and El Tiempo editors declined to speculate on how such a future collaboration would work.

"El Tiempo Latino is going to remain El Tiempo Latino. We don't have any plans for any joint editorial projects," said The Post's deputy managing editor, Milton Coleman, who helped initiate the deal.

"We think [El Tiempo] is good at the journalism they publish," Downie said, citing the fact that El Tiempo was recently named the Best Hispanic Weekly in the United States by the National Association of Hispanic Publications. "We hope as word spreads about the purchase and that there is this journalistic collaboration that people will want to read both newspapers."

Post Co. executives said the purchase made good business sense, given the area's changing demographics.

"[El Tiempo Latino] is close to their audience in ways that is difficult for an English-language general interest publication to be," said Christopher Ma, Post Co. vice president for planning and development of new business ventures.

"We're committed to supporting its growth but also ensuring that it will remain a community newspaper," he said. "We have a broad range of relationships with advertisers and will want to figure out ways to facilitate the advertising growth of this new part of the Post Company family."

El Tiempo Latino's publisher and editor-in-chief, Alberto Avendano, welcomed news of the sale. "A strong collaborative effort has just started and it's going to be an effort that is going to give prestige to the community that El Tiempo represents," he said in a telephone interview.

The Post Co. is not alone in reaching out to the Latino community. Elsewhere in the country, publishers including Tribune Co., Belo Corp. and Knight Ridder Inc. have launched Spanish-language efforts.

In recent years, The Post has tried various strategies to engage Spanish-language readers. The Washington Post Writers Group syndicates Marcela Sanchez's column, "Desde Washington," in Spanish and English to 36 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, Coleman said. Sanchez also appears twice a day on the local newscast on Noticias Univision Washington (WMDO-TV). The Post's assistant managing editor for sports, Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, discusses the latest sports headlines weekly on "Telenoticias 64" on WZDC-TV, the Telemundo affiliate in Washington.

For several years in the late 1990s, the Post ran Spanish-language soccer coverage periodically in the sports section, an experiment the paper is not likely to repeat, Coleman said.

"The purchase of El Tiempo Latino underscores the belief at The Post that the way to reach the Spanish-speaking audience isn't through the English-language Washington Post, and it's not by putting Spanish in the English-language Washington Post," he said.

Farragut Media Group's principal owner, Armando Chapelli Jr., founded El Tiempo Latino in 1991. He also owns Washington Consulting Group, which provides air traffic control training to the Federal Aviation Administration and private-sector clients. A longtime resident of Bethesda, he now lives in Florida.

Chapelli said he decided to sell El Tiempo Latino because "it came to a point where the newspaper needed to become a permanent institution, rather than a small business that might get swallowed up by outsiders."

Chapelli said he had been approached recently by other interested buyers but turned them down, having already committed to The Post.

"The logical place for our paper was The Washington Post Co.," Chapelli said. "We did not have any interest in selling to someone from the West Coast or Texas or Chicago or Miami."

Local publishers serving the Hispanic community had mixed responses, with some wary of taking on a large corporate competitor.

"It could pose a severe challenge to community-owned newspapers," said Robert Bard, publisher of the District-based bimonthly English-language magazine Latina Style. "Just because El Tiempo is associated with The Washington Post . . . ad agencies [may be] much more willing to invest in them than other little papers you have in town."

Others said they were optimistic that the Post's toehold in the Spanish-media market portends a bigger advertising pie for everyone.

"I always said the day The Washington Post starts something in Spanish or acquires a Spanish-language media company is the day corporate America is going to start paying attention to Hispanics in this area," said Johnny Yataco, editor of District-based Washington Hispanic. "It brings credibility to this market."

Staff writer Frank Ahrens contributed to this report.