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Try a little togetherness: Hispanic community publishers join forces, seek profits



Two donkeys, tied together at their tails, grace a series of pictures in the office at 2609 S. Lawndale.

In the first picture, each donkey sees a large pile of hay in front of him. The second shows a vain struggle, as each tries to pull the other toward his pile. In the third, the idea light bulb appears. In the fourth, the two donkeys have moved together and are eating one of the piles of hay. A fifth would no doubt show the first pile gone and the donkeys chomping away at the second.

Cooperation, not competition. Those donkeys appear on the wall of a group called the Hispanic United Publishers, but cooperation appears to be an elusive goal for Chicago's dozen or so Hispanic newspapers.

HUP was formed in May 1986 as the first association of, by, for, and limited to Chicago-area Hispanic publishers. It recently celebrated its first anniversary by renting office space and hiring a secretary.

"Our idea is to unite the Hispanic press," claims Alicia Santelices, HUP president and publisher of El Imparcial. "The purpose is mainly economic. As a combined force we get better rates on distribution and printing. We can go to companies together and present a more effective case for advertising."

The HUP newspapers circulate throughout Chicago's Hispanic communities--Pilsen, Little Village, Logan Square, Humboldt Park, West Town, Uptown, South Chicago. So does the Sun-Times. Why should advertisers spend money on the Spanish-language press? "Because Hispanics don't read the Sun-Times or the Tribune," says Thomas Alvarez, publisher of La Voz de Chicago, a member of HUP.

Santelices disputes the claim that Hispanics do not read metropolitan English-language dailies. But she insists that they also read the Spanish-language papers, which are generally free weeklies available at supermarkets and other stores.

"Hispanics read the dailies," she claims. "But the Tribune and Sun-Times are not interested in what goes on here. They don't say what happens in the Hispanic communities. That is why people read our newspapers, and that is why companies should advertise with us."

Alvarez agrees that there is an economic motivation for unity among the Spanish weeklies, but he sees implications for the community as well. "One reason that Hispanics in the past had trouble uniting as a community was that we were more interested in fighting one another. It would be nice if our example of cooperation could be followed by others."

Chicago has had Spanish-language newspapers ever since the first Mexican settlements in South Chicago during the early years of this century. As often as not, they have been haphazard operations with irregular circulation. (One paper often boasted, "Our 50,000 copies are picked up so fast that if you don't hurry, none will be left"--but few of those 50,000 copies were to be found anywhere.) At times publication of a week's issue might hinge upon the publisher floating a loan based on projected advertising for the following week's paper.

And as often as not, they spent much of their space criticizing each other. "Some of the most entertaining prose in the Spanish-language papers involved one publisher's grudge against another," comments a veteran observer of the Hispanic press.

From time to time, other attempts have been made at unity. Those attempts have met with skepticism from the more established press.

"Every now and then someone would approach me with the idea of forming a local press association. I always declined," recalls Morris Kaplan, former publisher of the English-language Lawndale News. Kaplan (whose paper has the largest circulation of any community paper in the Hispanic Pilsen and Little Village communities) commented, "I wasn't impressed with the idea of working with papers that had no circulation."

The newspapers, in short, lacked discipline as well as funds. And one of the accomplishments of Hispanic United Publishers has been the imposition of certain minimal standards on its members.

"We set down rules right away," said Santelices. "Each paper must publish every week. It must contain at least 12 pages and have a circulation of at least 10,000. Most important, each newspaper must be Hispanic-owned."

Those rules were made to satisfy advertisers with a new level of sophistication, she notes. "Before, companies didn't care about circulation or frequency. They would buy advertising just to appease the Hispanic community. That's not the case anymore. The advertisers want assurance that their message is reaching a market. They check the printing and distribution invoices."

Editorial content has not been standardized--nor is that a goal. The six member newspapers display sharply contrasting styles.

El Dia, the "lightest" of the six papers, always displays a pretty woman's picture over at least half the front page. Inside news consists of a few wire service stories, plus entertainment and sports features. Pilsen-based El Informador sticks to local news, plus a weekly philosophical column. (The obligatory pretty lady on the cover tends to give its stories a cheesecake rather than hard-news aspect.) Impacto, like El Dia, keeps away from the heavier issues. Recent cover stories included an upcoming Mexico versus Brazil soccer game and a report of fraud in the Miss Mexico contest.

La Opinion contains local, national, and international news and offers more photographs than the others, including a society page. (The abundance of photos is no accident, since the publishers also own a photography studio.) La Voz de Chicago is the closest in style to the traditional community newspaper, the community being the southeast side and northwest Indiana. The paper includes a weekly column by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.

El Imparcial offers the hardest news of the six, with feature stories on such topics as the immigration service's legalization program, Hispanic dissatisfaction with the CTA, and the plight of the homeless in Chicago. These stories are accompanied by the editorials, news briefs, and sports columns common to all the Hispanic papers.

Even though each newspaper has a circulation of 10,000 and identical distribution, Santelices claims that their varying editorial content allows the papers to approach potential advertisers and claim a larger overall circulation for all six papers put together. "We can show six different papers at 10,000 copies each--60,000 copies altogether," she says. "Readers can decide what they want among newspapers. They offer completely different views. Some have more politics than others, some offer more sports or photographs or society news."

Kaplan disagrees. "Regardless of any editorial differences, those newspapers are going to have an overlap in circulation if they have identical distribution," he says.

Santelices admits that there is some overlap, but adds that circulation figures are deceptively low when discussing Spanish-language newspapers. "If you live by yourself, you read a newspaper and throw it away. But most Hispanics take the newspaper home. It goes to the wife, a cousin, a brother-in-law, a friend visiting from Puerto Rico. The Hispanic family is extended and so is the readership of the paper."

The publishers go in unison to the large advertisers--Old Style, Marlboro, Jewel and Dominick's, McDonald's, Illinois Bell, Commonwealth Edison, the mayor's office--to solicit advertising that will appear as a package in all six papers. Each paper is free to negotiate with smaller, local businesses for advertising that will appear in its own pages. Thus South Chicago pharmacies and restaurants need not advertise in the north-side-based Impacto.

The HUP newspapers are not without their critics. Most come from newspapers in a rival press association, the National Association of Hispanic Publications.

Six local publications belong to the National Association: La Raza, which features local and international news plus special columns of news from Central and South America; El Heraldo, offering local and Mexican news plus an extensive travel section; Momento, heavy on local news; Extra Publications, near northwest-side community newspapers that print all their stories in both Spanish and English; Lawndale News, strictly a community newspaper; and Teleguia, a Spanish-language television guide.

"The NAHP consists of 44 newspapers across the nation, including dailies in Los Angeles and New York," claims Extra publisher Mila Tellez, who says her newspapers have been members of the national group for several years. "We get together on advertising, both local and national, just as black and Anglo press groups have done. In order to join the National Association of Hispanic Publishers, a paper must publish consecutively for one year, submit to a verified circulation audit, and follow the association's code of ethics."

NAHP papers include Chicago's two most popular Hispanic publications, according to a 1985 survey, La Raza and El Heraldo. Those associated with these papers are among the most critical of the HUP newspapers.

"It's an association of lightweight newspapers, ma-and-pa papers without any definite character," charges La Raza editor Fabio Marin. "They are periodiquillos [baby newspapers] whose owners spew propaganda. They are not investigative. They have poor structure.

"In my opinion, their reporters are people who came from auto mechanics classes. Many of them are photographers advertising their own businesses. Newspapers like Momento or La Raza are serious and competitive. To consider La Raza on their level would be a disgrace."

"Their tactics are not too ethical. That's why I left," adds El Heraldo publisher Joe Garcia, whose newspaper was one of the original HUP members. "There were a lot of threats of boycotts. They would print, "We are boycotting a beer distributor,' without saying which one. Then they would go to Miller and Budweiser and Old Style and threaten action unless the company placed ads. Working like that, eventually your actions will come back to haunt you. That's why I left."

HUP members ignore or refute the rival group's claims. "We may not have the quantity of some, but in quality, we are the winners. We are all professionals with many years' experience," claims La Opinion publisher Felix Caceres.

"We have been around here a long time," adds Jorge Montes de Oca, El Dia publisher. "The publisher of La Raza, he has been there only three years. The publisher of Momento was my secretary only two or three years ago."

Santelices dismisses any accusations of extortion. "That is an out-and-out lie. The person you mention spoke from a grudge," she claims. "We removed him from our association because he would not live up to our [publishing] requisites."

Santelices reiterates what she believes is the HUP strength. "We are Hispanic publishers. Non-Hispanics are not permitted in our organization."

"We don't need non-Hispanics to succeed," notes Alvarez. "What interest does the publisher of the Extra have in the Spanish community?"

He adds, "Many Hispanics, when they have the money, flee to the suburbs. But all of us live in the neighborhoods--Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Pilsen, Little Village, South Chicago."

The HUP publishers all profess a higher goal than the financial--improvement of the local Hispanic community by means of the press.

"We are on a crusade for the Hispanic community," says Alvarez. "We can do many things to make the community aware, like promoting voter-registration drives, lowering the dropout and divorce rates. We are building a new community on the southeast side with better streets and stores, in part because our paper attacked do-nothing legislators."

"Our newspapers promote literacy; they make people want to read," Santelices comments. "They also play a major role in bringing pride to our communities. We promote role models and leaders among Latinos. We tell our kids that they can go to school and succeed, that they too can be alderman, mayor, governor. We tell the parents that they can improve schools and businesses.

"The papers also bring tangible financial benefits to the community," she adds. "We use local secretaries and photographers. We give help to the community by bringing money from outside into the community."

"Radio and television have Hispanic workers. We are the only Spanish-language medium that is Hispanic-owned," Alvarez says. "We are all veteran journalists and could make better money with other media. But we bring to the community a seriousness that is lacking in other media. Radio is music, la la la. Television is violence, bang bang bang. The press is, 'The high school dropout rate is . . . '"

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.

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