Hispanic Newspapers Fill the Gap

Coverage of Spanish-speaking neighborhoods serves to counter negative mainstream press

EXTRA Bilingual Community Newspapers, a group of seven neighborhood editions, are carving out a profitable niche in Chicago's media landscape.

Circulation is up 10 percent and advertising revenues have risen 40 percent in the last year, despite a slow economy.

"Extra has been very successful in reaching a variety of audiences," says Jim Martinez, an adjunct professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. "It reaches Hispanic audiences, and it has become the neighborhood newspaper for English speakers as well."

Every article in the paper appears in both Spanish and English. Has Extra offended Hispanic readers by going bilingual? "Apparently not," Mr. Martinez says.

"We do investigations that result in action because we're bilingual," says Mary Montgomery, the paper's executive editor.

"Leaders in the business and political community are able to read us and find out what is on the mind of Hispanics," says Mila Tellez, the publisher. "We bring attention to problems, and solutions come faster."

The National Association of Hispanic Publications reports that a small percentage of the nation's approximately 350 Spanish-language papers are bilingual.

Typically, Hispanic newspapers have to maintain a delicate balance between the interests of various Hispanic communities, including Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and South American nationalities. Extra studiously avoids controversy by producing seven zoned editions each week. Because most of the reporting is original material, "local editions pick up a mix of news from the neighborhood, thereby reflecting the nationalities in the community," Ms. Montgomery says.

The paper was founded 11 years ago by Tellez and Montgomery, who met while serving on jury duty. They saw a market that could be tapped.

"The mainstream media does not get into the nitty-gritty of everyday life [in the Hispanic community]," Tellez says. "Sometimes the mainstream media feels that if they have taken a picture of someone with a sombrero, they have covered the Hispanic community."

"When there is a problem, a killing, a riot at the school, they are here," says Montgomery. "When we [the Hispanic community] do something good, nobody notices."

Tellez's and Montgomery's comments mirror a broad consensus among Hispanics about the failings of the news media.

"The Hispanic community feels it is being discriminated against consciously by the mainstream media," says Aurora Flores, spokeswoman for the Latino Coalition for Fair Media in New York. Ms. Flores says that discrimination was explicit during her tenure at a major television station. "Many times I would come to the assignment desk and tell them that something good was happening in the community, and they would totally ignore me. Unless somebody was being raped, or somebody was being killed, it was not an

important story."

The interview with Tellez and Montgomery in Extra's Northwest Chicago offices is punctuated by the yells and shouts of children playing in the street outside. Again and again, the editors refer to these kids as their future.

"It's in the Hispanic areas that you are having to build new schools," Montgomery says. "The 1990 Census shows that Chicago is 20 percent Hispanic, while the school system is 30 percent Hispanic." Similar numbers are reported nationwide, especially in large urban centers that are destinations for new immigrants.

DePaul University's Small Business Institute surveyed Extra's readers and found that almost 60 percent were between the ages of 18 and 35. Extra tries to involve young readers. "We'll deliver 1,000 papers at the high school, and they're gone just like that," Tellez says, snapping her fingers. "Readership loyalty builds up. Kids graduate, and they are staying in the community."

Extra is also used in English-as-a-second-language programs in local night schools. "You are challenging people when every article is in English and Spanish," Tellez says.

The Chicago paper was sold by Tellez and Montgomery in February to HispaniMedia, a New York-based company that intends to acquire Hispanic newspapers in the top eight or 10 markets. The shift in ownership left Tellez and Montgomery in charge. "When the free-trade agreement comes in 1996, if you have bilingual products, you can serve both countries," Tellez says. "You have a system that can process information in both languages."

Tino Duran, president of the National Association of Hispanic Publications, is more cautious about bilingual publishing. The bilingual approach works better in some markets than others, he says. Mr. Duran publishes two papers in Texas: La Prensa in San Antonio and El Informador Hispano in Fort Worth. In San Antonio, articles appearing in English are well received, he says. Yet when he tried to introduce articles in English in his Fort Worth paper, he lost readers.

"You have a lot of people from South and Central America [in Fort Worth], while in San Antonio you have Hispanics of Mexican descent," Duran says. He and other publishers of Spanish-language papers say that Hispanic-Americans from South and Central America tend to be more conservative and to favor Spanish-only papers. Hispanic-Americans from Puerto Rico and Mexico are more receptive to bilingual reporting, Duran says.

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