By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
One afternoon in the fall of 1985, three disgruntled employees gathered for lunch at the Luby's Cafeteria at Interstate 635 and Midway Road. They didn't know it, but their meeting would be one of the more portentous in the history of Hispanic Dallas, signaling a new course for the city's Hispanic press.
The trio was a microcosm of whatever the word "Hispanic" means. One, petite Emmy Silva, was an immigrant from Mexico. The second was her husband, bronze-skinned, laid-back Juan, who came from Guatemala City. The third was Marcos Nelson Suarez, a 35-year-old white Cuban, high-strung like a caged panther. All three worked at El Sol de Texas, the city's first Spanish-language newspaper.
Emmy had been the publisher's secretary and bookkeeper for nearly 17 years. Juan, a carpenter, had taken a job as El Sol's assistant pressman 15 years earlier, then shifted into advertising sales. "I did everything, at one time or another, even washed the windows," he recalls. Emmy had been in the United States since her teens; Juan, 37, had come more than 20 years earlier. They married, began a family, and became accustomed to American life.
Suarez, on the other hand, was a relative newcomer to both the United States and the newspaper trade. He was a "Marielito," one of the Cubans who arrived in Miami during the 1980 boatlift from the port of Mariel. The Marielitos stood out among other Cuban exiles like a sore thumb. Some were former mental patients. Others, criminals who'd been steeled and wizened by Cuba's severe penal regimes, committed new crimes and became the nightmare of American wardens. But some, like Suarez, who was first confined at the age of 16, had been imprisoned for purely political offenses. Though he says that "in Cuba there is no efficiency," when Suarez wasn't in jail, he worked as an efficiency expert--an unpopular job anywhere. Suarez, a reporter at El Sol, was used to going against the grain.
Meeting over lunch, the three shared their discontent. Working at El Sol wasn't the same anymore, they all agreed. Almost everyone on the staff, which at times numbered 22 employees, had always grumbled that the weekly didn't pay handsomely. But the paper had recently been sold, and things were getting even worse.
A new business manager had been brought to the paper from Guadalajara and lost no time in making his mark. "He told me, right off, that he was going to take 5 percent of my commissions for himself," Juan Silva says.
"I told him that I paid for my own gasoline and drove my own car, and that I paid for my own medical insurance. 'Everything I make, I make myself,' I told him. 'I have a family now, and if you take money that I earn myself, that's theft. Why do you want to steal from me?' I asked him. He said, 'Because you're earning too much.'"
Juan Silva tolerated the imposition, which ended when the new manager was replaced by one not much better. But he was growing frustrated with El Sol. Emmy Silva was already thinking about quitting, and Suarez was on the verge, too. But all three felt that merely quitting was not enough. "Somebody should start a competing newspaper," Suarez declared.
Six months earlier, everyone at El Sol, including the three people sitting at the Luby's table, would have rolled their eyes at the suggestion, for business as well as heartfelt reasons. El Sol wasn't just an employer; it was an institution. Working there wasn't just a job; it was part of a cause. The paper attracted people who understood its gadfly--almost provisional--position on the Dallas scene. Feeling like members of a besieged family, they had put up with the low pay and other troubles of working at El Sol.
But the luncheon conversation served as one of the first acknowledgments that times were changing, that loyalties to the paper were under strain. El Sol's hold on its workers--and the Spanish-language newspaper market in Dallas--was slipping away.
Worker loyalty is what helped El Sol de Texas slowly build itself into the city's dominant Spanish-language paper. The objects of that loyalty were Jesus "Jesse" Gutierrez, the paper's publisher, and his wife, Sara--affectionately known as Sarita--the paper's editor.
Jesse was a Mexican from Torreon, educated at the National Autonomous University. He'd come to the United States in the late 1940s as a city desk reporter for La Prensa, the Spanish-language daily that, until World War II, outsold all other newspapers in San Antonio.
"When I came to the United States, I came legally," Gutierrez recalls. "I came in at Eagle Pass, started the paperwork for residency at 10 o'clock in the morning, and by 3 o'clock that afternoon, I had my green card in hand. But this was 50 years ago, when immigration was much easier."
After leaving La Prensa, Gutierrez worked as an announcer at San Antonio's first Spanish-language radio station, KCOR. He and Sara, an Argentine with a background in journalism, moved to Dallas in 1965, taking jobs as a waiter and hostess at the El Fenix and El Chico restaurant chains.
They began thinking about founding a Spanish-language weekly in Dallas. In 1966, they rented an office and brought out the first edition of El Sol. It was a flimsy beginning, and the couple even hawked their 10-cent paper outside of Catholic masses.
Keeping the paper going was an uphill struggle, as was living in Dallas. "We found the city to be very unfriendly, hostile, and cold," Sara recalls. "As an Argentine, I was shocked by the discrimination. I had read about things like that, but I had never seen it."
"And the isolation!" she adds. "You had immigrants, businessmen and workers who had come from Mexico, and Chicanos, born here. They faced common problems, but they had no means of communicating among themselves."
The late Dallas Times Herald, she says, "was a little better at trying to understand the issues than The Dallas Morning News, whose coverage doesn't deserve mentioning even today. But neither of these papers really understood, or paid much attention."
In the mid-1960s, there was little reason to believe that there was a large enough market to support a Spanish-language paper. Only some 85,000 Spanish-speakers lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to census figures--though there were thousands more who, being here illegally, had evaded the count. But most of the city's Spanish-speaking population was native-born, and many read the language only poorly. Jesse and Sara Gutierrez were playing against the odds. They had 3,000 copies of the first issue of El Sol printed, and the edition didn't sell out.
"At the beginning, people didn't see the necessity of a newspaper. We had to cultivate the idea in their minds. It wasn't an easy job," Jesse says today.
The couple's initial efforts were aided--and then hampered--by the crew that joined them at the newspaper's birth. During its earliest days, everyone's effort was aimed at getting the newspaper out, not earning salaries or enjoying profits. Jesse and Sara's closest collaborator was Guadalupe Duarte, a Times Herald employee with agitation on his mind and ambitions of his own.
Duarte was, quite simply, an advocate of Chicano power. Jesse and Sara shared his views, but also approached their fledgling effort with the caution of business people.
Duarte picked the right place to press his political agenda. The early seventies were a time of turmoil, especially among Mexican-Americans. With photos and reportage, for example, El Sol gave extensive coverage to the 1973 riot that broke out during protests of the police killing of 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez. The paper clamored for an investigation of the case, one whose ultimate outcome was a finding of murder.
In those difficult days, the newspaper became an oasis for leaders of the Chicano protest movement from Dallas and across the country. Among those stopping by the paper's office on McKinney Avenue was Jose Angel Gutierrez, now a Dallas lawyer and UTA professor, at that time a resident of Crystal City and a leader of the Raza Unida Party. California's Cesar Chavez, Denver's Corky Gonzales, and even New Mexico firebrand Reyes Tijerina stopped in, too. The paper was a crossroads for local and national Chicano leaders. It was the place in Dallas to make connections.
Over time, Anglo politicians paid their respects as well. Both U.S. senators from Texas--Republican John Tower and Democrat Lloyd Bentsen--made El Sol a venue on the campaign trail. Letters of praise poured in from presidents of both parties, candidates, and officials on-the-make. El Sol's very existence underscored the existence of an overlooked constituency, and the pols took note.
Neither the city's convulsion nor El Sol's prominence, however, ever translated into much money. Some members of the staff--not to mention mere contributors--weren't paid. "At first we couldn't pay Duarte for his articles because we didn't have the money," Jesse admits. "So we paid him in newspapers. He and his son would go out selling them, and that's how they made any money that they made."
But the newspaper itself proved that there was a market for papers that spoke to the Hispanic community. That promise inspired defections. Duarte was the first to go, setting out on his own with a publication called Chicano Power. A couple of years after it failed, he launched another weekly, the Tejano News. Neither prospered, and after each of the efforts failed, Gutierrez welcomed Duarte back to El Sol. Duarte was employed at El Sol when he died, more than 10 years after the weekly's founding.
Duarte was not the only one who tried to compete. An Anglo, James Cain, was one of El Sol's original supporters, but like Duarte, Cain launched a newspaper of his own. The short-lived weekly was called La Luz. An advertising salesman, Pete Nunez, christened a competitor as well, but like the others, it failed.
"None of these papers really were competitors to me," Gutierrez says. "Except for El Aurora, which lasted about two years. It survived because they followed us. When we went out to distribute El Sol, they tailed us to see where we were headed. When we went out to sell ads, they weren't far behind."
Ultimately, advertising for cigarettes and Danal's, a Dallas-area grocery chain catering to the Hispanic market, allowed El Sol to stay afloat. Yet the profits that his competitors had hoped to split never came, Gutierrez says. "As the years went by, we lived better from the newspaper than we did at first, but as for profits, we never had any to speak of," he claims.
In 1985, the drama that had been the newspaper's life came abruptly to an end. Jesse and Sara Gutierrez were approached by a group of three investors, two of them Anglos. The couple sold their newspaper to the trio, one of whom, Charles Orten, remains on the scene. El Sol's new owners brought in a new executive team--including the new sales manager who demanded the override from Silva.
Unwittingly, it was the new bosses who inspired the nearly conspiratorial lunch at Luby's in 1985.
Though disgruntled, the three employees still felt lingering loyalty toward El Sol. Given the history of failures by upstart challengers, launching a new paper seemed like a radical move--and one doomed to fail.
As they talked, an idea struck Emmy Silva, who knew the paper's books and knew that advertising alone could pay most of a newspaper's cost. "There ought to be a new newspaper," she suggested. "But it ought to be free." The trio discussed the prospect and agreed that El Sol's policy of selling single copies and mail subscriptions discouraged both readership and circulation.
But none of the unhappy employees resolved to do anything. Emmy Silva soon resigned from the newspaper, while Juan soldiered on. Suarez moved to Corpus Christi, where he launched an ill-fated Spanish-language news service.
It would be another year before the fruits of the Luby's meeting were born.
Late in 1986, Marcos Suarez telephoned Emmy Silva to let her know that he was back in Dallas, and that he'd returned to launch a free weekly paper to compete with El Sol. "That's funny," she remarked. "Juan and I have just decided to do the same thing."
Cooperation was out of the question, she says, "because I always believed that a business has to be family-owned." The three onetime pals from El Sol now confronted each other not as partners in a new venture, but as competitors. Or so it seemed.
Suarez and his wife, Guadalupe Colmenero, a Mexican national, prepared the first edition of their start-up El Hispano News on a kitchen table in late 1986. A few weeks afterward, the Silvas began doing the same with their new weekly, El Extra. "It took us 48 hours of nonstop work to put together that first issue," Emmy Silva says.
But the city's new Hispanic publishers had an edge, and they knew it: Each planned to give their papers away, meaning broader circulation. "El Sol's circulation was about 7,000 at the time," Juan Silva reminisces. "We printed a little more than twice as many. At the print shop, I ran into a man from El Sol, and I called him over to my pickup, which was loaded. 'Look at that,' I told him. 'I just want you to see what 15,000 newspapers look like.'"
Within a year, both newspapers were paying their costs. El Sol was forced to abandon paid circulation and was surviving in the giveaway market. People at all three papers were stunned by the miracle of their mutual survival.
The roots of success were planted in a changing city. The emerging newspapers came about just in time to ride an increasing wave of Mexican immigration to Dallas. Nobody knows how many immigrants arrived--since most of them came illegally--but the city went from being a largely Chicano, or Mexican-American, town to being an immigrant city.
From about 150,000, or nearly 10 percent of the total in 1980, Dallas County's Hispanic population had grown by 1990 to at least 315,000, 17 percent of the whole. Living in Hispanic Dallas was like living in a boom town. "We had to increase our circulation time after time, just to keep up," Emmy Silva notes. Her numbers show leaps in El Extra's readership from its meager beginnings to today's circulation of 28,000.
The population growth shows no signs of stopping. Nobody knows how many Hispanic immigrants have come to the Metroplex since the 1990 census, but Marcos Suarez places the number at about 25,000 each year. If that figure is anywhere near accurate, Hispanics number a half-million in Dallas County today.
Not all read newspapers, of course; probably only a minority do. About 85 percent of newcomers are Mexicans; the others are mostly Central American. In Mexico, only 15 percent of families habitually read newspapers, and most immigrants to Dallas come from that country's lower economic and educational ranks.
Nor does anyone know how many of the Mexican-origin group is native-born and how many are immigrants. Suarez estimates that 30 to 35 percent of the Hispanic population is second- or third-generation, with little interest in reading a Spanish-language newspaper. "You can also subtract from the number of readers a certain higher-class immigrant Hispanic who may be assimilated and gets his news from the Dallas Morning News," he adds.
But the Silvas and the Gutierrezes, still active observers, contest that assessment. "When we first came, the Chicanos didn't want to read Spanish, or didn't know how to read Spanish. But in the years since, they have developed a great appreciation for their roots, and now they are reading Spanish in greater numbers," Sara Gutierrez insists.
"I even have Anglos who try to read our papers," Emmy Silva contends. "They don't know all of the words, but some of them try."
Accurate local studies and statistics on the readership of the Hispanic press are few and far between. Rogelio Santillan, the 32-year-old Mexican who is now publisher of El Sol, cites a study by a California firm. "Our newspaper is read by 2.8 percent of the Hispanic population," he says. "Our typical reader is a male between 18 and 48, with a high percentage--about 23.4 percent--in their late thirties, about 38 years old.
"The younger immigrant puts off reading because he's so busy trying to adapt to life in this country," he explains.
The general picture is of a blue-collar and somewhat occasional readership, motivated to pick up newspapers, perhaps, more by their advertisements than by their content. Typically, Mexican immigrants arrive with no resources but family connections. As they establish themselves, they become consumers, if only of basic items, like groceries and used cars.
"They need a newspaper as a guide to life in this country," Suarez maintains. In time, they rent places of their own and ultimately purchase houses. They become increasingly similar in their habits to working-class consumers born in the United States, but always with a twist: Few Mexicans leave traditional dietary and musical tastes behind, and few turn their back on the country's herbalist medical tradition.
Most of the Dallas weeklies are rife with ads from used car lots and auto agencies, from dentists and real estate agents, from grocery stores that import Mexican food items, from bakeries that prepare distinctly Mexican cookies and cakes. Chiropractors and clinics that treat on-the-job injuries find clients among the newspapers' blue-collar readership, as do lawyers who handle personal injury and accident lawsuits. The dozen bus lines that run shuttle trips to cities and towns in northern Mexico are big advertisers, as are radio and television stations that appeal to Mexican audiences.
If you want to find a curandera or herbalist to cure your ills--"Genuine Cat's Claw," "Margarita the Gypsy," the ads proclaim--or hire a mariachi group to sing birthday greetings, the classified ads are the place to turn. The help-wanted listings are fat with appeals for housekeepers, cooks, and bricklayers. Two of the newspapers run special insert sections: one devoted to sports, the other to nightclub, dance hall, and concert attractions.
"Here in Dallas, I feel like I'm living in a city from one of Mexico's northern provinces," publisher Santillan says--and one of the reasons is that the weeklies, through their advertisements, offer the means to duplicate much of Mexican life.
The commercial success of El Sol de Texas and its two spin-offs did not go unnoticed by others in the trade. Quite the contrary. In 1987, Enrique Gomez--a trained and seasoned Mexican journalist who had been a new-regime editor at El Sol--founded another weekly, La Prensa, with a partner. Gómez launched his paper despite his respect for competitor Suarez, whom he calls "the best reporter I ever had." Another new weekly, Novedades, was only months behind. Both newspapers survived, but Gomez grew tired of the effort and, like Guadalupe Duarte, returned to El Sol.
In 1992, Antonio Torres, who had been a dentist in Mexico, quit writing sports articles for El Hispano. The reasons for his departure are controversial--he says that Suarez "believes that Mexicans are a bunch of drunks who don't know how to read," but on one point, people from both publications agree: Torres was not paid for his reporting. He was one of those contributors--who even today may write as much as a third of the copy published in the weeklies--who worked on a voluntary basis. Torres--who studied journalism with a widely published Mexican columnist calling himself Caton, or Cato--founded El Heraldo News, a weekly that soon distinguished itself in editorial contests. His own column, full of political observations and gossip, became widely read. But El Heraldo had not been on the newsstands long when, in 1993, Enrique Gomez left El Sol again, to establish Cambio 2000, a newspaper he edits today under a new name, La Tribuna.
Specialty publications joined the flood. In 1988, auto dealer Ray Lozano Sr. founded the bilingual Auto Revista, a tabloid aimed strictly at car buyers. Jesse Gutierrez came out of journalistic retirement to christen Mira TV, a television guide, then sold it to the first in a series of owners. It is now owned by Oak Cliff's Amador Insurance Agency. La Subasta, a Spanish-language equivalent of the Greensheet, a tabloid devoted entirely to classified ads, began appearing on newsracks in 1993. Even the Dallas Morning News got into the act with the bilingual--but mostly English-language--weekly La Fuente, a tabloid of fluff features, originally delivered as an insert, but now sent to subscribers, free for the asking, by mail.
In the great commercial rush that followed the Silva-Suarez break from El Sol, Dallas publications even spilled over into Fort Worth, whose smaller Hispanic community now supports three weeklies of its own, including La Estrella, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram insert that last month, like all the others, began free distribution from newsracks.
The Hispanic press has also begun expanding beyond just newspapers. Last year, Suarez and a partner launched a television station independent of the two Spanish-language networks. The station is not available by cable, and its signal is weak, but thus far, the upstart remains on the air. In launching Channel 19, the mercurial Cuban's enterprise became the first from the Hispanic press to have an interest in both the electronic and print media.
Today, seven Spanish-language newsweeklies hit the newsstands at almost the same time, but head-to-head competition barely exists among them. They do not differ in format--all the newspapers are broadsheet, not tabloid size--or greatly in content, though some usually publish two sections, others, only one. All but La Prensa and La Tribuna have become four-color affairs.
Most of the papers rely heavily on wire services for their copy, despite having staffs. This reliance has odd consequences at times: El Sol's use of The New York Times' Spanish-language service recently resulted in a story about Big Apple homelessness running on the Dallas paper's front page. El Extra frequently runs Dallas stories provided not by its reporters but by Notimex, the government-owned Mexican news agency.
But if the newspapers differ, it's largely by location. Their offices are scattered, like the Hispanic population, across the city's map. London has its Fleet Street, and many of Mexico City's dailies congregate along Reforma Avenue, but the Hispanic press hasn't created any Journalism Row in Dallas.
The Spanish-language weeklies in Dallas are unlike Mexico City's biggest dailies in other respects, as well. All seven practice what might be called high-brow or civic journalism. None takes its editorial cues from the passionate corridos that play on the city's half-dozen Spanish-language radio stations, or from the slant of the bygone English-language afternoon dailies: making sports and crime the banner stories. None is enamored of Mexico's government, or of its opposition--their Mexico coverage is uniformly lukewarm and reserved.
Elections, wars, and disasters account for most foreign reportage; elections, public meetings, and protest demonstration stand in the fore of local coverage. "We have to teach our people a civic consciousness," explains Tribuna editor Gomez. "Most Hispanics who come to this country don't have any interest in political participation. We have to encourage them to become citizens and to learn the mechanisms of politics."
In last year's hotly contested Texas House of Representatives race between Roberto Alonzo and Domingo Garcia, he adds, the seven publishers mostly leaned toward incumbent Alonzo. U.S. Senate candidate Victor Morales was a natural favorite. But because most of their readership doesn't vote, the Hispanic publishers aren't kingmakers, and political advertising is not a mainstay of their trade.
Nothing in the American business tradition, perhaps, explains the run-with-the-pack mentality of the seven weeklies, but La Tribuna's Gomez thinks he understands. "Our people aren't happy to live with one newspaper," he observes. "In Guadalajara, there are 11 newspapers; in Monterrey, about 20; in Mexico City, more than 40. In our countries, when readers go to the newsstands, they buy not one paper, but two or three."
The editorial approach of the seven papers rests on two somewhat contradictory notions. The newspapers try to inform immigrants about the many-faceted process of assimilation. But at the same time, they try to encourage the preservation of Hispanic culture.
They also try to hold together the sometimes hostile elements for whom Spanish is a common language.
Talk about these goals, however, quickly leads to confusion, resentment, and more confusion. The problem begins with the word "Hispanic," which is rarely used by Spanish-speakers to refer to anyone they know. "Hispanic" is a one-size-fits-all term whose main virtue is commercial: El Hispano News, or Hispanic News, the Suarez weekly, attempts to stake a broad claim on the market by putting the word in its name.
"I have learned here at the newspaper to use the word 'Hispanic,' but whenever we discuss terms, it leads us into dialectical discussions," shrugs El Sol publisher Santillan.
Inside the "Hispanic community" and its press, nationality terms are far more relevant. In daily conversation, no one refers to "that Hispanic." The references, instead, are to "that Mexican," "that Cuban," or "that Salvadoran." Grocers stock merchandise not so much for Hispanics as for Mexicans or Hondurans or Cubans.
But American-born Hispanics present problems that nationality designations don't solve. During the 1980s, most organizations that would have formerly called themselves Chicano--a term that probably comes from the Aztec pronunciation of the Spanish word "mexicano"--adopted the label Mexican-American instead. That label, however zealously its proponents defend it, is used only in political and bureaucratic affairs. It isn't used in the Hispanic press.
The terminology differences reflect something deeper: ill-will within the Hispanic community, differences among its nationality strands. El Hispano reporter Fernando Zapata, a Mexican, commented on one face of this rivalry in a recent column.
"Mexicans and Chicanos of the United States note differences among themselves," he wrote. "One cannot confuse them with being from the other group, because people will get offended...the Chicanos scorn the immigrants for being newcomers. And the Mexicans make fun of the Chicanos for not knowing how to speak Spanish well...While we come to agreement about which of our peoples is 'better' or 'worse,' and who merits more than the other, outside of our ranks they discriminate against all of us."
The city's Hispanic publishers agree that they must encourage assimilation--but they don't agree about the essential nature of the experience. At one pole are the opinions of Jesse and Sara Gutierrez. "For most of us, immigration is tragic," Sara declares. "People who come to this country are exploited and humiliated, and who doesn't lose their family here?" In their retirements, Jesse Gutierrez says, both he and Sara have begun to think of returning south of the border. "I don't want to die here," he says.
El Heraldo publisher Torres occupies a middle ground in such discussions. "Being an immigrant is a sad thing," he notes, "because we always dream of returning home. Until we decide that we're going to stay, it's hard. We have to decide that this country is now my house, that we're going to learn the language, and that we're going to accept the customs, even if we don't like them."
At the other pole are Juan and Emmy Torres, who, unlike the other publishers, show no preference for conducting interviews in Spanish. "We are citizens, and why not?" Emmy says. "We have raised our children here, we have a son-in-law who is Chicano. We have left our lives in Mexico and Guatemala behind."
The essentially involuntary or forced nature of most emigration, however, has its upside. It gives the Hispanic press a ready focus for local reportage: Actions by immigration authorities are the hottest stories on any page.
Last November, for example, the managers of Poly-America, a Grand Prairie firm that manufactures trash bags, called the company's 400 or so employees to an assembly. Forty-five agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service burst into the gathering, shouting, "Nobody move! Nobody move!" Nearly 150 workers were hauled away in vans; 78 were deported for lack of proper immigration documents.
The weeklies jumped onto the case with passionate reporting. "They call them to a meeting to deport them," El Hispano's headline raged. El Sol's Fernando Duran reported that the employee meeting was "a trick hatched by the bosses." His story quoted the wife of one of the deportees, Humberto Romero, as saying that Poly-America "knew perfectly well that Humberto didn't have his papers in order and that lots of others were in the same shape."
After the raid, between 300 and 600 protesters demonstrated outside the offices of the county jail, and most of the weeklies gave partisan coverage to the event. El Extra reported that Poly-America fired 21 employees suspected of being sympathetic to the protesters, and published a color photo of the alleged martyrs on its front page. The Morning News ran a story about these events, but on Page 36.
It was a front-page scandal only in the Hispanic press.
But despite partisanship on issues like immigration and police brutality, the city's Hispanic publishers balance their activist sympathies with commercial conservatism.
"We are the voice of the people who can't go out and say 'you're wrong,'" comments Hispano's Suarez. "This is a business, not the Salvation Army. A newspaper isn't a charity, and it doesn't exist for good causes alone. On the other hand, a newspaper isn't a tortilla factory, either."
Despite their common readership, political outlook and commercial appeal, the publishers of the seven weeklies strive not to compete. None of the publishers openly spreads gossip or even strongly critiques his competitors. On this score, Jesse Gutierrez seems to speak for them all. "All of our newspapers are good. They all do good journalism, because most of their editors and publishers learned at El Sol."
Perhaps their unity stems from a common vice. Former employees of several of the newspapers tell stories of circulation boosts made to please national advertisers, and of reductions in times of high newsprint costs. "I know of one paper that claims a circulation of 40,000. I only say that I print 15,000--and I know I print more papers than they do," Enrique Gomez declares. The seven publishers all admit, or charge, that among their number there are some whose circulation claims aren't reliable--but none will finger any of the others. They have all survived, even prospered, despite defections and spin-offs, and none believes that he can force the others to the sidelines. "Even El Sol is today part of an avalanche," publisher Santillan observes.
But their mutual admiration, even if it's sincere, is strategic as well. All of the weeklies do much of their distribution through six-, eight-, and ten-rack newsstands whose ownership is now confused. "We've lost count of the number of racks we own," Juan Silva confesses. The racks, with multiple shelves, are scattered at grocery stores, restaurants, beauty shops, and dance halls across the Metroplex--and they are shared by all the papers alike. Antonio Torres says that he brings out his weekly on Fridays, instead of Wednesday or Thursday, so that nobody will place another newspaper on top of El Heraldo. But generally speaking, sharing rack space has created a business state of coexistence.
If do-or-die competition ever overtakes the Hispanic press, grocers and waiters will be the first to know.