War of the Words

With big dollars at stake, rival newspapers duke it out to capture Valley's rapidly growing Hispanic market

While it's a stretch to brand La Voz's traditional newspaper format "too fancy," it's safe to say that there is no precedent for it in the local Spanish-language market. Historically, local Spanish publications -- like Monitor Hispano and Prensa Hispana -- have begun as shoestring operations published out of somebody's bedroom or garage. They've struggled for years to gain visibility in the community and credibility with advertisers.

Never before has a local Spanish newspaper come out of the womb full-grown, with a look, an aesthetic, a staff, an office and an instant circulation of 50,000, as La Voz did when it opened its doors in January. No other Spanish paper could have imagined setting up a statewide home-delivery system within months of hitting the streets, as La Voz did in September. After 10 years of publishing, Prensa Hispana only began to do home deliveries two months ago.

"Prensa Hispana started small and slowly built itself up," Valera says. "La Voz is the only paper that's come in big. They're like a radio station with full power right away."

Chicago transplant David Kaye reaches 85,000 Hispanics every week with his programming guide, TV y Mas, and he's hoping to have the same impact with La Voz.
Paolo Vescia
Chicago transplant David Kaye reaches 85,000 Hispanics every week with his programming guide, TV y Mas, and he's hoping to have the same impact with La Voz.
Despite Prensa Hispana's long-term popularity, it has never escaped the criticism that its writing and reporting are shoddy.
Paolo Vescia
Despite Prensa Hispana's long-term popularity, it has never escaped the criticism that its writing and reporting are shoddy.

They've also come in with a full measure of attitude. Torres and Kaye think local Latinos have been subjected to embarrassingly shoddy journalism for too long. They speak of La Voz as the first local newspaper that Latinos can look to with pride.

"In the 32 years I've been in the United States, it's always been the case that everything that's in Spanish is not as good as English," Torres says. "Everything that is in Spanish is actually second-class. The pictures have always been a little blurry, the words are often misspelled. For Mexican-Americans, there's almost a sense of embarrassment over accepting something that's not done well."

Torres adds: "On the other hand, the recent immigrant has been exposed to a quality Spanish-language newspaper in Mexico or whatever Latin American country they come from. So La Voz had to look the way it does, because it had a pretty tough act to follow. It had to present to the Mexican-American a product that they saw, and thought, 'Wow, that's just as good as any English-language paper I've seen here, and this one is mine.' And the recent immigrant had to look at it and say, 'This is as good as what we have back home.'"

While such statements undoubtedly irk staffers at Prensa Hispana, statistics support Torres' assertion that the Hispanic market was not satisfied with its Spanish newspaper options. A Spring 2000 study by the Behavior Research Center, a local market-research firm, revealed that 45 percent of local Hispanics regularly read English-language newspapers. Even among Spanish-dominant Hispanics, a surprisingly large 21 percent read English papers with some frequency. Both numbers are considered unusually high, according to Luis Ortiz, Hispanic studies director for the Behavior Research Center.

"It can be a risky decision to start a newspaper, but with respect to La Voz, it makes a lot of sense for them to come into the market," Ortiz says. "I think it's a win-win situation, not only for the consumer, but also for the company and advertisers."

La Voz's strategy to follow the template of Mexican daily newspapers has been buoyed by the success of La Nueva, the most popular Spanish-language radio station in the Valley. Before the Texas-based Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation bought the station in 1999, the company heavily researched the local Latino market and found that approximately 94 percent of that market was composed of Mexican immigrants, predominantly from the northern states of Sonora, Sinaloa and Chihuahua. So the station developed a format that zeroed in on regional Mexican music from those three states.

As a result, La Nueva has left its competitors choking on its exhaust fumes. Intuitively, Torres and Kaye have tried to attract that same Mexican immigrant audience.

"La Voz is more of a regular Mexican newspaper, from Mexico, while Prensa Hispana uses the tabloid format that is used by other Spanish papers in the Valley," says Joseph Romero, owner of Grupo Romero Inc., an advertising agency, and president of the Arizona Association of Hispanic Merchants. "La Voz is skewed more towards an upper-scale Hispanic, versus the others."

It's no coincidence that one of Ricardo Torres' proudest moments at the paper came a few months ago when Phoenix Magazine ran a story on the local Latino community and included a photo of a young Hispanic professional with a copy of La Voz tucked under his arm. Torres wants La Voz to be the newspaper of choice for such upwardly mobile Hispanics.

"Their Spanish is very good, and their stories are good," Romero says of La Voz. "And they have sections, like a daily newspaper, while the others have a mishmash of information. For us, as professionals, La Voz has much more appeal."

Diana Diaz, a news anchorwoman at Univision, who also writes a weekly column for La Voz, says the paper provides a badly needed alternative for a market that had grown accustomed to having few media choices.

"I think it's really superior, especially comparing it to other papers that have been around for years, like Prensa Hispana," Diaz says. "People need to have options, and they only had one major paper for so long, and I think people felt there was a void."

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