War of the Words

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

On the surface, Ricardo Torres has much in common with Manny Garcia.

Torres, like Garcia, was raised in northern Mexico in a working-class environment.

Brian Taylor
La Voz and Prensa Hispana are battling over everything from circulation numbers to rack space.
Paolo Vescia
La Voz and Prensa Hispana are battling over everything from circulation numbers to rack space.

Torres, like Garcia, started a number of labor-intensive businesses, honing his entrepreneurial instincts at a surprisingly tender age. As an adolescent, Torres sold paletas (frozen fruit bars) along the border, while a teenage Garcia drove grain-delivery trucks until he made enough money to buy his own truck and, eventually, his own auto body shop.

Torres, like Garcia, grew up in an unconventional family. Torres was raised by a single mom, while Garcia lost both of his parents to a car accident when he was only eight months old, and was raised by an aunt.

Torres, like Garcia, considers himself self-educated -- although Torres did take a few college classes in the late '70s. Both men have learned most of what they know from hands-on experience in the business world.

But beneath these similarities, Torres and Garcia are sharply different personalities.

As he kicks back in his second-floor downtown office, Torres, 42, exudes a giddy urbanity, a sense that he's smoothly assimilated into American culture, and can dance with aplomb in both the Anglo and Latino worlds. Unfailingly dapper and gracious, he's equally articulate in both English and Spanish. He thinks in terms of bold strokes, talking like a budding media mogul about his long-term ambitions for La Voz: to grow from five reporters to eventually having 20 to 25 writers working the streets; to go from weekly publication to a daily; and to possibly expand into other cities.

An enthusiastic football fan, Torres keeps a piece of the frozen tundra from Green Bay's Lambeau Field -- a gift from a friend -- contained in a small glass case on his desk. Hanging from the wall to the right of his desk is a framed cartoon drawing of Torres proudly holding up a copy of his newspaper and proclaiming, "Ahora sí nuestra gente tiene una voz." "Now our people do have a voice."

Garcia dresses in workman's clothes, struggles with his English and seems content just to keep Prensa Hispana afloat. Where Torres is infectiously brash, Garcia is pure humility. He speaks in a soft voice and has the somber demeanor of someone who's never had the luxury of idle amusement.

Like Garcia, Torres took a circuitous path to the world of newspaper publishing.

Torres spent the first 10 years of his life in Juárez, Mexico, before his family settled in Nogales. After high school, he landed in Texas, briefly taking classes at San Angelo State College.

In the late '70s and early '80s, he started a series of businesses, from a construction company to a roofing company to a vinyl-repair business (which he gave up when he realized he was colorblind and couldn't match colors to save his life).

In 1986, Torres drifted into the radio business, selling commercials at a small station in San Angelo. Three years later, he moved to Phoenix, and quickly got a job at KVVA-FM 107.1, then the only Spanish-language FM station in the market. He eventually became the general manager at both KVVA and KLNZ-FM 103.5, which was purchased by KVVA owner Z Spanish Media in October 1998.

Over the years, Torres developed a mutual admiration society with TV y Más publisher David Kaye. He and Kaye often talked about teaming up to start a newspaper. In early 1999, Torres told Kaye he felt the market was ready.

"We said in the year 2000, there's going to be a census," he says. "And when the census comes out, if you've got something and it's established, you will be in a good position to truly take flight with this growing Hispanic market."

Torres chose an old friend from his radio days, Luis Manuel Ortiz (no relation to Luis Ortiz at the Behavior Research Center), to give the paper an editorial direction. Ortiz, 54, a native of Sonora, Mexico, had moved to Phoenix in 1983 and established himself in both the broadcast and print media. In the '80s, he founded two free bilingual magazines: Unidos and Cambio!. Ortiz also served as news director at KPHX-AM 1480, and delivered a daily commentary on that station called La Voz y la Pluma.

After divorcing his wife -- and publishing partner -- in 1997, Ortiz shut down Cambio! and moved back to Mexico. He was doing printing work, and had given up any lingering journalistic aspirations, when Torres called in September 1999. He said Ortiz was the only person qualified for the editing job at La Voz. Ortiz agreed.

With the exception of Tucson newspaper veteran Cecilia Toscano, who joined the staff as co-editor, Ortiz assembled a crew of reporters who were young and college-educated, but short on journalism experience. "It was my idea to bring in new, young people and train them," he says. "That way they wouldn't come in with concepts that were different than what we wanted. They would be open-minded and fresh."

Partner David Kaye prefers to remain behind the scenes.

The 38-year-old Kaye is hardly bashful. He's a smart, intensely competitive man with a penchant for the glib wisecrack. But he's also savvy enough to know that being a Jewish kid from Chicago who's selling periodicals to Arizona Latinos is enough of a cultural juggling act without putting your face in the cross hairs of the media.

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