War of the Words

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

A more egregious case of photo manipulation occurred on May 27, 1999, when Prensa Hispanaran a front-page article and photo about the newspaper's first-annual "Leadership Awards" ceremony at Burton Barr library. The photo featured a smiling Governor Jane Hull standing next to her policy adviser, Margie Emmerman, and Emmerman's husband, Carlos. Standing immediately to Hull's left, holding up a "Leadership Award" plaque, is Dr. Julio Cesar Castro Marín, looking slightly out of place in his white doctor's overcoat. The photo creates the impression that Hull presented the award to Marín herself.

The only problem is that the picture is a fake. Marín was never photographed with Hull, but had his picture taken after the ceremony and superimposed into the photo with the governor. Lety Miranda-Garcia concedes that the photo was altered, explaining that Marín had to leave the ceremony early to deliver a baby, "and we thought it was important that he be in the picture."

Margie Emmerman recalls that Hull also left the ceremony before the awards presentation and could not have been photographed with a plaque-clutching Marín. She says of the published picture, "I would never want to have a situation where something doesn't depict a complete truth."

What's particularly bothersome about the photo is the fact that Marín's connection to Prensa Hispanagoes much deeper than his "Leadership Award." For the last five years, he has been Prensa Hispana's landlord. In 1995, aware that Manny Garcia had been publishing the paper out of his auto body shop, Marín offered to provide Prensawith free office space at his downtown clinic, Policlínica San Xavier. In return, Garcia occasionally gives Marín free advertising space. In light of this symbiotic relationship, the "Leadership Awards" issue created the uncomfortable appearance that Marín was being reimbursed by getting pictured with the governor.

To the founders of La Voz, a big part of the problem with Prensais that Manny Garcia keeps his hand in both the editorial and business sides of his newspaper.

Ricardo Torres is quick to emphasize that at La Voz, "there is a firewall between that which is editorial and that which is commercial. My sales people don't know what's coming up, nor are they given a heads-up."

In recent months, the war between the two papers has degenerated into behind-the-scenes accusations about the legitimacy of their circulation numbers, and who's been stealing whose newspaper racks.

Torres is adamant about the veracity of La Voz's auditing numbers, and proudly touts the credentials of his paper's auditing company, Verified Audit Circulation (VAC). He implies that Prensa Hispana's circulation figure of 65,000 is questionable, because the auditing firm it has used, Community Papers Verification Service (CPVS), is a smaller company with a reputation for less-than-accurate auditing reports.

CPVS was purchased in March 1999 by the St. Louis-based Circulation Verification Council (CVC), and CVC president Tim Bingaman, in a July 7 letter to a VAC executive, acknowledged the problems he inherited from CPVS, saying, "As we all know, CPVS audits were substandard and allowed for significant reporting error. CPVS representing itself as an auditing firm hurt our industry."

In an interview with New Times, Bingaman downplayed any suggestion of incompetence at CPVS, saying his company bought CPVS not to clean up a badly run company, but simply because it was a good business opportunity. Although his company has yet to perform its first audit on Prensa,Bingaman says he's already gotten a taste of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering between La Vozand Prensa Hispana. He says Lety Miranda-Garcia called him three months ago, complaining about problems she was having with La Voz.

"You've got a real war going on there," Bingaman says with a laugh. "It's unfortunate. Just as an industry auditor, it seems to be a young upstart-type publication that is concentrating less on making their publication better than they are trying to attack their competitor. Because from what we can tell, Lety has a fine publication."

The circulation numbers are so contentious because they represent crucial advertising dollars at a time when Torres is struggling to convince local businesses to gamble on La Voz.

Joseph Romero says La Voz is facing an uphill battle.

"With advertisers, they haven't been able to get to the point where they should be," he says. "They're the new kid on the block, and our community is very conservative. All the merchants are very conservative. Prensa Hispanabrings results, even if it's not structured like a Mexican newspaper."

Lety Miranda-Garcia says attacks over her paper's circulation figures have simply been part of the baggage that comes with being the dominant Spanish-language paper in Phoenix for nearly a decade.

"We'd set up racks and they'd destroy them, they throw my paper away," she says of her paper's enemies. "They misinform our advertisers. But I don't want to point any fingers at anybody. They haven't hurt us. We're loyal and we're honest. By the time they try to reach our level, we've moved on to the next level."

She adds: "It's funny because when other publications come around, they always say, 'We're going to knock Prensa Hispanadown, they don't know how to do business, they don't have good reporters.' And yet they turn around and try to take my people. Well, who do they think did the work? So they contradict themselves."

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