War of the Words

Page 4 of 9

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."

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.

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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia