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A Potpourri of Papers Courts Latino Market

TIMES STAFF WRITER

From his wooden desk, Fernando Velo, the 42-year-old editor and publisher of Azteca News, can look out the office window and see the publishing battle going on in downtown Santa Ana.

It is here, amid the bustle of Mexicans, Cubans, Guatemalans and other Latino immigrants, that hundreds of stacks of newspapers are dropped off at markets, restaurants and liquor stores. And with each new reader and new advertiser, the battle lines are redrawn in Orange County’s war of Spanish-language newspapers.

“Look,” Velo said, “I started this paper in 1979. At that time, Santa Ana had only 50,000 Hispanics. Now they have 200,000 out of 300,000 people, according to the census. The only place to go is up.”

Catering to this population are about a dozen free weeklies and two Los Angeles-based newspapers whose fare ranges from National Enquirer-style columns about the supernatural to in-depth news stories about labor issues. La Guia is a TV guide in Spanish, and Mi Casa, loaded with entertainment news, is published by a Los Angeles Spanish-language radio station. There’s also the 16-year-old Miniondas, the respected newspaper that has been publishing longer than any other Spanish-language newspaper in Orange County.

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“One newspaper is not stronger than another, and it’s a lot like comparing apples and oranges. They all do things differently,” said Jose Vargas, a Santa Ana police community-liaison officer whose crime-advice column, “Poli-Rumores” is published in several of the newspapers.

In fact, the market is so specialized that there are two newspapers aimed at new immigrants and their families and two sporting publications catering to soccer and other sports fans.

With small news and advertising staffs, most of the newspapers are truly Mom-and-Pop operations. Most operate with only two to three reporters, and it’s rare to have more than five.

Journalism backgrounds are sometimes lacking. Two editors said they are engineers. One editor said he learned the business by checking out some books on writing and publishing at a local library. Another editor loads cement during the day and edits his publication at night. The majority said they learned on the job.

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The news-oriented publications cover local government, police, family issues and other topics. The entertainment tabloids rely mostly on news releases about new movies and Latino stars such as television personality Veronica Castro and pop singer Gloria Estefan.

El Sol Latino is run by Javier de la Fuente and his wife, Sally. He has been in newspapering in Orange County since he was a reporter with El Clarin, one of the first Spanish-language newspapers in Orange County.

For many, business casualties are a fact of life, said De la Fuente’s wife.

“You see a lot of papers that start, and you don’t see them the next year. A lot want to start, but they don’t know what it takes to keep it going. They start and within a year, they’re out,” she said.

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Though the newspapers lack the resources of larger publications, they do fill an important niche. The tabloid Rumores helped identify a man who underwent emergency brain surgery when a friend saw his photograph in a news section. Miniondas has helped relieve efforts for victims of several disasters, including the Mexico City earthquake in 1985.

The two Los Angeles-based dailies, La Opinion and Noticias del Mundo, are sold at Orange County news racks. La Opinion, with a circulation of 109,558, is the largest Spanish-language daily in the country. About 15,000 copies of La Opinion are sold in Orange County and part of Long Beach, according to the newspaper’s advertising executives.

Nuestro Tiempo, a bilingual section published by The Times, reaches about 7,000 households in Orange County 15 times a year.

Of the weeklies, Union Hispana, a nonprofit newspaper that began in 1988, is unique in that it is published by Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, an immigrant rights group based in Santa Ana. The Hermandad organization was instrumental in Santa Ana’s rent strikes in the early 1980s that pitted the city’s low-income, predominantly Latino renters against their landlords.

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“We felt that we needed an excellent organizing tool for Hermandad,” said Juan Garcia, Union Hispana’s 32-year-old editor. “The paper has been our vehicle to promote organizing among Latinos. And not just for Hermandad Mexicana but to help them improve or speak out for improvements in their community.”

While Union Hispana has been attacked for being overly critical of public officials, probably the most controversial newspaper is Rumores. Each week it publishes a bikini-clad Latina on its cover. Editors and readers who were interviewed complained that the newspaper, whose inside pages feature news of the occult and sensational crimes, is in poor taste.

But its editor, Abel S. Torres, 47, a photographer and survey engineer, defends use of such sensational gimmicks as “helpful” tactics to get readers interested in reading Rumores.

The latest newspaper to enter the Orange County market is Tu Mundo. Although the newspaper began publishing in Los Angeles on July 4, 1982, it didn’t cross the county line until last March when it unveiled an “Orange County edition.”

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Originally called Mundo Artistico, the newspaper had its beginnings in the art world and still favors Latino theater, movie and singing stars. However, it has a new format that includes news about the economy, sports, music and movies, Tu Mundo’s Editor Nelson Henriquez said.

With all the Spanish-language newspapers in Orange County, it would seem the market is saturated. But despite the competition, many newspapers here have surpassed the break-even point, said Robert G. Soto, director of Burbank-based Hispanic Media Associates, the advertising sales firm for a consortium of 100 Spanish-language publications throughout the country.

“The Southern California market is well covered as far as print is concerned in the Latino market. But you can always have room for growth,” Soto said. In reality, Soto said, these newspapers are filling a void because many “were born out of frustration” with existing local newspapers.

LATINO VOICES: A 16-year-old turns rejection into victory. B3

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