Speaking the same language

Times Staff Writer

The signs are unmistakable: an NFL game at Azteca Stadium, soaring land prices from Ensenada to Merida and a Starbucks infestation of the swanky Polanco neighborhood.

Though most Americans are aware of the growing "Latinization" of the United States, a parallel phenomenon is taking place on the other side of the border. Already, at least half a million U.S. ex-patriots and long-term visitors make their homes in Mexico (plus another half-million Canadians). That number will soar as millions of retired baby boomers stampede south in the coming decades, remaking the cultural landscape in their own image.

Yet one thing this exile community has conspicuously lacked, until now, is an English-language print journal to call its own. A handful of English-language newspapers and magazines from the U.S. are available here, including the New York Times and the Miami Herald's international edition. But Mexico's oldest, most visible niche English publication, the 53-year-old tabloid-style News, folded four years ago and hasn't fully been replaced.

That situation surprised Aran Shetterly, 36, and his wife, Margot Lee Shetterly, 37, when the couple began scoping out a blueprint for Inside Mexico, the free, English-language monthly newspaper they launched last November.

"We were frankly surprised at the numbers, for the sheer size of the market," says Margot, the company's president and managing editor, who like her husband never had worked for a newspaper before. "This is the kind of opportunity that comes along only once in a lifetime."

The couple -- who met, married and moved to Mexico to open their new business all within a whirlwind span between 2003 and 2005, culminating in a 4,000-mile trip in a new Honda Element -- seem determined to make the most of their singular chance.

Working out of their home in the fin de siecle Roma neighborhood with a core staff of eight, evenly divided between Americans and Mexicans, they've produced a lively, attractive, 40-page gazette that offers something for both first-time sightseers as well as gringos who've gone fully native.

Unlike other past or present English-language papers, Inside Mexico targets ex-pats as much as casual tourists and business people. And its feature-y writing style and emphasis on the arts, culture and lifestyles rather than hard news is more redolent of magazines than newspapers.

The print run of 20,000 is distributed at coffee shops, hotels and other tourist-friendly venues here. But it's also being distributed in popular ex-pat haunts and major beach resorts around the country. The couple also plan to open a radio station and have started distributing a weekly newsletter, the Tip, which goes out to 10,000 readers. Their website (www.insidemex.com) also is attracting thousands of hits.

Heavy on profiles, features about cultural happenings and guides to the city's hot bars and restaurants, Inside Mexico takes some of its style cues from urban magazines such as "New York." But the Shetterlys, who write for the paper when they're not busy running it, say their true editorial model is closer to the Village Voice, the Chicago Reader and other sophisticated U.S. alternative newsweeklies.

To that end, they vow that they will tackle hard-news topics such as Mexico's rampant drug-related violence and the real-estate scams that have afflicted some U.S. retirees in search of a Baja or Puerto Vallarta dream house. "We may want to be an established presence ... before we take too many risks," says Aran, who holds the titles of the paper's editor in chief and CEO.

The debut issue contained informative stories on the weeks-long encampment supporting failed presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the mystical mountain town of Tepoztlan, plus a guide to the de moda Condesa district that included listings for fitness studios and health food eateries. (Can ex-pat romantic classified ads be far away?)

It also presented dozens of thumbnail snapshots of foreigners living in Mexico. A related feature, written by Margot, cited some of the strains that the incoming American hordes have placed on Mexico's natural resources and social service agencies.

The December-January issue paid tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe's many incarnations, in an eight-page spread written by the Mexico City editor, Catherine Dunn, 24, and illustrated by staff photographer Luz Montero, 32. Multitasker Maya Harris, 24, the paper's public relations coordinator, who was hired away from the American Chamber of Commerce, and a number of freelance writers, also help fill the pages.

One of the paper's Mexican employees, Griselda Juarez, had been working as a housekeeper at the $42-a-night hotel where the Shetterlys used to stay when she began selling ads for the paper. "We would blow into town and have like 22 meetings in a week," Margot says. "She [Juarez] was totally calm in the face of this constant chaos."

"It's always really exciting to become a part of a start-up, and especially if it's an adventurous one," says Emilio Deheza, 43, the paper's design guru.

It all fits the Shetterlys' can-do, let's-put-on-a-show-in-a-barn approach to their work and shared life adventure. Aran, a rural Maine native, says he honed a passion for Latin culture while living in Cuba to research a book on William Morgan, an Ohioan who fought in the Cuban Revolution but had a falling-out with the revolutionary leadership and was executed in 1961.

Margot parlayed a University of Virginia degree in finance into jobs on Wall Street and at an HBO website. Then came Sept. 11, 2001. Three months later, the website was closed and Margot was off on a year-and-a-half sojourn that took her to Brazil, Venezuela and Belize. She and Aran met up while working at a New York software company. "We've both done a little bit of everything," Margot says.

At a time when many investors view newspapers as financial lepers, the couple are confident that Mexico's newspaper ad market -- which at this point faces relatively less competition from the Internet than its U.S. counterpart -- is still a relatively open frontier. They're also betting on attracting more Mexican corporate investors to augment the family friends who've staked Inside Mexico until now. The paper already is drawing auto company ads as well as spots for the Peace Corps.

Aran says it's all part of a learning curve, of "trying to figure out what stories to tell and how to tell them" that "has really taught me how little I know about Mexico."

"You can't see it in a lifetime," Margot says of her new home, "but we'll die trying."

reed.johnson@latimes.com

For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday February 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction Mexico City newspaper: An article in Wednesday's Calendar section about an English-language newspaper in Mexico City referred to the many U.S. ex-patriots who live there. It should have said expatriates.
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