The Austin Chronicle

Newsprint in Spanish

By Belinda Acosta, February 25, 2005, News

Will assimilation make Spanish-language newspapers quickly obsolete before they find an audience? Not to worry, says Rumbo's Antonio Ruiz Camacho. "We focus on Spanish speakers with Spanish as their mother tongue," he says. "Even if you speak English or another language, you feel more comfortable reading in your mother language."

He may be on to something. With this writer's "pocha" reading skills, it's markedly easier to interpret the pages of ¡ahora sí! than those of Rumbo. Comprehension goes down even more when confronted with El Mundo or El Norte. However, the sabors of the papers are distinct. Cover stories in the early issues of ¡ahora sí! varied from "news-you-can-use features" (e.g., a December piece on fraud and identity theft in Latino communities), to a pre-election piece "Una serenata por tu voto" ("Serenade for Your Vote," Oct. 27), to a news feature on why Austin doesn't draw big name Latino music concerts like other Texas cities (Sept. 22). Teasers and visuals along the left and bottom margins point to other stories and sections.

Because it's a daily (Monday through Friday), Rumbo has a little more wiggle room on content. A local story is typically the main splash; a second local story, or a big national/international story (e.g., the tsunami disaster or Election Day), leads on the cover's left "ear," which also points to several inside news or features from throughout Latin America. On Monday, Rumbo uses a sports cover whenever possible – usually Latin American soccer coverage or Austin's local soccer culture. On Friday, a Fin de Semana section features movie and restaurant reviews, along with other features of interest to readers planning for the weekend.

In a representative week, the online edition of El Mundo ( featured three uncredited immigration-rights-related stories. A fourth story (also uncredited) was a feature on Austin photographer José Galindo and his memories of military service. The Jan. 13 issue of La Prensa featured above-the-fold "staff reports" of local Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations, illustrated with archive photos; an MLK lifeline and a bio of Vernon Jordan (uncredited) appeared under the fold. Teasers for inside stories ran along the bottom of the front page – a piece by La Prensa managing editor Cody Garrett on the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, a Marcela Sanchez commentary on the newly forged alliance between Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos and Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, and two features: a short notice on the Brazilian Guitar Quartet's performance at Bass Concert Hall, and an uncredited film review in Spanish of Racing Stripes.

Even a cursory glance makes clear that there's a lot of work to be done by the smaller papers if they hope to maintain whatever hold they have on their market against the new corporate-funded entities. Ads, refried press releases, and the strange prevalence of uncredited stories all pale in comparison to stories assembled with hands-on, locally based (and professional) reportage.

"Our community deserves the very best," says Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, associate professor of journalism at UT. (Among her current research subjects are U.S. Latinos as producers and consumers of news media.) "Nobody can take this franchise for granted, and that's the problem. In the past it has been taken for granted. The best newspapers are in cities where there's competition. I worked for The Dallas Morning News, and I say it was a better paper when the Times-Herald was around. If there's improvement overall because of more players in the mix, then I'm all for it."

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