Guerra de los Peridicos

Denver's newspaper wars are going bilingual.
Even the New York Times took note of the vicious fight-to-the-death between the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post in a May 31 story, duly reprinted in the local press. But while the Big Two continue to scratch each other's eyes out over circulation figures and deeply discounted subscriptions, a new kid on the block is hoping to fill another niche--actually, a gaping hole--in Denver's media market.

It plans to do so by out-newsing a 25-year-old Denver stalwart, La Voz, and a handful of other bilingual weeklies. The upstart HOLA Colorado hits the streets July 28, vying for the readership of Denver's 120,000 English- and Spanish-speaking Hispanics--a full 25 percent of the city's population.

And what a lively newspaper war it will be. The fight won't be limited to ad sales and readership numbers; it will touch on some highly sensitive cultural issues. A good community newspaper helps define that community--in this case, thousands of people who share a linguistic and ethnic background but not necessarily much else.

In their tidy five-room office that smells of fresh paint and new carpeting, HOLA Colorado's editor and publisher, Rachel Carrasco-Mendoza, and Joe Mendoza, her husband and the paper's chief operating officer, point to a Denver map dotted with push-pins that denote supermarkets, Sam's Clubs and Wal-Marts where 20,000 copies of HOLA Colorado will make their debut next Wednesday. The pins reach as far north as Fort Collins and as far south as Castle Rock. "Hispanics are everywhere," says Carrasco-Mendoza, who, like her husband, has a Mexican-born father but learned Spanish as an adult. "You're not going to distribute just on 32nd and Federal."

Formerly one of La Voz's key employees, the thirty-four-year-old Carrasco-Mendoza is now among its toughest critics. "I was there for two and a half years, and that was a record," says Carrasco-Mendoza, who began at La Voz as a college intern and rose to the post of managing editor. In April she left the paper--and took several writers, two photographers, a translator and the receptionist with her.

Bankrolled by her brother and his partner, the owners of Carrasco-Kube Cement Contractors and now silent partners in HOLA Colorado, Carrasco-Mendoza set up shop in an office building near Santa Fe Drive and Mississippi Avenue.

HOLA Colorado will be going head to head with two other established bilingual weeklies, the serious-minded El Semanario and the splashy La Voz, both with press runs of 15,000 copies. In the past, Denver's bilingual press has been far more mutually cordial than competitive. But that may soon change.

HOLA Colorado's owners blast La Voz for posing as a Hispanic-owned paper because it belongs to J. Ivanhoe Rosenberg and Clifford Bautsch of Barnum Publishing, La Voz's printer and next-door neighbor. Bautsch and Rosenberg (who also owns the Southwest Herald Dispatch), bailed out editor and publisher Wanda Padilla after La Voz went through two bankruptcies in the 1980s. "We're a bootstraps organization," says Padilla, who started the paper in 1974 with her former husband, Jose, in the basement of their home.

On each front page, La Voz advertises its membership in the National Association of Hispanic Publishers (NAHP), an affiliation that opens the door to deals with big national advertisers--and usually requires that a member paper is at least 51 percent Latino-owned. Padilla, who sits on the NAHP board, was born Schmitz; the Denver paper was "grandfathered in" for membership because of its longtime service to the Latino community, explains NAHP president Andres Tobar.

Some La Voz writers have downplayed their Anglo roots by adopting Latino pen names. "To me," says Mendoza, a mail carrier who recently earned a political science degree at Metro, "it's like Asians publishing a paper for Jewish people."

Located today in a white one-story house in southwest Denver, the offices of La Voz are cluttered and homey, down to the threadbare brown carpeting and a black-and-white photo of Mayor Wellington Webb at a La Voz event. Typesetters still assemble its copy and lay out the paper in pre-computer, cut-and-paste fashion.

But "there are going to be some changes in management and ownership structure pretty soon," says Padilla, who confides that her paper has been talking with potential buyers. La Voz, which advertises itself as "Colorado's No. 1 Hispanic Weekly," might start charging 25 cents per copy; Padilla wants to expand circulation by 5,000 copies a year until it hits 50,000. She also wants a "more professional office setting," with updated equipment and more writers. "Right now we're operating with a skeletal staff," she says.

La Voz carries local and national stories, Rockies and Rapids game coverage, a frequent column by Denver's manager of safety, Butch Montoya, movie and play reviews and an events calendar. "We present the basic day-to-day bread-and-butter coverage of what's happening in the Hispanic community in Denver," says Padilla. "Where you can have a good time."

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Gayle Worland

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