Pushing the Hispanic Button

“I don’t know if we’re talking about counter and parry and thrust and stuff,” the sales/marketing director of La Raza was telling us, “but I’d say what we’re going to do will hit the streets a couple of weeks ahead of Exito, in early September.”

Exito is the free weekly Spanish-language newspaper the Tribune Company has been planning for months and intends to launch on September 16. No, La Raza is not the apprehensive Latino paper that’s already sued the Tribune Company on grounds of trademark infringement. That’s Extra.

La Raza’s the big burrito–paid circulation 40,000, plus another 180,000 for a free biweekly edition launched last March in cooperation with Sears. La Raza is Chicago’s biggest Spanish-language paper, best in America in ’91 and ’92 according to the National Association of Hispanic Publications, the fattest hide for Exito to sink its teeth into. And what publisher Luis Rossi has cooked up is less a counterthrust than a preemptive strike. Rossi and Sun-Times publisher Sam McKeel announced Tuesday that this weekend the Sunday Sun-Times introduces a brand-new La Raza in Latino neighborhoods–the magazine La Raza Domingo. Edited by La Raza, printed by the Sun-Times, with ads sold by both papers, Domingo will be 24 pages long and the first press run will be 100,000 copies.

“Put it this way,” La Raza’s sales/marketing director Robert Armband went on, “it’s going to be a vehicle that what the Tribune is doing can’t compete with.”

It’s hard to imagine the Tribune unable to compete. Nevertheless, “symbiotic” could have been coined to describe Rossi and McKeel’s new relationship. La Raza has turf to defend. And the Sun-Times’s Sunday circulation has been melting away like helado on asphalt. “It’s in big trouble,” Rossi agreed. “A little guy like us can help a big company like the Sun-Times bring in 10,000 or 20,000 new subscribers. I think it’s a winner.

“At the Tribune they want to invent the world themselves. They want to do it themselves. They want to own it themselves. It’s smarter the Sun-Times way. They say, “Let’s get the best Spanish paper and work with them.’ The Sun-Times gives our community the opportunity to own a piece of the cake.”

Two years ago the Tribune Company’s Sun-Sentinel subsidiary in Fort Lauderdale launched a weekly Exito for Miami’s Cuban American market. Exito here will look a lot like it, modified after the usual focus groups to accommodate different demographics–the audience here is much more Mexican American and much more working class. Topic A, publisher Mario Aranda told us, is “the Hispanic version of the American dream.”

The Tribune Company’s assembled an imposing team. Aranda’s the former executive director of the Latino Institute; editor Alfredo Lanier used to edit Chicago Enterprise. Beneath them is a staff of 24; they’re still operating out of the Tower, but Aranda’s already picked out permanent offices in River North.

Issue one, which you should look for later this month, will be at least 64 pages long, says Aranda, maybe even fatter. “I need to tell you that we have met our advertising goals, and anything new means we increase editorial and the size of the book.”

Thus striking even more terror into the hearts of the papers out there already? we wondered. “A number of them have come and broken bread with us and gotten familiar with what we’re doing,” Aranda assured us. “Unless they’re being real dishonest, they have some enthusiasm. ‘If you win, we win.’ Hispanics have tended to be socialized to believe we have to wait in line, the pie is small, and if it’s divided we have to fight among ourselves. Our greatest enemy is ignorance about ourselves and the market. We’ll grow the market.”

And yet in July the bilingual Extra–which is controlled by Miami interests, publishes seven zoned editions in Chicago, and claims a weekly free circulation of 68,000–went to federal court to stop the Tribune. The suit alleges that Exito (which means “success”) and Extra (which means “extra”) are “confusingly similar in sound and appearance.” What’s more, for the past four years Extra has published an occasional educational section called “Exito.”

“Now that the Hispanic market is gaining new strength in numbers and buying power, Tribune Company is trying to muscle its way in with deception, bully tactics, and outright rip-off of our own names,” stated publisher Mila Tellez when the suit was filed.

Far be it from us to pass judgment on pending litigation, no matter how much of a stretch it might be. At any rate, Tellez is now out as publisher, and Henry Fernandez from Miami is in. Fernandez tells me he’s reviewing his options. One is to go “full speed ahead” in Extra’s suit against the Tribune Company. Another is just to drop it.

More on the Jarrett Affair

Vernon Jarrett’s jousting with the Sun-Times took up our entire column last week, and we ran out of room before we got to say what we think about it.

We think it’s ridiculous. Here was Jarrett’s boss Mark Hornung threatening dismissal because Jarrett didn’t bother to attend editorial-board meetings or generally account for his whereabouts. And here was Jarrett insisting he’d never wanted to be on the editorial board in the first place and wouldn’t have joined if he’d known that one day they’d make him do something.

Since Jarrett doesn’t want to be on the board–and even if he did–the Sun-Times is nuts to keep him there. Jarrett’s the soul mate of the main-street publisher who doesn’t just put out the local Bugle but wields it to enforce his theories of civic virtue. Yet it isn’t Jarrett’s paper, it isn’t his printing press, it isn’t even his editorial page. But by God it’s his stentorian voice in his column and in the lodges and churches of the south side trying to bend black Chicago to his vision. More honest than George Will, who used to tutor Ronald Reagan in secret, Jarrett openly strives to shape the history he writes about. Inevitably he’s been pilloried by the white adversaries, such as Edward Vrdolyak, of his black confidantes, such as Harold Washington, for going way beyond the line that opportunistic moralists like to insist must bar the sayers from the doers.

We don’t accept that line. As a columnist, Jarrett has the right to say and write and do anything he wants. If his views and conduct become too repugnant–or archaic–for the Sun-Times to bear, it can drop his column and take the consequences. That’s the relationship, and by keeping him on the editorial board the Sun-Times confuses it.

It’s always seemed odd to us that any paper–the Sun-Times isn’t alone here–would allow a board member to write both editorials and columns: (1) The column becomes a reward for the editorials, which is a hell of a way to kiss off the editorials. (2) One argument frequently gets made twice, often with the same snappy ironies and metaphors intact. This is silly, and if you’re on the other side of the one-two punch it’s also unfair.

And (3), the two jobs aren’t even compatible. Jarrett’s integrity is cut a peg by any suggestion that when he writes he worries an instant about what the Sun-Times thinks. His board membership is one such suggestion. Not that Jarrett even does editorials, but let’s say in conference he offers the board a useful perspective now and then. He can offer it in his column. Like Mike Royko’s bosses at the Tribune, Jarrett’s can find out what he thinks by reading him. Loose cannons don’t belong in the wardroom.

Whatever Happened to Robert Marsh?

We just heard from Robert Marsh. You’ll remember Marsh as the classical-music critic at the Sun-Times who was demoted in favor of Wynne Delacoma in April of 1991 and soon after left the paper. His crime, as we reported then, was to not report promptly Margaret Hillis’s announcement that she intended to retire as director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

“The opening of the Chicago Symphony season provides an occasion for the following observations,” Marsh now writes us. “On September 17, two and a half years later, the Chicago Symphony opens its 103rd season with the Verdi Requiem featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Margaret Hillis conductor. She is still firmly in place. I called the shot right. My remark, quoted by you in the Reader, that this was not spot news has a nice ring of irony.

“Actually the real issue was never, I feel, the Hillis story but the balance of power in the newspaper organization. . . . Under the present management the Sun-Times is an editors’ paper. Editors, even a person administrating a large and diversified department, or kids fresh from journalism school starting on the copydesk, officially have superior judgment to writers of long experience.

“It was inevitable that someone like myself was not going to accept this situation. I was unhappy that strong copy, the sort of writing that once made the bright one bright, was often emasculated or simply not printed. I am not a pathetic old hack who needs to be closely supervised in order to function effectively. I am a critic of international reputation. This spring I published a major piece of work in Japan. After retirement from the Sun-Times I remain safely in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World.”

Marsh closed, “I am publishing good work, and the editors of the Sun-Times seem to be getting exactly the sort of writing they want. I hope everyone is as happy as I am.”

It’s always nice to be able to close a column on the upbeat.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.