A New Front Page

Bill Lara and Pedro Gonzalez have a vision: Unite Miami's small community newspapers as a force to be reckoned with

The CMC founders believe that community tabloids can improve their advertising earnings by combining forces. Another CMC goal is to upgrade their affiliated papers technically and journalistically. The organization has compiled a list of independent small periodicals in Miami-Dade. Currently the list numbers about 150 (in eight languages), though the total is constantly fluctuating as new publications hit the street and others go under.

As for how many actually are affiliated with CMC, director of operations Bill Lara, Jr., estimates he works with about twenty on editorial content, advertising, production, or all three. But CMC is still inventing itself; affiliation with the organization means different things to different papers, though Lara says he's developing more formal terms of membership and plans to begin charging fees or dues later this year. But first CMC needs to get its own papers in order. Its registration as a nonprofit corporation with the Florida Secretary of State's office expired this past September because the required annual report wasn't filed. Now CMC will have to come up with $350 for reinstatement.

Pedro Gonzalez hasn't burned his bridges to Cuba
Bill Cooke
Pedro Gonzalez hasn't burned his bridges to Cuba
Pedro Gonzalez hasn't burned his bridges to Cuba
Bill Cooke
Pedro Gonzalez hasn't burned his bridges to Cuba

Bill Lara is a lone disheveled figure at the end of a long expanse of conference table at the CMC office on Madeira Avenue in Coral Gables. In front of him is a computer keyboard and a monitor. Directly at his back is a wide-screen television that takes up the top half of the entire wall. Lara, 43 years old, is pale and baby faced, his dark-brown hair struggling to stay neatly combed. His shirt is open halfway down his chest, revealing a gold-plated Sacred Heart of Jesus medallion his mother gave him. In between answering the phone and talking stream of consciousness to the beat of his tapping pen, Lara is working on a computer presentation he plans to make later in the week at a meeting with a representative from the Florida State Lottery. The CMC wants to convince the lottery to place ads in its affiliated papers. The only small tabloids in Miami-Dade that currently run Lotto advertising are the more politically connected Cuban-exile papers.

Lara has in mind a sort of syndicate in which CMC member publications will have access to the same ads (of all kinds, not just Lotto) as well as the same news articles. One reporter would cover, say, county commission meetings, and write stories all CMC papers could run. "We need a community media-outlet representative in Washington," Lara muses. "We're also trying to negotiate health insurance for our members." Earlier this month the U.S. Department of State asked CMC to host a roundtable discussion of the U.S. electoral process for twenty journalists visiting from Europe.

A shipment of donated computers arrived at the CMC office a few days earlier, and Lara has begun to deliver modems and monitors to some of the smaller periodiquitos. He hooks them up with Internet search engines and Websites. "Pretty soon we'll be able to put [a story] on the Internet, and we'll call to let them know where it is," Lara says. "That kind of education doesn't exist yet at the community [-newspaper] level."

CMC also recently secured a distribution deal that, according to Lara, will cut costs from $1.50 to $1.00 per distribution stop per publication.

That's just the beginning of what Lara and Gonzalez envision. Already, acting under the aegis of CMC, they have joined other groups to promote causes such as the One Nation immigrant citizenship project, and last year's anti-penny tax campaign. This past January CMC was among several organizations from all over the nation drumming up attendance at a "Send Elian Back" rally in Miami. Now Lara and Gonzalez want CMC to play a role in staging cultural events and are preparing to apply for county arts funds. They plan to set up cultural exchanges with Cuba and other Caribbean countries. "We believe one of the first things CMC needs to do is to open the lines of communication among different communities," asserts Lara. "One way is media outlets; the second most immediate way is cultural ties. We don't really have a big Haitian theater here, a Hispanic theater, or a lot of African music performances. We're trying to make those things feasible. Sure, it's idealistic, but I don't know how to think any other way."

Lara, whose father is a retired airline employee, was born in El Salvador but grew up in Panama and Venezuela. He attended Miami Military Academy as a teenager, and later St. Leo University, near Tampa. In 1981 he settled in Miami and enrolled in theater classes at Miami-Dade Community College's South Campus, where he discovered journalism. He worked for several years, on and off, at the well-regarded MDCC newspaper the Catalyst, also serving as the editor. For a while in the early Nineties he wrote for Community Newspapers, Inc., the weekly chain based in Coral Gables, and for two years he edited a now-defunct gambling-industry magazine, Player. About this time he and Gonzalez met.

The tall, gray-haired Gonzalez worked for two decades as a television and radio journalist in Cuba. He says he left the country in 1990 after a dispute with the government. Nevertheless Gonzalez has not repudiated the Castro regime. He travels regularly to the island in conjunction with a number of projects he's trying to launch, one of which is a tour operation. He also visits Cuba to interview people for the small newspaper he publishes from his home in Miami Springs. In turn Gonzalez transmits reports from Miami on events of interest to the Cuban media -- on a volunteer basis, he adds. To supplement the meager income from his paper, La Nación, he writes freelance articles.

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