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

She puts together her monthly editions at night and on weekends. Nagee writes most of the copy. When possible she covers county commission or school board meetings and other local events. She has converted a den into an office furnished with computer, copier, and large color printer. But the room was badly flooded during Hurricane Irene last year, and she hasn't been able to afford to replace the flooring, which now is bare concrete. In fact Nagee hasn't had the cash to put out Caribbean Contact for the past five years; each issue costs a minimum of $6000 to produce, and the only way she keeps going is by racking up more credit-card debt every month. "I've never been so penniless," she lamented. "I have to do a lot of trades, like an airline might pay for an ad in tickets, which I can then give to a vendor instead of cash."

Nagee was upbeat about an agreement she just entered into with CMC. They'll provide office space in Kendall for her two telemarketers. "No charge at all," Lara enthused. "All we ask is for her to put our logo on the front page and let us run an occasional PSA [public-service announcement]." Nagee also can benefit from any package advertising deals CMC might make.

Sometimes Bill Lara has to be a dictator to whip a paper into shape
Bill Cooke
Sometimes Bill Lara has to be a dictator to whip a paper into shape

Not infrequently Bill Lara shifts into white-knight mode. He'll ride into a struggling or nascent paper, name himself executive editor, and take charge of everything. He sees this as a temporary setup. "Our intent is more to get [paper personnel] together and figure out what they want to do," Lara explains. "As soon as they've got it working, my plan is to move out. Right now it's a little bit of a dictatorship, but it's the only way to do it fast. There is some money; I get to design some and collect some as a subcontractor, but it's not my personal idea to be an ad agency."

The way Pedro Gonzalez thinks of it: "We have to look at ourselves as parents."

One of their offspring is Qué Pasa Miami, a chatty Spanish-language tabloid specializing in exposes of corruption and Cuban exile politics. The Qué Pasa headquarters, which Lara also uses as a second CMC office, is two closet-size rooms on the fourth floor of a funky, Sixties-vintage office building in the heart of Little Havana. The backroom of the office is taken up with a wide wooden desk and bookcase. In the wood-paneled front room sit a computer and a printer on a desk; a metal filing cabinet is plastered with snapshots, all taken by publisher Raul Alfonso, of every local Latin politician of any note: Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, commissioners, state and federal legislators.

Alejandro Vigoreaux has been spending a lot of time at the Qué Pasa office, which also has become headquarters for his brand-new periodiquito, La Voz de Borinquen. Vigoreaux says he's been dreaming for years of publishing a paper, and now the first monthly edition is almost ready for the printer. There's been some difficulty with advertising, but Vigoreaux and Lara, the dictator, insist La Voz is all but on the street, and that once it does come out, it will be Miami-Dade's only Puerto Rican newspaper. La Voz contains mostly entertainment news, the subject Vigoreaux knows best. He's been a musician ever since he could hold a trumpet, and his father is still a prominent musician and educator in Santurce. The tall, smiling Vigoreaux played in orchestras in New York before moving to Miami in the Eighties. In recent years he has worked as an automobile salesman and hosted radio and television programs on the side.

"News copy we got for [Vigoreaux], design we got for him, he's paying a printer, he paid for the designer," Lara recounts. "He wants to do type-A format color on the inside and outside. It's just he doesn't have the setup himself. So he comes over to our [Coral Gables] office for that. He's been knocking on doors [of prospective advertisers] all over town. But we did just make a deal with the Puerto Rican government office here, and the Puerto Rican Professionals Association of South Florida will advertise in La Voz."

Rafael Morel, executive assistant at the Office of the Government of Puerto Rico in Miami, welcomes Vigoreaux's project. But Morel and his cohorts would be even happier to see someone launch a publication addressing more complex political and economic realities of Puerto Rican life. "The Cuban issue dominates the news, and that leaves very little space for our issues," Morel says. "Yet there are about 300,000 Puerto Ricans in Dade and Broward counties. I haven't been successful yet in putting together a group of people interested in publishing a paper and who would benefit from the resources of Bill and Pedro. But CMC has a lot of potential, and it is very visionary. They have ways to establish a paper and to improve a paper that already exists. At the same time, they're focusing on getting block advertising, so that really brings the leveraging of advertising money to a whole different level. I think they're at the forefront of something that could really help out community media, but unfortunately the funding issue is a big one and affects the quality of a paper."

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