The idea of publishing a Spanish-language newspaper for the Washington area's Hispanos -- variously estimated to number 150,000 to 300,000 persons -- is hardly new.
But the list of Spanish-language publications that have tried and failed to overcome the grim realities of commercial newspaper economics in the past 10 years includes the now-defunct Critica, The Columbian, Presencia and many more.
Nothing daunted, Argentine-born Lili Packer -- who has lived in this country for 23 years and is now a U.S. citizen -- believes El Diario de Washington will succeed where others have failed.
Packer runs a strictly commercial venture. She took an initial investment of a quarter of a million dollars, a small group of dedicated people and ambitious plan for local editions in other cities around the country, and is producing a 16- to 24-page Spanish-language daily.
"Diario de las Americas (of Miami) and El Diario-La Prensa (of New York) can't begin to keep our local community or any other local community well informed. Washington and other cities need their own publications," said Packer, president of the recently formed International Communications Group, Inc.
Packer's scheme is deceptively simple and sweepingly broad: In New York, International Communications puts together eight or 12 newspaper pages, primarily from International wire service copy of interest to Hispanos, and transmits those pages to other communities where an additional four or eight pages of local news are added before printing. International Communications already has had inquiries from groups interested in putting out local editions in Toronto, Boston and Chicago.
A daily New York edition, El Correo de Nueva York, was launched April 1, and D.C.'s daily El Diario de Washington appeared May 2. Due to equipment problems, the Washington edition will be printed temporarily in New York -- where Chilean-born editor-publisher Raul Valdivia is in charge -- and shipped to Washington by train. El Diario de Washington is sold mornings at 25 cents a copy at newsstands throughout the area.
The 24-page El Correo de Nueva York already has increased its press run from 5,000 to 10,000. El Diario de Washington began with a press run of 10,000 but with a scaled-down eight pages that will rise to 16 when expanded to include the local news section that Felipe Garcia, a Puerto Rican who works at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will produce.
"We will have a great many people working and helping out locally," said Lili Packer. "The local community in each place we put out an edition must help us get their news in the paper. We desperately want the local community to be involved."
Before the appearance of a strictly commercial publication such as El Diario de Washington, others -- including nonprofit groups such as the Centro Catolico Hispano (Spanish Catholic Center) -- struggled to fill the community's information void.
At the center's Silver Spring office, a small but dedicated team puts out a monthly newspaper called El Pregonero, and provides up to 10,000 copies for distribution by churches, community organizations and Hispanic-owned businesses throughout the area.
"When I first came here three and a half years ago, I wanted to do some kind of work with publications for tenants' associations," said El Pregonero's editor, Silverio Coy, a 28-year-old Colombian who works full-time for the center, which also has a District of Columbia office. "But people just couldn't seem to get organized. So I came to Father Sean (O'Malley, who runs the Spanish Catholic Center,) and he put up the money to get this community publication started."
El Pregonero was launched in July 1977 as a single-sheet hand-out listing Hispanic Catholic community events, but quickly expanded to its current eight-page format, including international, national and local news features.
The newspaper began to receive support from United Way in 1978, and now derives about 10 percent of its funding from that organization. Another 10 percent comes from the sale of ads to Hispanic businesses. The Catholic Church puts up the rest of its annual budget of about $10,000.
"That's $10,000 not counting the value of the work donated to the paper," pointed out Cuban-born Jose G. Roig who writes a regular column. Another regular volunteer contributor is Venezuelan-born Vicente Guerra.
"We are strictly a community paper," said Coy. "We don't want to make a big profit. Just breaking even would be nice."
Peruvian-born Luis Sanchez, an Interamerican Development Bank messenger, also wishes his newspaper were in a better economic position.
Sanchez, 30, came to Washington in 1976 and used his last $72, plus a $53 loan from a friend, to launch the monthly newspaper Latino in June 1977.
The eight-page offset newspaper is produced mainly by Sanchez in a borrowed room near 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. Volunteer help comes from other members of the Hispanic community. The paper concentrates on features about community problems and entertainment personalities.
Hispanic businesses and stores throughout the metropolitan area place large advertisements in Latino and receive the newspaper to distribute free to clients and customers.
The scheme works -- just barely. Latino, which has increased its press run from 1,000 to 8,000 in less than three years, was launched as a biweekly but in late 1977 switched to a monthly publication schedule when Sanchez was forced to take another job to survive.
"You might say Latino is my life," said Sanchez, who worked as a journalist in Lima for eight years before coming to the United States."I spend all my free time on it -- every single minute I'm not working at the bank.
"I guess I go on with it because someday I'd like to earn a living doing what I enjoy. But I've still never been able to make a cent from Latino."