This holiday season has gotten off to a rough start for Louis Bello.
While his family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at his daughter's house in Woodbridge, Bello was trying to put out the premiere edition of Prince William County's Spanish-language newspaper, Extra-Extra. First, his car broke down on the way to the typesetter. Then the typesetting equipment didn't work. He missed Thanksgiving dinner altogether.
The next day, while his family was enjoying leftovers, Bello toiled again, getting his paper out a few days late, but receiving a pretty good reception. Friends and family spread about 3,000 copies of the free tabloid around county stores and several thousand more copies elsewhere in Northern Virginia.
Apparently, that wasn't enough. Bello has had a lot of calls from people who haven't been able to find copies of the newspaper. Woodbridge High School asked for copies for its Spanish classes, as did the public library.
"People are snapping them up and calling to find out when the next one comes out," Bello said. "The interest is there. It's obvious."
With an estimated 20,000 to 30,00 Hispanics living in Prince William County, and with Spanish masses packed at some churches, the potential readership is considerable, he said.
So much so that as other people are wrapping Christmas presents, Bello is forsaking another holiday ritual to work on the second issue, due out this week.
"From here on, it's got to be easier," said Bello, who makes his living running a print shop out of his Manassas Park home. "I'm surprised we got it out at all, we had so many problems."
The first issue featured stories on the elections in Guatemala, English classes at a Manassas church, the Latin festival in the District and plenty of ink on the local Hispanic soccer teams.
"We're hoping to reach the ones who couldn't or wouldn't pick up the English media," he said. "We're not trying to put out a sophisticated publication, but something they can breeze through at lunch. Not too heavy with national news, but with things like soccer. That might not seem like a big deal, but for them it's the weekend."
Bello said he got the idea for a Spanish-language paper two years ago when he heard that the county's Hispanic task force didn't include anyone who spoke Spanish. Trying to bridge the gulf between well-intentioned government agencies and Latin Americans who function outside of the linguistic mainstream, Bello decided to enter the newspaper business once he could persuade enough advertisers to defray the cost.
He ended up digging into his own pocket for $50 beyond what the ads paid for, but Bello said that the response has made it easier to line up sponsors for the next issue, and one has made a four-issue commitment.
Bello said he grew up speaking Spanish in Puerto Rico and New York, but that his writing fluency has waned. Thus, he relies on editor Otto Escobedo, a Guatemala-born Manassas resident, to fine-tune articles.
Though he doesn't edit, Bello has plenty to do between selling ads, delivering papers, writing stories and proofing pages.
"It's a lot of hassle to make a newspaper," he said. "I'm glad I decided not to make it a daily."