El Heraldo comes to Baltimore


Manuel E. Alban says there's nothing worse than Wednesday mornings at 4 o'clock, when his paper should be ready for the printer but his head proofreader finds another mistake and a page has to be pasted up all over again.

"Yes, my wife is a very tough proofreader," Mr. Alban says as he sits in the paper's office, which doubles as the basement of his Churchville home. "Sometimes, I admit, I get angry when she says we have to do it again -- but she doesn't allow mistakes."

Mr. Alban's weekly, 2-year-old El Heraldo (the Herald), is the only Spanish-language paper in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Yesterday, it entered the city for the first time, opening a small office at 321 N. Calvert St. that will allow Mr. Alban, an engineer by trade, to report and write more stories about Baltimore's growing Hispanic population.

"The Baltimore office will centralize all the business I'm doing," says the publisher, who also consults for engineering companies and represents a Texas mortgage firm trying to add business in Maryland. "One of the complaints has been that I'm not a city guy, that the paper isn't a city paper."

Mr. Alban, who immigrated from Ecuador in 1965 to study at the Johns Hopkins University, published the first issue of the weekly Oct. 10, 1993. He says the paper was needed because many new Hispanic immigrants did not have the language skills to read English-language papers.

He hadn't published a paper since he was in high school. But using his savings, Mr. Alban bought computers, printed 5,000 copies and ignored all the businesses who had ignored his pleas for ads. "When I started the paper, no one believed it would last more than three weeks," he says.

Two years later, the paper has $500 in weekly advertising revenue. Mr. Alban uses that money and some of his own to have up to 10,000 copies printed. About 1,500 of those are sent to mail subscribers, and the rest are distributed for free in Hispanic-owned businesses throughout the area.

Mr. Alban, 53, delivers the paper himself. Merchants say sometimes the paper arrives a week late. Nevertheless, Mr. Alban can boast of several scoops, including being the first in town to publish a schedule of the Pope's visit. And like many Spanish-language publishers nationwide, he prints only in Spanish and emphasizes international news above the local.

"Papers like his are growing, and they are filling a news gap for Latinos," says Tino Duran, who publishes a bilingual paper in San Antonio and is a former president of the National Association of Hispanic Publishers.

Mr. Alban's father was president of the City Council in Lacatunga, Ecuador. At 16, Manuel published a four-page paper called El Heraldo. The paper criticized public officials so viciously that his father made him stop after four issues.

Decades later, Mr. Alban is more businessman than serious journalist. For example, his paper allows contributors, which include both foreign journalists and Schmoke administration officials, to write under pseudonyms.

While El Heraldo may expand, Mr. Alban won't change the way he puts it together: starting every Tuesday night at 7 and not stopping to sleep "until the paper is done."

On a recent production night, a sweaty Mr. Alban wore a short-sleeve shirt, shorts and blue slippers, and Mrs. Alban had on a nightgown. The publisher does all his writing and most of the editing the weekend before an issue is produced. The gray-carpeted basement, is reserved for last-minute changes and pasting together pages.

"Now that we're moving into the city, I have to do even more for the community," says Mr. Alban, betraying a rare trace of worry in a happy-go-lucky editor. "My wife and I must find a way to make this paper perfect."

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