Latino News: 20 Years on Higher Ground

There weren’t many small business incubators in Alabama when Jairo Vargas started Latino News in 1996, but you could say that what he got was far better than the standard advice newcomers get nowadays.

Vargas had moved his family from Colombia, South America, to Gadsden in the 1990s and quickly found that there were few good sources there for news geared to those who only spoke Spanish.

Perhaps his solution was inspired. He went to the priest at St. James Catholic Church and asked if a portion of the church bulletin could be dedicated to news and announcements in Spanish.

The priest’s response, according to Vargas: Why don’t you make a Spanish newspaper? Print it on the church copier, the priest said. For the next two months, that’s what Vargas did, distributing 600 copies of a four-page newspaper around Gadsden and surrounding communities. After two months, the priest told him he would have to find a new printer.

“Why, Father?” he asked the priest.

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“Because you are ready, ” was the response.

The first non-church printing was 2, 000 copies in 1997, and the 20 years since has been a “long road, ” Vargas says. His daughter, Vanessa, who grew up at the newspaper, graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and now works by his side. Latino News publishes a weekly newspaper distributed in 14 counties in Alabama and Tennessee that connects and informs more than 12, 000 Latino readers. It has spawned an evening online broadcast and app that has brought the publication into the digital age.

Latino News readers are often older immigrants with the equivalent of a high school education, not that comfortable with web surfing, but their children are good with technology and want more digital options, he says.

Vargas was named Hands On Birmingham’s Ignite 2017 Small Business Volunteer of the Year.

Text by Dave Helms

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