San Diego Is José Santiago Healy Loera cut from the same cloth as his grandfather? In 1916, José Santiago Healy, son of Irish immigrants to Mexico, risked his life to truly report the Mexican Revolution. He survived and was invited to Sonora state by an admirer -- Adolfo de la Huerta, revolutionary leader, state govrnor, and president (briefly) of Mexico. Healy went on to create El Imparcial, a newspaper known for its courage and independence, which his descendants still run 62 years later. El Imparcial, based in the state capital and now Sonora's largest daily newspaper, has a reputation for living up to its name, of not being "bought" by politicians, business, or criminals.
But now, two generations later, Healy's grandson, José Santiago Healy Loera, 42, is coming to stake a claim for himself in a town many believe has a much rougher journalistic environment -- Tijuana. In a matter of days (he's keeping the date secret), he will launch his newspaper, Frontera. Frontera promises to be a serious challenge to established papers like El Mexicano and to the political, trade-union, journalistic, and even narco-trafficking circles of the border.
Healy is nothing if not serious about his undertaking. He has invested $8 million in the "palace" (as other Tijuana journalists describe the giant yellow-and-cream building near the Tijuana River), and in hiring and training "220 business and editorial staff."
When a visitor arrives, the guards outside the yellow building on Via Rápida Poniente still don't know who "José Santiago Healy" is. Inside, electricians and carpenters are still at work in stairwells and offices. But in the newsroom you get to by climbing a marble staircase, most of the 32 reporters seem to be at work already. They lean into blue-gray cubicles, clicking away on computer terminals flashing Spanish prose. Raúl Ruiz Castillo, Frontera's sub-director editorial, the man who will edit the paper, says they are practicing writing to deadline, creating mock-ups, and storing a backlog of stories for when the paper hits the streets.
All the men wear short, neat haircuts, and they all wear ties.
So does 42-year-old Healy. Sitting at his desk in a modest, windowless office on the second floor, he looks more like a local bureaucrat than cigar-chomping editor. His trimmed black mustache, his neat suit and tie give no clue to a connection with his revolution-chasing grandfather. Yet he knows journalism. After getting his degree at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, he worked as a print and then television reporter before joining the family business in Hermosillo. Now he has taken over from his father and has already created publications in Mexicali and in Tucson, Arizona.
"Nine years ago we founded La Crónica in Mexicali with the idea of growth," says Healy. "We have had a very good experience in these nine years." (La Crónica's circulation is now 11,000.)
But Healy recognized that Tijuana, at around 1.5 million inhabitants the fifth-largest market in Mexico (after Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Puebla), was a dream opportunity. He believes the town's rising, educated, middle classes are underserved. The newspaper revolution that his grandfather helped initiate -- which bucked traditional government controls through payoffs, a newsprint monopoly, and blatant threats and bribes -- hadn't happened in Tijuana, one of the country's most progressive cities.
"Two years ago we started to see about Tijuana," he says. "For everybody in Mexico, Tijuana is one of the most happening cities. So we started to analyze the possibility of including a Tijuana section in La Crónica. But we did some research and discovered that many people in Tijuana want a new newspaper, a more independent newspaper, a more reader-friendly paper, a paper with different sections for readers' different niches [of interest]. I knew if we didn't start this, somebody from another part of Mexico would do it. So we decided to start first."
He promises his paper will be a cut above the present competition. "We will have the normal sections, sports, business, finance, with full color on the front pages. Six sections for a start. And special weekly supplements."
He says his staff is up to it: All his reporters are university journalism graduates. And a look around tells you this is no macho enclave; around half of them are women.
"They are very good reporters," says Healy. "They are very intelligent, very responsible people. One reason we get so many women is many of them are going to the journalism schools and communications schools. Some careers are more for men, like engineering. With communications, at least in Mexico, more women than men are going for it."
He has ambitious plans for the launch: 20,000 copies will be on the streets. That's 8000 more than estimates of the well-established El Mexicano's daily circulation. Healy hopes to double his paper's circulation to 40,000.
But Tijuana is a rough city, especially for newcomers. Its crime wave continues to escalate. Accusations of corruption continue to fly at city and state government and police. Narco-trafficking is a dangerous beat. But Healy is adamant that his reporters and editors will not fall into the habits that have bedeviled the traditionally underpaid Mexican newspaper profession. "We have been handling this [problem] for many years," he says. "So I don't think [Tijuana] will be very different from Sonora and Mexicali. We as journalists are like other professions. Just follow the principles of your profession and it will work. Yes, sometimes it's more difficult than others."
He says that even if other reporters are used to receiving gifts, or expenses, or a percentage of government advertising they bring to the paper, none of these things will be allowed on Frontera.
"In our ethics code we are very strict regarding things like receiving gifts, food expenses. Many customs that used to prevail in Mexico, we have been [eliminating] in our newspapers. Because we think that the more independent [our] people are, the more independent our newspaper is. Turning down the [free lunch or the bribe] is hard the first time. But we want the people to know that we don't accept these kinds of [gifts]. Then people respect you. We try to pay a good salary, enough to be a professional salary, to attract good people to live with this salary."