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MEXICO CITY JOURNAL

Speaking the same language

An influx of U.S. and Canadian citizens prompts two journalism neophytes to publish an English-language paper.

February 14, 2007|Reed Johnson | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — The signs are unmistakable: an NFL game at Azteca Stadium, soaring land prices from Ensenada to Merida and a Starbucks infestation of the swanky Polanco neighborhood.

Though most Americans are aware of the growing "Latinization" of the United States, a parallel phenomenon is taking place on the other side of the border. Already, at least half a million U.S. ex-patriots and long-term visitors make their homes in Mexico (plus another half-million Canadians). That number will soar as millions of retired baby boomers stampede south in the coming decades, remaking the cultural landscape in their own image.

Yet one thing this exile community has conspicuously lacked, until now, is an English-language print journal to call its own. A handful of English-language newspapers and magazines from the U.S. are available here, including the New York Times and the Miami Herald's international edition. But Mexico's oldest, most visible niche English publication, the 53-year-old tabloid-style News, folded four years ago and hasn't fully been replaced.

That situation surprised Aran Shetterly, 36, and his wife, Margot Lee Shetterly, 37, when the couple began scoping out a blueprint for Inside Mexico, the free, English-language monthly newspaper they launched last November.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Mexico City newspaper: An article in Wednesday's Calendar section about an English-language newspaper in Mexico City referred to the many U.S. ex-patriots who live there. It should have said expatriates.

"We were frankly surprised at the numbers, for the sheer size of the market," says Margot, the company's president and managing editor, who like her husband never had worked for a newspaper before. "This is the kind of opportunity that comes along only once in a lifetime."

The couple -- who met, married and moved to Mexico to open their new business all within a whirlwind span between 2003 and 2005, culminating in a 4,000-mile trip in a new Honda Element -- seem determined to make the most of their singular chance.

Working out of their home in the fin de siecle Roma neighborhood with a core staff of eight, evenly divided between Americans and Mexicans, they've produced a lively, attractive, 40-page gazette that offers something for both first-time sightseers as well as gringos who've gone fully native.

Unlike other past or present English-language papers, Inside Mexico targets ex-pats as much as casual tourists and business people. And its feature-y writing style and emphasis on the arts, culture and lifestyles rather than hard news is more redolent of magazines than newspapers.

The print run of 20,000 is distributed at coffee shops, hotels and other tourist-friendly venues here. But it's also being distributed in popular ex-pat haunts and major beach resorts around the country. The couple also plan to open a radio station and have started distributing a weekly newsletter, the Tip, which goes out to 10,000 readers. Their website (www.insidemex.com) also is attracting thousands of hits.

Heavy on profiles, features about cultural happenings and guides to the city's hot bars and restaurants, Inside Mexico takes some of its style cues from urban magazines such as "New York." But the Shetterlys, who write for the paper when they're not busy running it, say their true editorial model is closer to the Village Voice, the Chicago Reader and other sophisticated U.S. alternative newsweeklies.

To that end, they vow that they will tackle hard-news topics such as Mexico's rampant drug-related violence and the real-estate scams that have afflicted some U.S. retirees in search of a Baja or Puerto Vallarta dream house. "We may want to be an established presence ... before we take too many risks," says Aran, who holds the titles of the paper's editor in chief and CEO.

The debut issue contained informative stories on the weeks-long encampment supporting failed presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the mystical mountain town of Tepoztlan, plus a guide to the de moda Condesa district that included listings for fitness studios and health food eateries. (Can ex-pat romantic classified ads be far away?)

It also presented dozens of thumbnail snapshots of foreigners living in Mexico. A related feature, written by Margot, cited some of the strains that the incoming American hordes have placed on Mexico's natural resources and social service agencies.

The December-January issue paid tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe's many incarnations, in an eight-page spread written by the Mexico City editor, Catherine Dunn, 24, and illustrated by staff photographer Luz Montero, 32. Multitasker Maya Harris, 24, the paper's public relations coordinator, who was hired away from the American Chamber of Commerce, and a number of freelance writers, also help fill the pages.

One of the paper's Mexican employees, Griselda Juarez, had been working as a housekeeper at the $42-a-night hotel where the Shetterlys used to stay when she began selling ads for the paper. "We would blow into town and have like 22 meetings in a week," Margot says. "She [Juarez] was totally calm in the face of this constant chaos."

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