Along the highway into Laredo from the northeast, the first thing a visitor sees is a beige metallic building with a tall sign identifying it as the headquarters of the Laredo News. Prominently displayed on the sign is the newspaper’s slogan: “Keeps You Ahead of the Times.” As is so often the case in South Texas, there is more to this than meets the eye. It is less a slogan than a declaration of war, aimed at Laredo’s other daily newspaper, the Laredo Morning Times. Of all the cities in Texas, Laredo is the least likely site for a newspaper war. Statistically it is the poorest of the nation’s 305 metropolitan areas. A third of its households qualify for food stamps. Its population of 91,000 is more than 90 per cent Hispanic, and Spanish is the language of the street and the home. Successive peso devaluations have wrecked the economy that depended on trade from much larger Nuevo Laredo. Billboards all over town plead, “Believe in Laredo,” but most of the money in town is old money and those who have it aren’t about to risk it locally. It would be hard for one English-language newspaper to thrive here, much less two. Yet the war has been going on since 1977, and no end is in sight.
On an average day a visitor would find the papers indistinguishable. Each displays its name on a blue background. Each is a seven-day, full-size, morning paper. Each has at least one page written in Spanish. Each does a better job than the average small daily of letting the reader know what is going on in town. But in the things that count in South Texas—roots and political connections—the two papers couldn’t be more different. The Times has been around for 103 years, the News