When The Herald-Sun discontinued Nuestro Pueblo, its bilingual supplement, it cut short an experiment and nipped in the bud a long-term relationship its editors had nurtured with Durham’s Latino community.

Nuestro Pueblo began in 1998 as a weekly page of articles written in both Spanish and English by metro editor Mark Schultz under the direction of executive editor Bill Hawkins. In 2000, a freestanding monthly publication was created. “Both were called Nuestro Pueblo,” Schultz explains. “We wanted to keep the name recognition. We realized people were not going to get our daily paper for one bilingual page per week, so we decided to reprint the articles in Spanish along with an expanded calendar, church listings and community resources as a public service to the growing Latino population.”

The monthly was comprised of between eight and 16 pages, depending on ad sales. It was distributed free in more than 60 churches, tiendas and community centers across the western Triangle, and to Spanish and ESL teachers. It was run on a shoestring budget of $3,000 a month, with Schultz devoting much of his own time to writing, editing, translating and even shooting photos.

Shortly after Paxton took over The Herald-Sun in January, editor Bob Ashley and publisher Bob Childress chose to discontinue the monthly supplement. “It just wasn’t getting any traction,” Ashley says.

Hawkins had been fired by the new management. Schultz left in March to become Orange County editor of The News & Observer and editor of The Chapel Hill News. The paper’s Spanish language skills left with him.

Ashley says he wanted to keep the bilingual page, “but it was very much Mark’s creature. Probably the lesson here is that you really ought not build a project around one person, ’cause when that person goes, we simply didn’t have the wherewithal to keep it going.”

Nuestro Pueblo hasn’t been missed, Ashley says. “Frankly, except for people who were using it to polish up their Spanish skills, we didn’t get much feedback on its loss, so I don’t know that we’re looking to reinstitute that right now.”

But he says the paper is actively trying to increase its coverage of the Latino community. Metro editor Dan Way, who was hired in June, is a fluent Spanish speaker, which Ashley says he hopes to take advantage of. “That is an area where we need to grow and where I think we are growing.”

Ivan Parra, organizer for the North Carolina Latino Coalition, says the loss of Nuestro Pueblo continues to be felt in the Latino community. “It’s sad that they decided it wasn’t an important part of the paper anymore and they discontinued it.” Listings and calendars were vital, he says, as were ads for attorneys, medical clinics and landlords that served Spanish-speaking clients.

But the best thing about Nuestro Pueblo, Parra says, was the way it bridged two communities, connecting English speakers to the Latino community and making Latinos aware of city and county issues they would otherwise not have known about. Other Spanish publications such as Que Pasa and La Conexión have filled the gap to some extent, he says, but they lack the original reporting and cross-cultural reach. And with a statewide coverage area, they lack the in-depth local coverage that made Nuestro Pueblo essential reading.

Schultz is proud of the work he and Hawkins did. “We covered so much,” he says: immigrant stories, cultural and religious events like Fiesta del Pueblo, the rise of the goatmeat industry, diabetes in the Hispanic community, the election of John Herrera to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen–the first Latino to be elected to public office in North Carolina.

“It was a beautiful experiment,” says Rodrigo Dorfman, a frequent contributor to Nuestro Pueblo. “It happened just as the Latino community exploded and the community was trying to find new ways of expressing what was going on.” Dorfman says the paper gave him an open forum for political expression in his opinion columns in which he rallied Latinos of all nationalities to stand up for their collective rights. “I’m very grateful. I got away with some really radical shit that not even The N&O would have published.”

He says the impact of its loss is hard to quantify. “In a way, we’ll never know, because they didn’t follow it through. Editorially, they’ve shown that they’re not that interested in making an effort–it was an effort to reach out to the Latino population in that way and to create a meeting place for Anglos and Latinos.” After Schultz’s departure, Dorfman heard nothing from anyone at the paper about the fate of Nuestro Pueblo until he sent an e-mail to Ashley, who replied that the paper was in transition. He hasn’t heard anything since.

Schultz is now beginning to develop bilingual content for The Chapel Hill News and has been talking to editors at The Durham News, another of The N&O‘s community weeklies.

Parra says there’s still a need and an audience, “not only in terms of information and news, but also in terms of a market that would be a benefit to the newspaper. Even if they only look at it from that perspective, it would be a benefit to the community.”