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Media Moguls: Maria Eugenia Ferré '89 & Loren Ferré Rangel '92

By Phyllis Hanlon

Maria Eugenia Ferré ’89 & Loren Ferré Rangel ’92Loren Ferré Rangel '92 didn't give serious thought to her role in the family newspaper business as an undergraduate student at Holy Cross. Her pursuit of a French major with philosophy and art history minors seemed to lead her in a different direction. Her sister, Maria Eugenia Ferré '89, on the other hand, had spent her summers interning at the paper, so her involvement was anticipated. Little did the two women suspect, however, that within 10 years they would both be sitting atop a media monolith on the island of Puerto Rico.

In 1970, the women's father founded El Nuevo Día, currently the largest daily in Puerto Rico, with a circulation of 250,000. Their grandfather had started the original newspaper, El Día. After graduation, Maria completed a master's program that focused on communications and advertising. That background led to her role as vice president of administration for El Nuevo Día

In the meantime, Loren entered Boston University to pursue preservation studies. "At Holy Cross I took a course with Professor Jody Ziegler on architectural history that had a direct impact on that move," she says. Her continuing interest in architecture drew her to New York where she attended more classes and worked for professors at the School of Interior Design. By this time, the island beckoned, and Loren returned to use her newfound skills in assisting with the development of a family real estate project. Loren coordinated the construction and leasing of the 350,000-square-foot "City Plaza" complex.

    Eventually Loren joined Maria on staff at El Nuevo Día as the marketing and advertising coordinator. As circulation for the publication continued to rise, the women considered launching a second newspaper with a different focus. While El Nuevo Día is the equivalent of The New York Times insofar as content and circulation numbers are concerned, the second publication targets a younger, "more hip" audience.

The sisters traveled extensively throughout the United States gathering information, ideas and models on which to base their new venture. In 1998, Primera Hora was born. This newspaper features shorter articles and focuses on the trendier set. "Primera Hora is designed to be read in 30 minutes," says Loren. She likens it to a combination of Sports Illustrated and People magazine. Within two years, this publication reached a circulation figure of 125,000.

As the print versions of these newspapers became increasingly popular, and the Internet began to assume a major presence in the world of communications, the women considered taking their publications online.

In 1997-98, El Nuevo Día took that leap and has never looked back. The site provides continuously updated world news, political, health and entertainment information, editorials, horoscopes, sports and weather, in addition to the basic online services, such as e-mail, chats, shopping and links to other sites. The information is presented in Spanish with a slant toward the Puerto Rican community. Its appeal, however, is global, according to Loren. "We get about 40 million hits a month," she says. "Many of those hits primarily come from Puerto Ricans living in the States who want to hear about home." The site also offers local content, so readers can keep in touch with friends and family who reside on the island. Loren notes that many college students cure the homesick blues with frequent visits to the site.

In October 2000, Primera Hora made its online debut. Together the two newspapers have become part of the zonai.com enterprise, the family-owned and operated Internet portal. Featuring content similar to its sister site, Primera Hora also offers a "Digital Life" section as well as "Singles Online," in keeping with its appeal to the younger crowd.

Loren emphasizes that even though the newspapers and associated ventures are family businesses, a team of qualified, nonfamily professionals helps to make the operations successful. The larger newspaper employs a staff of 1,200 while the newer, smaller publication, as well as the combined online venture, has 150 employees. 

Concurrent with the launching of Primera Hora, the women also started a commercial printing company that reproduces local materials, such as annual reports and retail inserts using advanced technology and graphics. Maria and Loren developed the concept for the business and now serve on its board of directors. "Printers on the island couldn't meet the demand," Loren says. "We went into this market because the opportunity exists." After only three years, the company ranks among the top three local printers. Additionally, with an eye toward the environment, the women have begun a newspaper recycling business.

Neither one of these women imagined that such a significant communications empire would grow from their grandfather's humble newspaper. Loren credits the faculty, students and overall encouraging atmosphere at Holy Cross with their success. "The school prepared us to be professionals," she says. "Holy Cross gave us a good foundation to become whatever we wanted to be." Maria and Loren have used that groundwork to build an international system that brings news of the island of Puerto Rico to the entire world.

Phyllis Hanlon is a free-lance journalist from Charlton, Mass.

 

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