Eric Garcetti’s prospects, when he embarked on his first City Council race in 2001, were less than clear. But he was raised in a politically active home and he knew that one of his first campaign stops had to be at the city’s Spanish-language newspaper, La Opinión, where Monica C. Lozano was serving as managing editor.

“I remember her, and I talked about some of the important issues of the day, of integrating immigrants into our city life – not knowing, fast-forwarding 16 years ahead, where we would be as a nation, and how forward-looking she was not only as a publisher but as an advocate for the Latino community,” Garcetti, now the city’s mayor, said in a recent interview.

He came away with the newspaper’s endorsement, and in the years that followed he watched Lozano expand her vision during the decade she served as publisher and chief executive of La Opinión before stepping down in 2014.

More than 60 percent of L.A.’s mainstream businesses were started by immigrants, Garcetti noted, and “it’s as much the Oaxacan grandmother opening a corner store as the Stanford grad doing the latest app.”

Lozano, he said, is equally comfortable doing business with both.

“It’s a line that too many people are afraid to navigate and she navigated it brilliantly,” the mayor said.

Soft-spoken Lozano is never one to trumpet her accomplishments, but she recognizes the influence of the newspaper in both the Latino community and L.A.’s broader civic life.

“If you were running for office, it became expected that you were going to stop at La Opinión,” Lozano said during a morning conversation at her sunny Playa del Rey home, calm and composed before being swept into a packed day of community-minded activities, including a Latina Leaders luncheon hosted by Maria Shriver.

The former California first lady planned to tap Lozano’s media expertise on how to educate Latinas about Alzheimer’s disease, a passionate cause for Shriver. Latinas are disproportionately affected by the illness.

“I like to think we started out as a Mexican business that became an American institution,” Lozano said of the publication her family built into the country’s most prominent Spanish-language newspaper.

Family legacy

Walking the line – some might call it a tightrope – between providing news and community activism has been Lozano’s job since she entered the family newspaper business more than 30 years ago.

Lozano, 60, said she is proud to be the third generation of her family to have had a leadership role at La Opinión, which was founded by her grandfather, Ignacio E. Lozano Sr., in 1926. It was her grandfather’s second newspaper, the first being Spanish-language La Prensa, which he began in 1916 after he and his extended family moved from Mexico to San Antonio in 1908.

La Opinión’s role in its early years was primarily providing news of Mexico to L.A.’s immigrants, she said.

Lozano described the 1920s through the ’40s as a zoot suit era of cultural conflict, when her grandfather had to fight for Latino representation in Los Angeles. He died in 1953 and her father, Ignacio Jr. (known to friends and family as Nacho), became publisher.

Thus began a succession of leadership at La Opinión that included Monica Lozano’s brother and sister, José and Leticia, in a stint as co-publishers. Lozano joined the publication in 1985, rising to the position of publisher in 2004, taking over from her brother, who at that point was sole publisher.

She has been credited with taking a publication that had grown increasingly conservative since her grandfather’s reign in a more liberal direction.

Circulation rose from 25,000 to 100,000 between 1980 and ’90. Lozano’s years with La Opinión included a rocky partnership with the Los Angeles Times: In 1990, then-owner Times Mirror Co. acquired a 50 percent interest in La Opinión, providing a needed cash infusion, but causing clashes over distribution of Lozano’s paper. Times Mirror was acquired by Tribune Co., now tronc., in 2000.

Advocacy journalism

In 2004, La Opinión merged with New York’s El Diario/La Prensa, uniting the country’s two largest Spanish-language dailies under the banner ImpreMedia. That same year, ImpreMedia bought out Tribune’s interest. Along with her leadership role at La Opinión, Lozano was also named chief executive of ImpreMedia.

Despite its later corporate involvements, La Opinión was at its roots a family affair, Lozano said.

“In the 1950s, dad made a conscious statement that we were not a Mexican newspaper in the United States, we were an American newspaper published in Spanish,” Lozano said. “That was so important in a time when society was questioning groups of people’s commitments to being American. For dad to say we are American and we belong here, and we have all the rights and privileges that constitutionally protect any community – that was extraordinary.”

Being the voice of L.A.’s Latino community shaped a different type of journalism than one might find in the mainstream press. It was never enough just to print an opinion, Lozano believed.

“We thought of ourselves as a company that both informed and gave them the tools that they need,” she said.

Ernest J. Wilson III, who will be succeeded by Willow Bay as dean of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism on July 1, said La Opinión had a different approach than most media.

Lozano “definitely instructed me that the Latino media, and by extension the media of other immigrant groups that are excluded in different ways, tends to be advocacy journalism, not just descriptive journalism,” he said.

Wilson said a story on the homelessness or unemployment in a mainstream newspaper such as the Times would end with a neutral summary paragraph. In La Opinión, he said, the reader might also receive instruction on how to get in touch with the Los Angeles County Housing Authority.

Davan Maharaj, editor-in-chief and publisher of the Times, agrees with Wilson’s assessment.

“Monica made a name for herself as a publisher who valued the journalism, the business, and the community in equal measure,” Maharaj said in an e-mail. “While she continually embraced new challenges as an executive, she was sought after as an adviser and an advocate. She is a wonderful example of how news media executives can play a larger role in our society.”

Cesar Conde, chairman of NBC International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises’ Spanish-language network, called Lozano’s practical approach more inspiring than advocacy journalism alone.

“Monica has always worked hard to inform and empower our community with information,” Conde said in an email.

Lozano’s colleagues say her effective leadership of a media organization was enhanced by an equally strong head for business. She has served on the boards of numerous nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, in addition to serving on corporate boards, including Target and Bank of America. She has served on the Walt Disney Co. board since 2000, following in her father’s footsteps as a Disney board member.

Bob Iger, Disney’s chairman and chief executive, said Lozano’s influence reaches far beyond the Latino community.

“Her tireless board service on behalf of a wide cross-section of industry-leading companies, prestigious universities, and government leaders has helped shape strategy, increase opportunity, and influence policy that benefits us all,” Iger said in an e-mail.

Community service

The tradition of community service began with Lozano’s grandfather, but by the mid-2000s, the definition of “community” was changing rapidly, she said. Latino culture was becoming mainstream, with younger generations that were bilingual or spoke no Spanish at all.

Journalism was changing rapidly, too, with digital news coming to dominate print during her 10-year tenure as publisher. Not only was the publication dealing with presenting content in the “language of choice” for its readers, it also was challenged to figure out how to distribute news and information in the consumers’ platforms of choice as well.

During that period, La Opinión, and its downtown neighbor the Times, suffered budget problems and downsizing.

In 2012, ImpreMedia was acquired by Argentina’s La Nación and its subsidiary, U.S. Hispanic Media Inc., which owned various magazines, websites, and the La Nación newspaper. Lozano remained publisher and chief executive of ImpreMedia until 2014 and resigned from a transitional role as chairwoman of U.S. Hispanic Media in January of last year.

Lozano describes herself as “retired,” but Garcetti noted: “If we get this much work out of her, she should retire more often.”

In so-called retirement, Lozano still maintains the social agenda that fueled her role as publisher. She ticks off her three main concerns: education, civic engagement, and economic empowerment. Since 1990, she has observed the growth of local Latino entrepreneurship, mirroring a nationwide trend. She added that Latinas represent the fastest-growing subset of that group.

What’s next?

In recent years, Lozano has joined the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based educational and policy studies organization, to launch its Latinos & Society program, headed by Abigail Golden-Vazquez. Both women saw a need to forge connections among mainstream and advocacy organizations.

“We were concerned with the siloing of Latino issues, and the ongoing issue that I think we still look at America in terms of black and white,” Golden-Vazquez said. “The demographics are saying that is no longer the case.”

Golden-Vazquez joked that, as a self-described Puerto Rican Jew, she knows of what she speaks.

So does Lozano, she said.

“She has a really unique knowledge and experience with the advocacy communities and organized movements, and she has the business experience,” Golden-Vazquez said. “You add those things together, I think it’s the best of both worlds.”

Golden-Vazquez described Lozano as having warmth and a sense of humor rare in a person of her stature. She said the only time she observed Lozano become outraged was during an institute meeting when there was a window washer outside, swinging back and forth on a narrow platform as he cleaned the windows.

“I think she was just indignant that this person would be hanging from something so flimsy,” Golden-Vazquez said.

She recalled the meeting had to be stopped so the group could check with building management to reassure Lozano that the window washer was safe.

Golden-Vazquez added she’ll never forget her time with Lozano during a visit to Los Angeles for an Aspen Institute summit.

“She’s a proud Los Angelena,” Golden-Vazquez said. “She took me on a tour showing me all the different communities, original Hispanic communities, where her family first lived, where the (La Opinión) headquarters were,” Golden-Vazquez said. “The offices were spared in the riots, and she believed it was because of the respect of the community.”

Lozano’s longtime friend, Antonia Hernández, California Community Foundation chief executive and former president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where Lozano served on the board, said she has known the Lozano family for more than 20 years. She said the Lozanos always saw La Opinión as “more than a newspaper.”

“As a woman, and particularly in a male-dominated world, I can just tell you she is extraordinarily bright, extraordinarily driven,” Hernández said. “When she took over from her dad and her older brother, her business savvy came into play.”

While Lozano knows business, she also knows how to unwind, Hernández said.

For more than 25 years, she said that she, Lozano, and four other female friends, all veterans of high-powered careers, have been getting together to celebrate each other’s birthdays. At 60, Lozano is the baby of the group.

“We never miss it,” Hernández said with a laugh. “She has a funny sense of humor, she’s a jokester. She’s just a fun person to be with.”

For her part, Lozano said she intends to maintain the tradition for as long as possible.

“These are the women you turn to when you need to recalibrate, laugh, and not be ‘on,’” she said. “It’s fabulous.”

She said that when the group first began, the women often sought each other’s career and professional advice.

Now, she said, “it’s just fun. There are grandkids, funny stories. We gossip. I think all of us are in a place in our lives where we’re kind of … there. Now it’s very intimate and very personal.”

Even fortified with a sense of accomplishment, however, Lozano might need to seek some advice from the group for the future. She is not content to step back from the business world to concentrate on her personal life, which includes son, Santiago, 29, and daughter Gabriela, 27, both in media marketing, and her 25-year relationship with David R. Ayón, a senior fellow with the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University and a senior strategist at political think tank Latino Decisions.

“The big question in front of me, having accomplished some, I guess you could call them significant things, is that here I am, at 60, wondering, What’s next?” Lozano mused. “The real question in front of me is: What is the next iteration of Monica Lozano going to look like?”

She took a thoughtful pause.

“What is next might very well be what I’m doing now, a portfolio of things,” Lozano said. “I feel there is something calling me. I just don’t know what it is.”

Aspen’s Golden-Vazquez said Lozano need not worry about the next step.

“Instead of just hanging up her hat and relaxing, she is using this second phase to do as much as possible to make our community better,” Golden-Vazquez said.

No matter the chosen arena, she continued, “She’s absolutely about leaving the place better than she found it.”

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