By Minerva Canto
Special to TelevisionWeek
He got his start in the working world as an oil field roustabout, the “guy who does all the dirty work,” like digging a ditch and cleaning out the tanks.
Gerald Garcia Jr. didn’t stay there long. After entering journalism as a newspaper sportswriter, he rose to become one of the few Latino executives in the media in the 1970s and 1980s.
He was publisher of the Tucson Citizen in 1984, when he helped found the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, using his clout to help secure the necessary financial backing for the embryonic organization.
Mr. Garcia’s efforts to steer more Latinos toward careers in journalism and to improve coverage of the Latino community will be recognized when he is inducted into NAHJ’s Hall of Fame during the organization’s annual convention this week.
Some who know him call him a pioneer, someone who isn’t afraid to speak out no matter how unpopular the message.
“Gerald had a manner of talking to high-level white publishers and owners at their level, and I don’t think they appreciated it, particularly at that time,” said Charlie Ericksen, also a founder of NAHJ and editor and publisher of Hispanic Link News Service in Washington. “Hispanics were still supposed to be subservient.” Mr. Garcia gave NAHJ the clout and credibility that was needed in its early years, said NAHJ Executive Director Ivan Roman, a former newspaper journalist who has been active with the organization for many years.
“Gerald is someone who was with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists from the very beginning and was in management and mainstream media companies when many of us were not,” Mr. Roman said.
A native of Beeville in south central Texas, Mr. Garcia said he originally planned to pursue a career in the oil industry. He was majoring in petroleum engineering at Texas A & M University when a course on integral calculus proved to be too difficult.
“I could spell it, but I couldn’t do it,” said Mr. Garcia, now 61 and president and CEO of the marketing firm AIMS Worldwide in Fairfax, Va.
Mr. Garcia wandered over to the liberal arts building and into the offices of The Battalion, the university’s newspaper. He found his calling there, recalling how much he enjoyed writing for his high school newspaper.
After graduating from college he was hired as a high school beat sportswriter for the Brenham Banner-Press in Texas.
Early on, Mr. Garcia met James Henry Hale, then the regional VP of a small group of newspapers that included the Banner-Press. Mr. Hale, now deceased, became an unforgettable mentor who Mr. Garcia credits with changing the course of his career.
Recognizing Mr. Garcia’s potential, Mr. Hale offered Mr. Garcia the job of sports editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram a few years after meeting him. Mr. Garcia took the job, even though he missed what had first lured him to journalism.
“I soon realized that I missed writing, but that I had more power as to how stories were played and, more importantly, who got hired and who didn’t,” Mr. Garcia said. “Within one or two years, I forgot about the desire to be a writer.” Mr. Garcia went on to become an assistant managing editor at the Star-Telegram, director of newsroom operations at The Kansas City Star and editor and publisher of various newspapers in Texas, Tennessee, Connecticut and California, among others.
Mr. Garcia said he always took advantage of his position to try to ensure that his newsrooms and coverage were diverse. In 1974, Mr. Garcia helped turn a recruiting program at Cap Cities into one of the most successful in the news industry.
Mr. Garcia will be the 14th journalist inducted into NAHJ’s Hall of Fame when he receives the award Saturday, June 18.