Larry Jackson is the editor and publisher of the Fayette County Record. For the past 15 years Jackson has been editor and general manager of the Wharton Journal-Spectator and vice president of River Publishers, which owns the Journal-Spectator and East Bernard Express. Jackson was president of Texas Press Association in 1999-2000 and is the current president of the Texas Newspaper Foundation and the state chairman to the National Newspaper Association.
Jackson’s career has included being editor or publisher of both daily and weekly newspapers in Texas and California. He was Texas Press Association’s 121st president.
As a teen-ager, he had a paper route for the Austin American-Statesman. When he graduated from S.F. Austin High School in Austin he took a summer job in the printing department of a book publishing firm and has worked in printing and publishing ever since.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a member of The Daily Texan staff.
He began his newspaper career with the Arlington Daily News and has since been city editor of the Laredo Times, managing editor of the Henderson Daily News, editor of the Austin Citizen, and publisher of the Round Rock Leader, Pecos Enterprise and Corona Independent.
After four years in California, Jackson returned to Texas in 1991 to assume management of the Wharton Journal-Spectator. He left Wharton in 2007 to become publisher of the Fayette County Record.
He was president of South Texas Press Association in 1996-97. He won the Jack Douglas Photo Sweepstakes Award from the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Association in 1987. He served as Texas’ state chairman to the National Newspaper Association until 2008.
Jackson and his wife, Susie, have three children.
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Listen to Larry Jackson’s interview:
Read Larry’s interview:
I’m Larry Jackson. I’m publisher of the Fayette County Record in LaGrange, Texas, and I’ve been there about a year. It’s been a most interesting year in my life because this has been… It may well be my last spot in many, many changes in newspapers. I’ve been a newspaper publisher for, oh, gosh, 40 years. So I’ve seen a lot of different towns and I’ve had a great time.
I’m still enjoying it and I figure that I’ll keep on doing this as long as it’s fun. So far it has been. I’ve lived sort of in mortal terror all my life that one of these days I would have to get a real job and it’s beginning to look like I may actually reach retirement without ever having to go to work. Because, really, going to the office every day is not going to work, it is really doing what I love to do. And I think that’s true of so many people that are in the newspaper business.
A lot of people would call us workaholics and we really are. I may get up at— I may be at the office at 5:30 in the morning and I certainly have been there long after midnight a lot of times. But I don’t think it’s really being a workaholic because we’re so much involved with people and with people’s lives. We’re involved with Boy Scouts, with Little League, with the school board, with our politicians. We’re involved in obituaries and wedding stories, we’re involved with people when they’re hurting and we’re involved with people when they’re happy. And I think that involvement with people is what makes it such a joy. At least it has been for me. So I’ve had a great time. It’s been very interesting for me to be in the newspaper business at this particular time in history.
I grew up in Austin and I was, I was one of those kids that was a bicycle newspaper boy. I was one of those kids that went crew working and probably most people never heard of crew working, but what it really means is that all the paperboys would get together on an evening and go to knock doors and try to sell subscriptions. And we’d go out and work for a few hours and then we’d all go to the movie. The district manager would take us all down to the Paramount Theater or wherever in Austin. The paper of course had free tickets to the movies and all of us kids would go watch a movie together and then he’d take us out for ice cream or whatever. And I don’t think that a man could get away with doing that with that many little boys today. The world has changed. We wouldn’t go out knocking on strangers’ doors like that. So I got into it at a great time. It was fun.
One of the things that got me into newspapers, paying more attention to newspapers was that I frankly thought we had a sorry newspaper in Austin. The American-Statesman was pretty pitiful in those days. When I got into The University of Texas, I was first involved in politics. I had been drawn to the Republican Party and the conservatives and that was a different kind of conservatism at that particular time. The Austin American-Statesman was establishment Democrat in everything that it did. It was cheap. It hired University students as slave labor and they thought, the Statesman thought that was quite adequate in putting out a paper.
Composition was done by a union shop that laid out the pages. They didn’t have journalists laying them out, the guys that were the typesetters laid it out and they laid it out in just the easiest way possible and created lousy looking pages. Stories would always run out from underneath their headlines just as an example because it was easier for the compositors to put it together that way. They were not going to reset a headline because they didn’t like the way it looked.
One of my… Sort of my disgust with the way that the Statesman ran things, they didn’t even have photographers, they had an arrangement with UPI, the United Press International photographers in Austin at the Capital Bureau took every news photo that was run in the Austin paper. They gave UPI rent free darkroom space and UPI went and took all the photos. Pretty pitiful.
At that time when I got in into the University of Texas, one of my projects, I’d started taking some journalism classes and one of my projects was that I was going to track the Dallas Morning News as an Austin newspaper. My contention was that the Dallas Morning News was doing a better job of covering Austin than the American-Statesman was because the American-Statesman would simply run AP stories about Austin.
The Dallas News would have their Capital Bureau correspondents write stories about Austin. And so my notebook was filled with all of the examples of where the Dallas Morning News was doing a better job on local coverage than the Austin American-Statesman.
Why do I reflect on that? I think it is that I think the quality of journalism was pretty poor back then in the ‘60s. People took the easy way out on everything and I really believe that we’ve improved a lot. I think that there’s a lot of, a lot better journalism being done today than was being done back then. A lot of things have caused that. It’s not just been, well let’s see, the changes. There have been changes in ownership, changes in technology, changes in expectation. Changes in competing media, a lot of things have forced newspapers to do a better job today than they used to. They’re still not perfect by any means but I think most newspapers, or weekly newspapers, I think most weekly newspapers in Texas today are far superior to the small weekly newspapers that were being produced in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We’ve improved a lot. I’ve been fortunate again to work through all of that period. The technology has made lots of changes.
One of the things that when I first began at the University of Texas, at the Daily Texan we were still using Linotypes and setting headlines with Ludlows, that’s type of a hot metal arrangement that we would set the headlines. And we would then go to a Stereotype mat that would create a lead cylinder that we’d put onto a printing press and it was called a letterpress because the press actually printed directly from that lead of raised type and it was very capital intensive. You had to have a lot of money to buy a newspaper press and all those Linotypes back then. The coming of offset changed that. You were able to put out a newspaper without sinking a huge capital investment and that brought about a lot of competition. I think that’s part of what made better newspapers.
The American-Statesman had to deal with some competitors. Of course, they had to deal with the coming of television and a lot of other media competition but I think that one of the things that has driven the improvement of newspapers overall has been the ability of people to get into the newspaper business with little capital.
Used to you basically had to buy your own printing operation, a big manufacturing business, really, to get into the newspaper business. The coming of offset web presses allowed a central printing plant to print many newspapers and one of my first experiences with that was a little weekly newspaper that struggled and struggled in Austin called the Austin Times Herald. It came out, I’m gonna guess in about 1960 and they printed in what was called a central plant. Instead of having to buy their own printing press they were able to print that at an offset plant, bring it in and distribute it in Austin once a week. Didn’t work, but it was trying to give the American-Statesman a little competition. And somehow that seems to have been a fixation in my life. Later on there was a paper called the Austin Citizen and I went to work for it when I was in college.
So I had been off at a variety of other newspapers and a friend of mine that owned the Austin Citizen was still around and called and said we’d like you to come back and be editor of the Austin Citizen. I said well hey, that’s kind of a neat deal to be editor of a newspaper, that would be good. And so I previously had been at the Arlington Daily News and agreed to come back and be editor of the Austin Citizen. Well, it was a quixotic to say the least but it was fun and it gave me an opportunity to find out what being the editor meant as a really young guy.
And later on, I decided I needed to move on to somewhere else and I went on to the newspaper in Laredo as a reporter and city editor and I thought I ought to be the managing editor there and somebody else got the job so I said, “Well I’m outta here.” They said, “No, no, don’t go away mad. We’ve got other newspapers and you can be a managing editor there.”
And so sure enough I came and talked to Mr. Hartman, Fred Hartman in Baytown and I also talked to Roger Walker up in Henderson and decided that I liked Henderson better than Baytown and became managing editor of the Henderson Daily News which was a good run for a while, too.
Again the guy that was at the Citizen, they said “You know what, we’re gonna go daily in Austin, we’re gonna compete with the American-Statesman. We need a general manager.” I said, “Well that sounded good, let’s go down there.” And so I went back and became general manager of the Austin Citizen.
It was a good experience for me for a lot of reasons. It didn’t work out for the Austin Citizen. I left that and moved to Round Rock and the Austin Citizen subsequently did go daily and tried to compete with the American-Statesman, didn’t succeed and that’s somebody else’s story. But it sort of it seems like that that fixation on the Austin newspaper has been a part of my life for a long, long time.
The move to Round Rock was particularly interesting because again technology had changed so dramatically. There was a little old spinster lady named May Kavanaugh who owned the Round Rock Leader and when I was in college our classes would always go, our professor Olin Hinkle would always take us up to Round Rock because he said this is a dinosaur, this is the last of the breed. May Kavanaugh sets by hand a weekly newspaper up there in Round Rock and we would go watch her set type and do this hand-set weekly newspaper. Well, I had the opportunity then to, after I left the Citizen, to become publisher of the Round Rock Leader.
A guy named Bill Todd had bought the newspaper from May and May was still working there. She stayed on as the office manager and she was a spry little lady and it was truly an opportunity to see a long gone institution. May’s father had owned the newspaper and they called him Firecracker Kavanaugh because he was an interesting guy, a great old-fashioned small town newspaperman.
May grew up in those days of Depression and the War and never got married. So she stayed and ran, helped her father run the newspaper. I never knew her dad but by the time I got there he was gone. But May walked everywhere. She didn’t drive a car. In a little town like Round Rock, she was the organist for the Methodist Church. She walked to church every service. She’d walk to the office. She’d set the type, her brother would come in from Austin and run the press for her on Wednesday nights I think it was and he would, an old flat-bed press that they would print, probably 700 or 800 copies maybe, fold it and then they would address it with a pencil. They would sit at the kitchen table and write out the addresses, take it to the post office and mail it. It was, I didn’t get to watch all of that, but I got to hear about it many, many times from May who continued to work there at the newspaper for me for a number of years. And so I really feel like I got to touch a part of newspaper history.
But I was watching the changes that were being made in technology. We’d moved from hand-set to Linotypes, to the strip printers of photographic offset, the Varityper Printers that we called headliners where you would literally set them one letter at a time, squeezing a little trigger to cause a light to go through a matrix of a letter and then advancing the paper film to the next spot for the next letter to be done. It exposed a strip of film and you’d wind up with a paper headline and you’d have to go to the darkroom to develop it and you’d develop that, pull it out, let it dry and then put either wax or rubber cement on the back of it and paste it down on sheets of paper until you could come up with your ad or your page, newspaper page.
Later on, we got the machines that would set lots of type. CompuGraphic was one of the big names and we went through that and then ultimately of course, we went to computer layouts, Apple Macintoshes just revolutionized the way that the newspapers were put together.
I think that change, again we’ve seen the value of competition as different technologies came out and what they kept doing is they kept driving down the capital cost of people being able to get into the newspaper business.
WC: I’d like you to sum up if you can. Just give me some parting comments about whether you think…Just sum up whether you would encourage young people to pursue a journalism career.
JJ: Okay. I’ll do it.
JJ: Very briefly. I wish I could tell you whether I thought people should pursue a journalism career. I don’t know and the reason for that is I don’t know where journalism is going to be 20 years from today. Things have changed so dramatically that I just don’t know.
I do know this, journalism education prepares you for thinking, for communicating, for being able to absorb other people’s ideas and transmitting them to an audience. I think that will always be valuable. I don’t know that you’re gonna be able to find a job with a newspaper. I don’t know if there’ll be a newspaper. I hope there is. I suspect that there will be and I suspect that that newspaper is going to be in many ways very similar to the newspapers that existed a hundred years ago. I doubt that it’s gonna be read and handled in the same way that newspapers are. I know Kindle is kinda the big deal right now. Will it work? I don’t know, but it certainly could. If it doesn’t something else probably will.
There’s gonna be technological changes that I can’t even imagine. But the skill of communicating has been important for as long as there’s been people and I don’t see how we could possibly think that journalism would not be a wonderful preparation for the future.