Golden 50 — 2014

2014 award recipients
announced June 21, 2014 at 135th TPA Leadership Retreat in Corpus Christi, TX.

Larry Jackson
Mac McKinnon
Robert Miller

Larry Jackson

He didn't really plan to study journalism when he entered the University of Texas in the fall of 1962. It just worked out that way for Larry Jackson.

A native of Austin, when he graduated from high school in May 1962, he took a fulltime summer job in the print shop of Firm Foundation Publishing House to save up money for school. For the next half century and more, he never really left the publishing business. By the time he retired in 2013, he had been editor and publisher of dailies and weeklies in Texas and California and left a long record of service to the newspaper industry.

Jackson really began much earlier, delivering the afternoon Austin Statesman (and dreaded Sunday morning edition) on a bicycle while in junior high. In high school, he threw a route for the weekly Austin Times-Herald, where he first learned about a newspaper start-up. His quirky side was evidenced when he and a friend, both members of the high school Latin club, launched a Latin-language magazine they called Latinitas. Jackson was the one who found an Austin typesetting company willing to set Latin in hot metal. High school classmates ranged from Kinky Friedman to now-U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

After two years in the print shop, Jackson got a job with the Republican Party of Texas, becoming its assistant public relations director, working with such candidates as U.S. Sen. John Tower and U.S. Rep. George H.W. Bush. By this time he also was on the staff of The Daily Texan, holding a variety of jobs there until his graduation. Fellow Texan staffers included TPA's Sam Keach and Texas Monthly's Paul Burka. Somehow he also squeezed in two years in the Longhorn Band, membership in Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and being vice president of Sigma Delta Chi professional journalism fraternity.

Jackson was hired as a reporter by the Arlington Daily News in January 1967 and was soon promoted to city editor. The following year he returned to his hometown as editor of the weekly Austin Citizen.

In 1969, he was hired by The Laredo Times, where he was city editor and acting managing editor. He won Texas APME (Associated Press Managing Editors Association) awards for his work on the Mexican border. In 1971, he was hired as managing editor of the Henderson Daily News, where he won writing awards from the North and East Texas Press Association.

He moved to the business side when he became general manager of The Austin Citizen in 1972, just as it was preparing to begin daily publication. Before that ill-fated launch, however, Bill Todd hired him as editor and general manager of the Round Rock Leader. At the age of 29, Jackson had become a newspaper publisher, a role he would continuously hold until his retirement 40 years later.

When Todd bought the Leader, it was one of only two handset weekly newspapers in Texas and had a mailing list of only a few hundred. Under Jackson's leadership it grew to become a modern twice weekly with one of the largest paid circulations in Texas. Not only did the business prosper, going through three different plant expansions, but the paper also won the Sweepstakes Award in TPA's Texas Better Newspaper Contest.

His wife Susie, who had "volunteered" to help in his projects since J-school days at the university, joined the paid staff at the Leader. In the long tradition of small-town newspapering, they raised their three children "sleeping on mail sacks" and knowing every business and civic leader in town. Over the years, Susie worked at print shops, publishing houses and neighboring newspapers as well as ones that Larry published. She served as president of the South Texas Press Association in 2004-05.

In 1984, Jackson returned to the daily side of the business, becoming editor and publisher of the Pecos Enterprise, a storied West Texas paper that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963 for exposing the Billie Sol Estes scandal. At Pecos, Jackson won more APME awards, including the Jack Douglas Photo Sweepstakes Award. Three years later, his company moved him to Corona, Calif., as publisher of the Corona-Norco Independent, a daily paper the company had recently acquired. After he raised the paper to profitability, it was sold to the neighboring metro paper and Jackson returned to Texas. His longtime friend Fred Barbee hired him to run the Wharton Journal-Spectator, a post he would hold for the next 16 years.

In 2007, Jackson decided he would like to "do one more rodeo" and accepted the position of editor and publisher of the Fayette County Record in La Grange. Over the next six years the Record added page count, staff and paid circulation, in addition to awards from state and regional press associations. He retired in 2013, but continues to live in La Grange and write regularly for the newspaper.

The Jacksons have three children, all residing in nearby Austin. Nick Jackson is a bilingual teacher in the Austin ISD, Debbie Weems is regional vice president of an Atlanta-based healthcare corporation, and Eddie Jackson works for the Texas Department of Health Services. They have seven grandchildren.

In 1984 Jackson served the first of many terms on the TPA board of directors. He became TPA president in June 1998. Jackson also served as president of the South Texas Press Association in 1996-97. He became Texas state chair for the National Newspaper Association in 1999 and served almost continually until 2012. He became a trustee of the Texas Newspaper Foundation in 1994 and since 2006 has served as foundation president. He has been emcee of the foundation's Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame induction ceremonies each year since it started in 2007.

Jackson has been honored as Citizen of the Year in two different towns, Round Rock and Wharton, and he has been an officer or director of chambers of commerce every place he's lived since Round Rock. He's been a Rotarian since 1984, been presidents of two Rotary clubs and has been an assistant district governor four different years.

His newspaper work took him to the White House (meeting Bill Clinton there in 1999), Taiwan and Panama; earned him awards from APME, TPA, STPA, TGCPA and NETPA; created strong friendships with generations of newspaper colleagues; and allowed him to tell the stories of charming people (and quite a few scoundrels) who otherwise would never have seen their names in print.

Mac McKinnon

In March 1964, Mac McKinnon got a break that would lead to his lifelong profession. He had been trained as a crash rescue specialist in the Air Force and had served in Korea before coming back to the states and assigned to Carswell Air Force Base. It turned out there were more firemen than allotted at Carswell and the command was looking to transfer people.

There’s a military saying that it’s wise for serviceman  not to volunteer for anything, but McKinnon did, and it was a great break. He had some college and some journalism, and he could type, so he was transferred to the public information office as assistant editor of the base weekly newspaper, the Aerospace Sentinel.

After initial training under Langston L. Latson, a sergeant McKinnon remembers as a great linguist, he received orders to the Department of Defense Information School in Fort Slocum, N.Y., and the rest, as they say, is history.

McKinnon wrote quarterly  histories for the Air Force, including deployment of B-52s to bomb Vietnam. After his four years were up, he signed on with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. As was normal for rookie reporters, he was assigned to  the police beat for a number of years. Later he was assigned to the federal courthouse and city hall beats, and then he became state editor.

While traveling the state, he learned of the attraction to weekly newspapers. Unlike most reporters, he had had no interest in owning his own newspaper. However, the coaxing of several newspaper owners he visited with led to what many newspaper people consider — “the dream” — owning his own newspaper. That came about on an assignment in Colorado City, Texas, writing about the restored opera house.  He learned that a Star-Telegram alumnus, Joe Bell, wanted to sell the Colorado City Record, and within a few months, McKinnon hit the ground running in Colorado City. After a year in partnership with Bell, he took over the paper. It was at the Star-Telegram and West Texas that the influence of many legends in the business helped him on his way. 

He notes that he’s had the best of all worlds in the business, having worked at all sizes of newspapers. The semiweekly Record was the most difficult, with two weeks’ worth in every week and home delivery. And that was the age of many changes, moving from Just-O-Writers to Compugraphic.

He has prized community involvement to this day, serving on chambers of commerce and economic development boards, city government, teaching journalism classes, veterans’ organizations, press associations, Lions Club, amateur theatre and art groups, library boards, museum work and charity organizations. He has been told, and subscribes to the belief, that you need to “pay for the space you occupy.”

In 1980, out of the blue, an offer came to buy the Record and McKinnon decided it was time for a change. He had received training in radio, television and magazines and had done some free-lance work in many venues. After a few months of being told he was too old (37) and over qualified, he was hired as news director for KMID-TV in Midland-Odessa.

He committed to help move the station to the top ratings in the market.  It took 18 months and a change in networks (NBC to ABC) to make that happen. But 18 months was long enough to make him realize TV news was more about entertainment, and that wasn’t his cup of tea.

It was back to newspapering. He purchased the Burnet Bulletin/Bertram Enterprise/Marble Falls Messenger in Burnet.

It’s a small world in the news business as McKinnon notes, he was helped along by a number of people he has met over the years at every locale. And you quickly find out you have relatives everywhere.

That was usually the case for McKinnon as the good Lord greased his path with acquaintances along the way.

After five and a half years in Burnet, McKinnon had  the chance to write a book on crime, which has been among his reporting forte throughout his half-century of news work. Seeing this opportunity, he sold the Burnet paper and went to work researching the book and covering trials. That book covered a unique case of poisoning deaths in Central Texas. After completing work on the book and getting it published, he returned to the news world and took over as publisher of the Pecos Enterprise, following in the big footprints left by friend and colleague Larry Jackson.

Pecos was a great experience, with McKinnon again experiencing mentors that were part of Buckner News Alliance. He left Texas to join Dean Singleton’s group as publisher of the Fort Morgan Times in Colorado, succeeding another friend and legend, Roy Robinson, who moved to Texas.

Again, McKinnon attributed success to the mentorship of  the Spencer family who had owned the paper prior to Singleton’s purchase. Of course, McKinnon and Singleton had crossed paths in Texas a number of times.

Four years later, it was time for McKinnon to complete his circle as the Dublin Citizen was up for sale in his hometown of Dublin, Texas, where he had grown up on a peanut and dairy farm.

That was almost 12 years ago, and contrary to some written accounts, McKinnon has proved that you can go home again.

McKinnon and his wife, Lea, have three children: Kim Benestante now back in Dublin, a journalist and involved in environmental affairs; Kevin McKinnon of Houston, a salesman for Planet Ford; and Kelsey McKinnon of New Jersey, a retail store manager in Manhattan. The McKinnons have two grandchildren, Brigit, a journalism major at the University of Texas, and Connor, who was born last September in Houston.

Robert Miller

Dallas Morning News columnist Bob Miller is a legend around the newsroom for his work ethic, longevity and humor. 

He began writing obituaries for the paper in 1951 and was a reporter and editor, eventually becoming city editor and assistant managing editor. 

In 1980, he was the first editor of the paper’s “videotex” operation that sent information to home computers. It was slightly ahead of its time and closed after two years. 

Miller started writing his column in 1980. He created it from scratch to cover philanthropy, the nonprofit sector and major awards. He writes five days a week, more than any columnist at the paper, and rarely misses a day, even when he’s on vacation. Few people who know him are surprised that he’s still working at 90 and still takes the city bus to work every day. 

Miller was an assistant city editor and on duty on the day of the Kennedy assassination and also when Ruby shot Oswald. He is the paper’s resident expert on Dallas history and its most famous families. He is well-read and loves to talk about current events, especially when there’s a new intern in the office who has no idea what’s coming. 

Miller was born in a two-room farmhouse in Parker County. His family moved to Dallas when he was 2 and he graduated from Sunset High School. He served in the Army Air Force during World War II, including tours in Oman and Turkey. 

After the war, he earned bachelor’s degrees in English and journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s in government at Columbia University in New York. Miller is married to Shirley Briggle Miller and has a daughter, Lisa Miller; two sons, Bradley and Chance Miller; and one granddaughter, Virginia.

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