Angel in the Midwest

For anyone wondering what has become of former editor Gerald Garcia of the doomed Houston Post, the self-nicknamed "Angel of Death" has found a new roost in the heartland. Since early this year, Garcia has been editor of the Southern Illinoisan, a 30,000-or-so regional daily based in Carbondale.

Garcia had the distinction of presiding over the dissolution of both the Dean Singleton-owned Post and the 153-year-old Knoxville Journal in Tennessee. He's established a reputation in the newspaper business as a hatchet man brought in by owners to trim spending and increase profit margins in preparation for selling newspapers, merging them -- or outright killing them off.

Garcia last generated local news in May 2000 when he resigned from the Singleton-owned San Bernardino County Sun in Southern California. As for that Angel nickname, Garcia once said proudly, "I lay off people. I fire people. I'm good at my job."

A staffer at the Southern Illinoisan, after reading Houston Press coverage of the closing of the Post (see "Gerald and Me," April 27, 1995), recently e-mailed the Press: "Suddenly a lot of stuff that is going on at our crummy little paper makes sense…Gerald has created a toxic environment fueled by paranoia, and by the kind of unhealthy competition that immobilizes people and produces safe, boring copy."

According to the staffer, Garcia is up to some of his old tricks: berating reporters in front of their peers, playing individuals against each other and pressing employees to work 60 hours a week and take comp time "that never comes."

Although Garcia has specialized in euthanizing newspapers, that apparently is not his mission in Carbondale. His employer, Lee Enterprises, is outwardly healthy. Dennis DeRossett, the new publisher of the Southern Illinoisan, says Garcia is in the process of revitalizing the journalistic output of the paper and planning a system of zoned editions for different parts of the circulation area.

"He's been good for our newspaper, and we feel fortunate to have him," says DeRossett. "We're the one paper that transcends the entire region, so marketing strategy is seen as very important by us. Gerald's expertise is making gains for us."

Asked whether a 30,000-circulation paper isn't a big comedown from his previous assignments, Garcia says, "I've been in large markets and small markets. I've worked in College Station and Maryville, Tennessee. I've worked in Houston, Texas and Tucson, Arizona…I'm going to go where I'm happy, not where you think I need to be happy."

And everywhere that Gerald has gone, from the mountains of Tennessee to the deserts of Arizona, he seems to have left some unhappy people behind.

As to whether there's any encore of his undertaker performance in store at his new setting, Garcia responds: "Lee Enterprises is an expanding company, a company that is growing and just bought Howard newspapers. Why would you think that everywhere I would go, that is one of the jobs I am going to do?"


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