The influence of Frank del Olmo, the Los Angeles Times associate editor who died unexpectedly of a heart attack in February, extended far beyond his job title and career accomplishments. As one of the early Latino leaders at a major media organization in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Del Olmo exerted what would become a long-lasting impact on the development of both the Latino market and the journalism profession.
Mr. Del Olmo joined the Times in 1970 as an intern. But just one year later, when Times reporter Ruben Salazar died in an East Los Angeles anti-war protest that turned violent, Mr. Del Olmo was thrust into a high-profile job. "Del Olmo hardly knew Salazar, a veteran reporter whose controversial columns in the Times exposing inequities and injustices against Latinos had exalted him to hero status in the city's Mexican-American communities," writes newspaper columnist Tony Castro. "Soon Del Olmo was made a full-time reporter on a newspaper that had virtually no Latino presence on its staff. A cub journalist, he was thrown into a situation reluctantly following in Salazar's footsteps."
"He took up the mantle after Ruben Salazar of being the voice for the Latino community," recalls Daniel Villanueva Sr., former general manager of KMEX-TV in Los Angeles and currently chairman of investment firm Fontis Ventures. "We saw him develop from a sometimes angry reporter to become the conscience of the community. He became almost statesmanlike, but even when you read his last column, he still had an edge."
"Frank Del Olmo was a pioneer who burst open the door for scores of Latino journalists who have followed in his footsteps," says Juan Gonzalez, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Improving Latino employment in newsrooms emerged as a personal crusade for Mr. Del Olmo, who co-founded the California Chicano News Media Association (CCNMA) in 1972 to try to address the problem. "The number of Latino journalists who hold good jobs today because of Frank is beyond calculation," Times Editor John Carroll writes in the paper's obituary.
Mr. Castro recalls: "At various times, he and the growing legion of Latino reporters he had helped recruit to the paper were on the outs with the editors. Once, he and another Latino reporter came to me almost in tears, upset that a city editor had become so infuriated with their surprise confrontation of an executive editor at the paper that he had called Frank on his phone extension and demanded that he, 'Round up your Mexicans and get in here!'"
But the turbulent recruiting efforts eventually bore fruit in 1984, when Mr. Del Olmo helped lead the team that earned a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service with a series about Southern California's growing Latino community. Later, when Mr. Del Olmo was promoted to associate editor, he became the first Latino listed on the newspaper's masthead.
At a recent CCNMA event, Mr. Villanueva looked at Mr. Del Olmo and co-founder Felix Gutierrez, then declared to the group: "There are your role models. They blazed a trail so you guys can get jobs. You have to remember those who blazed the trail you walk, because it was not easy to get into mainstream media in those days."
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