J.D. Long-García, editor of The Catholic Sun, was honored Sept. 14, 2013, as Journalist of the Year in the annual Better Newspaper Contest sponsored by the Arizona Newspaper Association. (Photo courtesy of Tamara Tirado)
J.D. Long-García, editor of The Catholic Sun, was honored Sept. 14, 2013, as Journalist of the Year in the annual Better Newspaper Contest sponsored by the Arizona Newspaper Association. (Photo courtesy of Tamara Tirado)

His legal name is John David Long-Garcia, but family still refer to him in the abbreviated form, JohnDa. You may recognize his byline as J.D., whose body of work in The Catholic Sun earned him the honor of being named Journalist of the Year by the Arizona Newspaper Association.

The annual Better Newspaper Contest received 1,360 entries from 53 newspapers. The contest consists of nine categories that measure the overall quality of the newspapers and 18 categories that honor individuals who contribute to journalism excellence.

The winners, who were judged by the Nevada Press Association, were presented at the conclusion of the ANA 74th annual Meeting & Awards Reception, Sept. 14, at Arizona Grand Resort.

Long-García, 35, is the editor of The Catholic Sun and has been on staff since 2004. Originally from the Dominican Republic, he attended Catholic school in Puerto Rico.

He was eight when his family moved to America and took residence in Chandler, where his mother still lives in his childhood home.

While attending Arizona State University, where he majored in psychology and journalism, Long-García wrote for the college paper and made a discovery.

“I hated it,” he said. “I hate bugging people. I wanted to be in a profession so I could help others, not people helping me.”

When he landed in the newsroom at The Catholic Sun, he was fresh out of graduate school with a master’s degree in philosophy from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, and a master’s degree in theology from the Graduate Theological Union.

What Long-García had longed for from the beginning, he found in the Catholic press: an opportunity to make a difference.

“When I write a good story, it facilitates an encounter with another human being. It’s an opportunity for conversion, communion and solidarity,” he said. “If we can play a part in that, it’s a blessed place.”

“J.D. is a journalist of the highest caliber,” said Rob DeFrancesco, associate publisher of The Catholic Sun. “He consistently hits the mark in reporting on where the Catholic faith intersects with secular and hot-button issues. Because of his keen news sense and love for the Church, readers are able to get to the story behind the story.”

DeFrancesco added: “He’s a great leader, very personable and someone who has the respect and admiration of the entire newsroom, and I consider myself honored to be able to work alongside him these past nine years.”

Long-García, a lay Dominican, is thoughtful in his approach; giving people time to share, listening intently and honoring them as a brother or sister in Christ.

“My duty is to tell stories well. I do it with a lot of prayer because I don’t feel adequate,” he said. “When it works, it has a lot to do with grace.”
Long-García, who is bi-lingual, said a good story uses more than one perspective in search of the truth.

“Storytelling is a very effective way to tell the truth. Our Lord recognized that and used parables,” he said. “He just doesn’t say God loves us, he shows us God loves us.”

Friend and colleague, Tamara Tirado, an award-winning photojournalist and media specialist at Queen of Peace School in Mesa, said his gift is connecting with readers on a personal level.

“He can take an issue and put a name or face on it and get the reader to care,” she said. “His words are so engaging and it stands out. It’s amazing to have a Catholic journalist recognized so highly by the secular press.”

Fr. James Thompson, OP, associate pastor of Saint Thomas More Catholic Newman Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson, has known Long-García since 1999 when he attended the evening Mass at the All Saints Newman Center at ASU.

“He is very faithful and loyal to the Church. And he’s also very funny,” Fr. Thompson said.

As the approach to communication continues to evolve from newspapers to multimedia and social media, the message will remain the same.

Long-García said if it’s done right, communication is an agent of solidarity.

“The communications office is the way for the local church to realize the communion of our family. We help people come together,” he said. “We’ll continue to refine our storytelling to bring readers to a deeper truth.”

Of all the books he has read and papers he has written, Long-García said his greatest theology lesson is from being a father to Lukas, 6.

“I know God better because I’m a father. I understand God’s love for me because I understand my love for my son,” he said. “There is no other human being that has brought me closer to God than my son.”

In addition to Journalist of the Year honors, Long-García was recognized in the category of Investigative Reporting, taking first (“West African resilience: How women are key to long-term stability in the Sahel”) and third place (“Family matters: Fear lingers in wake of Supreme Court SB 1070 decision”) in the non-daily division.

Mick Welsh, graphic artist for The Catholic Sun, was awarded first place in the Best Online Ad category for a piece he created promoting the third edition of “Catholics in the Public Square,” a book released last fall by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.

As a whole, The Catholic Sun took first place for Community Service/Journalistic Achievement and third place for Best Use of Photography.