[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: First of all, I want to start with events that started on Thursday [October 15, 1992], what happened at the paper and what job you were asked to take and how that happened.
Katz: I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but on Thursday the then-editor of the [Orange County (Santa Ana) California] Register, soon to be associate publisher of the Register, my boss Chris Anderson, asked me if I would consider becoming the editor and vice president, his job, succeeding him. Of course, I said yes.
Biagi: I know that you mentioned to someone that you didn't think that would ever happen.
Katz: No. No, I didn't.
Katz: I never thought—I mean, I used to joke, but I think there's always some seriousness in joking, that at a newspaper of this size, an aggressive, large, Jewish, old woman could ever become the editor. Someone said, when it was over, it was a vindication for aggressive, large, old Jewish women. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Not so old. Not so old.
Katz: Well, feeling older every day.
Biagi: How old are you?
Biagi: And your birth date is?
Katz: March 14, 1945. It isn't that I believed that this paper particularly had a glass ceiling of any kind, because I think of any paper I've ever worked for, and I've worked for a lot, I think that the Register has no glass ceiling at all. It's just a very natural part of our daily lives that women are involved at every level in the newsroom. But I think when you look across the spectrum of the 1,700 daily newspapers in this country, and in the Times story on this announcement on Saturday, it said I was one of seven women who would be running papers over 100,000.
Biagi: And the circulation of the Register is what?
Katz: It's about 350 daily and 405 on Sunday. My boss told me that no other woman runs one of the top twenty-five papers in size. I find that hard to believe in 1992 America. There are several women managing editors, but not women top editors. I think that's where women can really change things, they take the top editorship. It's easy to be the number two, the [Vice President] Dan Quayle, but to say that we're good enough to be the number one, I think is a step that's still to be taken at newspapers.
Biagi: Your job before this was as managing editor.
Katz: Managing editor.
Biagi: So that, in a newspaper, would be the second spot, the Dan Quayle spot?
Katz: Yes, the Dan Quayle spot, except I did it better than Dan Quayle is doing his job. [Biagi laughs.] But, yes, the Dan Quayle spot. I've been Dan Quayle three times.
Biagi: Tell me all about the Register as a newspaper, its history, briefly, and what it's like to be there.
Katz: I'm not sure when the Register was begun. It's now the fourth largest paper in California, was the third largest paper for many years until this year when San Diego folded together its two papers. It is family-owned. It's the main newspaper in a chain of newspapers and television stations owned by the Holies family. I believe the family originally came from Ohio, two brothers who were Libertarians, which is pretty unusual. They came out here to California at the turn of the century, I'm not exactly sure of the dates—and bought the Santa Ana Register, which is what it was called at the time. It was simply a voice for the Libertarian philosophy until twelve or thirteen years ago. One of the two original brothers had two daughters, one of whom married the current publisher, Dave Threshie, and Dave Threshie decided to turn the paper into one of the great papers of America.
Biagi: That would be about what time?
Katz: About twelve years ago. I would say it would be thirteen. He probably made the decision thirteen years ago. He then hired Chris Anderson, who was twenty-nine years old at the time, from Seattle. I don't think anybody of any note would take the job because the Register was a paper that, in its news pages, espoused the Libertarian philosophy. For example, they couldn't use the words "public schools."
Biagi: What did they say instead?
Katz: "Tax-supported schools." Their editorial philosophy and the news were never separated at that time. Chris and Dave together changed all of that and decided to make it the highest quality paper they could. Dave provided the resources and Chris provided the vision and the leadership, and it grew over the past twelve years into the paper it is today.
Biagi: You arrived on the scene what year?
Katz: 1988, February first.
Katz: I was with Gannett in San Bernardino. I had been with the Baltimore News American, a Hearst paper which was folded in May '86, on May 31, 1986, I think it was. That was a really good time to be a woman in management, because there were very few of us, and many, many companies offered me jobs without even meeting me, which kind of made me angry. I decided to go with Gannett because they showed me quite clearly that they took promoting women and minorities seriously. They basically had gotten in touch with me a long time before and said, "Go talk to anybody you want, but before you do anything, talk to me." I did accept a job with the Los Angeles Times and then unaccepted it because I decided that they basically said, "You have to go back and start again."
Biagi: What kind of a job were you offered?
Katz: City editor. I felt that we had been through so much in Baltimore that I had earned more than that. So I took the job and then called them from the lobby of Gannett in Arlington, Virginia, and told the Times I had changed my mind. Then I went upstairs and had dinner with some of the people from Gannett and signed on with them.
Biagi: You'd been talking to Gannett?
Katz: I was most concerned at the time with finding jobs for my staff. There were 111 people without jobs, and I knew I wasn't going to have a problem. In fact, I thought I was going to go to the Los Angeles Times, so I wasn't even thinking about me very much. I thought maybe if I went down and had dinner with some Gannett officials, I could push off a few of my staff on to them.
Originally when I interviewed with Gannett, I interviewed with Sue Clark Jackson. She asked me what I wanted to be, and I said, "I guess an editor some day." She said, "Why don't you want to be a publisher?" I said, "Well, I never considered that." She said, "Well, you can be a publisher, you know." Gannett had a list that they showed you. I felt, I guess, that they put their money where their mouth was.
So I went to this dinner. I was very tired. I had been trying to flog my staff all over America. In the middle of the dinner, one of the big Gannett bigwigs came up to the table where I was sitting with Mary Kay Blake and Phil Curry, and said, "When are you going to get this woman to take a job with us?" I just sort of gave up and said, "Okay, I'll do it." I didn't know what the job was or how much it would pay or anything. They immediately whisked me off to a private room and said, "Okay, here's what you're going to do."
Biagi: Which was?
Katz: They had no clear idea either, because this was such a surprise. They said I would be a general news executive in Washington until they figured out where to send me. I said, "Fine," and went home and felt that was settled.
Then the next morning, the Los Angeles Times called me back and said, "You're making a big mistake. You really should come work for us." I said, no, I didn't want to do that; I had committed myself to a company that had a vision for my future. I was talking to someone at the Los Angeles Times, and her last words to me were, "Well, don't ever go work for the Register." I had never heard of the Register, so I said, "Sure. Okay. That's fine. I won't." Of course, here I am right now.
Biagi: So how long were you at Gannett?
Katz: I never did get to be a general news executive, because within a couple of weeks, they decided that they needed a managing editor in San Bernardino and sent me out here to talk to Bob Ritter. Bob Ritter had been a publisher and was now an editor again, a fantastic guy. We hit it off right away. He was exactly the kind of editor that you would want when you wanted to learn how to do something, because he shared the glory and he taught you what you needed to know. He would sit you right down next to him and go over the budget, which I never did understand, but at least I got my tutoring. He was very good about that. I decided to take the job as his managing editor, figuring that since he had been a publisher and really understood that, I could learn a lot from him and still be the managing editor.
Biagi: At the San Bernardino Sun, what did the managing editor do?
Katz: The same thing the managing editor does everywhere else. You basically run the day-to-day operations of the newsroom. Bob basically handled all the parts that I felt were the worst parts of the job, which I guess I'll be stuck with now, which is dealing with the publisher, dealing with the budget, dealing with, in their case, the chain, and none of the fun bits at all, like the dealing with the news. Basically I ran the meetings, ran the paper, and we both did hiring, and it worked out really well.
Biagi: Then from the Sun?
Katz: I was at the Sun about fourteen months, and I really loved it. I've loved every job I ever had, as my friends point out to me. I had no intention of leaving there. In fact, my kids were in high school and I was committed to staying to get them out of high school in one place since we'd moved so much. One day I got a call from Tim Kelly, who was the managing editor of the Register, and he asked me to meet him and Chris Anderson for lunch. I said, "If you're buying, I'll come." Bob Ritter had once told me, "You talk to anybody, if it doesn't cost anything." So I told him about the lunch, and he said, "Go on."
So I went and talked to them, and we had what probably was the most bizarre lunch. In fact, I talked to Tim Kelly yesterday, when he called me to congratulate me, and he said, "Does this make up for the bizarre lunch we had all those years ago?"
Biagi: Tell me about it.
Katz: We met in Riverside, halfway between Orange County and San Bernardino, and Tim and Chris came in Chris' BMW. Riverside and San Bernardino are kind of truck kind of places not BMW kind of places. Chris and Tim had these dark suits and they walked in lockstep. It was a very fancy, dark restaurant. We sat there for about four hours, and nobody said why we were there. I said to myself about halfway through, "Well, I'll be damned if I'm going to ask why we're here."
Biagi: What did you talk about for four hours?
Katz: We chatted, I guess. I can't even remember now. Just chatted. Chris stayed quiet most of the time. Tim Kelly asked a lot of questions. Mostly I blithered, is the way I felt. I remember thinking, "This is just ridiculous! What is going on here?" But I got it into my head that I wasn't going to say anything. So we talked. It was good food. After a while, we went out into the parking lot, and they—
Biagi: What time was it, about four in the afternoon?
Katz: Yes, about 3:30 in the afternoon. Tim went to get the car, and Chris said to me, "You know, we're really looking for a good person to replace Harvey Meiman," who was the assistant managing editor for news at the time at the Register. I said, "I really hope you find someone." He said, "I do, too," and we shook hands. He left and I left, and that was it.
The next day, Tim called me and said, "Okay. Now will you come down here on Saturday and talk to us about this job?" So I drove down the next Saturday to the Register. I'd never been there. It's a very impressive place. We have a new building and it's beautiful. State of the art. They spared no expense. I was smuggled in the back way. We sat and talked for another five hours.
I actually have to tell you one thing. I owe my job to [leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization] Yassir Arafat. Years before I had interviewed for the job of managing editor in Baltimore, and they had a very strange publisher there who must have gone to a crazed school of management. He got it in his mind that the important question to ask a woman (he was against having a woman managing editor) was, "If you could talk to any three people living or dead, who would they be?" The only one I could think of at the time was Yassir Arafat.
So here I am a few years later sitting in Chris Anderson's office at the Register with Chris totally deadpan and Tim trying to be nice, and Tim said, "We really just have one more question for you. If you could talk to any three people living or dead, who would they be?" And they told me the look on my face was stunned. To myself I was saying, "How could this be happening? Could this really be happening to me again?" So I started to say, "Let me tell you a little story about this," because I was going to talk about Baltimore, when they just burst into hysterics. What they had done was they had called Jim Toedtman, who was my editor of Baltimore, to check me out, and he had told them that story.
Biagi: What a trick.
Katz: It was a terrible trick. So I really owe my job as editor and vice president of the Register to Yassir Arafat, which is pretty funny for a large, old Jewish woman. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Then your job was?
Katz: I was hired at the Register as assistant managing editor/news. It was funny, because I was very cool. They offered me the job that day, and I said in my most sophisticated way, "Well, I'll have to think it over. I have a very good deal at Gannett," and I did. Gannett was very good to me. So I left, and I remember I was shaking, thinking, "I can't believe this is happening to me." I felt so lucky.
Biagi: This was in 1988.
Katz: 1988. I was having a good time in San Bernardino, but the resources comparatively are very different. I never thought that this kind of opportunity would come my way. After I talked to Chris and Tim, I went out and went to a coffee shop. I don't even know where it is now. I just sat there, just grinning for hours. I mean, I knew I would take the job in a minute. The people at Gannett were very kind about it. They really did understand it was such a big leap.
Biagi: At the Register, what was your responsibility?
Katz: They had three assistant managing editors at the time. Most of the staff reported to me, which was all the production people, all the news people, the metro people, the community people, but there was also an assistant managing editor for features and an assistant managing editor for photo and graphics. So about two-thirds of the staff reported to me.
Biagi: The news side.
Biagi: Which would be how many people, roughly?
Katz: I don't know, a couple hundred, probably. Maybe a few more here and there.
Biagi: That was for how long, then?
Katz: That was February '88. I guess about a year and a half. In August '89 I was named managing editor. Tim went home to Kentucky; that was his goal in life. We were launching what has now become our famous, or infamous, Newsroom Without Walls. We had taken our top managers to a retreat at Lake Arrowhead. Those were the money days when things were good. We had this wonderful retreat at Lake Arrowhead, and Chris announced that I was going to be the managing editor. He always said there was another candidate, but I never was able to find out who it was.
Biagi: Yassir Arafat. [Laughter.]
Katz: It was really interesting. Chris Anderson is not one of the good old boys, and I'm not either, obviously. But it was scary to be working so closely with him.
Biagi: What do you mean, scary?
Katz: He is a man with a very powerful image, and he is a man with a national reputation for innovation. He is probably, I think—he'd laugh, and I don't mean to make this sound pompous, but he is probably the greatest visionary in journalism today, and he's really young, too. He doesn't care much about what other journalists think. He cares about readers as customers, which is something that a lot of journalists don't agree with or like to think about. Of course, if they don't think about it, we're not going to be able to retire from this business; there won't be one. But Chris is a very imposing man.
Biagi: You mean large in size?
Katz: Not so tall. Bald. He has a presence about him that makes him larger than life. He's forty-two now, probably. Maybe he's forty-three, but I think he's forty-two, but I never thought of him as younger than me. I always think of him as much older. He just has a larger-than-life presence. You can see that mind clicking away. You just never want to be caught in the crossfire. With the other editors I had worked for, two fabulous guys, Jim Toedtman and Bob Ritter, you knew their philosophy and where they stood on anything within twenty minutes. You could speak for them. Chris is a much harder person to work for, because you just never know which way he's going to jump. You feel like you're standing on one foot a lot of the times. He is not predictable.
Biagi: For people who haven't heard of the Newsroom Without Walls, would you describe what that process is?
Katz: Basically we believe that the way traditional newsrooms are constructed, with a metro staff and a business staff and a feature staff—all of whom generally write for the sections they are in—doesn't really reflect the interests and needs of readers. It's based on the philosophy that the definition of news has got to be a lot broader than it is today. Yes, the newspaper has to remain a voice for the voiceless; yes, it has to stand up for first amendment rights; yes, it has to shove down readers' throats stuff they have absolutely no desire to have, but that is very important for them to know, whether they want to know it or no; but the newspaper has to be more. There are lots of things that readers think about and are concerned about in their daily lives that we don't reflect at all. In fact, over the last twenty years, journalists have become part of the elite, as opposed to part of the blue-collar everyday kind of crowd. Certainly things have changed since I've been in the business.
So the idea was to create a newsroom—it could have been anything, just create a system that changed the system that we were in. It reminds me of—if you ever saw the movie "Dead Poets Society"—when Robin Williams had his students stand on their desks? Well, this is what we did. We had our staff stand on their desks and try to look at the world from the readers' perspective.
Biagi: Changed perspective.
Katz: And that's really what it was all about. We realigned the beat system adding all kinds of beats which are very important to the readers. For example, the one we got laughed at the most for, and it's now been imitated the most, is our shopping mall beat. We have a separate shopping beat. We just established in the last couple of weeks a health and fitness beat. We have a pets and hobbies beat. We have all the traditional beats, and now some non-traditional ones, too. Everybody's got a transportation beat, but we separated traffic out of that. I suppose if you lived in Alaska, you wouldn't care about traffic, but if you live in Orange County, your life revolves around two or three things: one of them is the price of housing and the others are traffic and shopping. Those are your three things that your life is all about. So we have a car culture reporter and a traffic reporter, two different people.
Biagi: What would a car culture reporter cover?
Katz: He covers not only everything there is about cars, purchasing them, consumer things, but he also covers things you can buy for them, what's most "in" in car culture, anything you can think of, car phones, car accessories.
Biagi: Car faxes.
Katz: Anything. The traffic reporter writes about traffic. It used to be a she, but we've just changed. He is out every day, and that's all he does is go up and down the freeways with a big sign on his car that says, "I'm the Register's traffic reporter. Call me." People do. And he also writes about the issues of traffic, which are very big issues here in Orange County, because if you try to get from one place to the other, it's very tough.
So really the philosophy is broadening the definition of news to include what readers want. You don't have to be a nuclear physicist, but when you think about the way journalism has been going, we've been separating farther and farther from what readers want to read about. We have
a relationships reporter. We have somebody who writes about families. We now have a reporter who covers aging issues. She does a page every week called "Maturing." The idea is good. What are the important issues as you change from being a baby boomer into that next older group, which many of the people in Orange County are doing?
So we customized the beats to match the interests of Orange County, and we also changed the structure of the newsroom. In a traditional newsroom, at least in our previous newsroom, in the business reporting group we had a reporter who covered health businesses, and on the metro staff we had a reporter that covered health delivery. In the feature staff, we had a reporter that covered health and science. We have lumped all those reporters together. They never talked to each other before and their editors never did. Now they work together under one editor so there's a lot of cross-pollination. What we did was put the reporters together by related beats under groups of editors, and then they write for every section of the paper as opposed to just one. They're expected to write for every section of the paper. Someone who covers courts recently did a big fashion piece on what attorneys wear. So it's really given us some very different perspectives.
Biagi: Rather than section editors.
Katz: Yes. We have no section editors. That's caused somewhat of a problem, because the question has come up, "Who's in charge of these sections?" But we've sort of patched up a system that seems to work, and it's a system of cooperation. The whole Register newsroom depends on people cooperating with each other and building bridges with each other. I have picked up two editors several times and just switched their jobs, even though they know nothing about the other job. They both wanted to do new things, and it's meant that they had to really build bridges. So the newsroom is much quicker on its feet to work in teams, I think, than most newsrooms are. But suddenly we're looking at the news from the point of view of the reader rather than from the point of view of the journalist.
Biagi: If you had to characterize the Register and why it's different or better than other papers, what would you say?
Katz: Very innovative, willing to take risks, a staff that is very eager, very creative, and we're not bound by the traditions that some of the big papers are bound by. I worked at Newsday, great place, great paper, but the paper had its own momentum. To get an idea from a lowly soul into the paper could take months or years. Some of our best ideas come from lowly souls, and they can get in the paper in a couple of days. One of the most interesting things we do now was suggested by a copy editor. It was just in a note he sent to me, saying, "Hey, what do you think of this?"
Biagi: What was the idea?
Katz: It's called Life Letters. Anybody can write a couple of hundred words about someone they knew who recently died. The letters are just staggering. We don't edit them particularly, grammar maybe, but they're just beautiful. We've had gang members' mothers write about their sons who were shot down; one woman wrote about her neighbor across the alley whom she waved at every morning for fifty years. A woman wrote last week about how her baby had died after just a couple of months of life. They're very touching in their naivete, because they're not written with the skill of journalism. They're very beautiful, very touching. But the copy editor sent the idea along, and we said, "Hey, that's a great idea," and it was in the paper as soon as we could get a form ready.
I think another hallmark of our paper is that we reach out to readers. We'll have readers call in, fax in, write in, come in, at the drop of a hat. Readers' voices are in the paper constantly, so they really feel that they have a stake in the paper. That it's their paper.
Biagi: What role has marketing surveys and surveying done? Are you constantly surveying your audience, as well?
Katz: We do have some, yes. We had a MORI study two years ago. We're in the field now with another study. But marketing has not been one of the Register's hot points. We need to do a lot more marketing. We've never marketed ourselves, it seems to me, in the kind of major professional New York way. This is in some ways a homespun operation. For such a sophisticated newspaper, in some ways it's a very homespun operation, and I think now that the battle with the Times has heated up to the point that it has, we need to lash back.
Biagi: Characterize that battle. Somebody on the East Coast might not understand it, reading this survey.
Katz: It's probably the greatest newspaper battle in America today, and we are both the top dog and the underdog at the same time, which is a very difficult role.
Biagi: Explain that.
Biagi: The Register owns Orange County. We are the largest circulating paper in Orange County by 100,000. The Register, in the last twelve years, really built Orange County as a place. It's thirty cities and assorted unincorporated areas. It was the Register that gathered them together and sold the idea of Orange County, I think. All that time, the Times slumbered. They were very arrogant, I think. But suddenly, recently, the sleeping giant has awakened. They realize that they need Orange County and also the counties on the other side of Los Angeles where the Los Angeles Daily News is. They saw that they had almost lost the fight. When Dave Laventhol came to California, he brought New York tactics to the battle.
Biagi: This would have been when, roughly?
Katz: I think that started a couple of years ago.
Biagi: He came from where?
Katz: He came from Newsday. The Los Angeles Times has always thought of itself as a great national and international paper, and their coverage of local news—how can I say this nicely?—is terrible. I think people here would tell you that. They always thought themselves above it. My paper was built on the idea that we are the local news source for Orange County. We will go anywhere in the world, but it has to have an Orange County hook. Just because it happens elsewhere doesn't mean we have to be there, which is another very big difference about us. I'll give you an example. We sent five people to each national convention this year, but none of them covered the main story, [George] Bush or—who is that other guy running? [Laughter.] Of course, [Bill] Clinton. None of them covered that; they covered the Orange County delegation.
We use the wires. We have every wire except the L.A. Times/Washington Post wire. We use the wires for those kinds of stories, our theory being that even with the kind of resources we have (and some cities have less smaller budgets than our newsroom budget), that resources are still limited, so we should use our resources to get the kinds of stories that nobody's going to get for us,
and we should let the New York Times cover the stories that they can cover better than us. That is very much a hallmark of the Register. In my time here, we have been all over the world. We went to Saudi Arabia, but we covered Orange County troops in Saudi Arabia. We've been to Afghanistan, we've been all through, of course, South America and Mexico. We spend a lot of time in Mexico anyway, it's so important to us. But we don't just go there. I joke about the two whales that got stuck up in Alaska in the ice. Somebody will say, "They swam by Orange County from Mexico." I say, "No. Breakfasting here isn't good enough." It has to have a real reason, a real connection. Someone just came back from Romania and did something on Romanian orphans, but it was connected to Orange County. It's not just the story everyone is writing.
The only place where that's a little difference is in sports. I think readers identify with sportswriters, so our reporters cover every sport.
Biagi: So Dave Laventhol came.
Katz: Dave Laventhol came. He brought a New York killer mentality with him. I can't speak for Dave Laventhol, but he, I think, decided that he was going to take us on. He has poured millions—millions and millions and millions into this battle, and they have made some substantial gains with some very bright moves.
Biagi: Dave Laventhol at the L.A. Times, for people who may not know.
Katz: Right. And the L.A. Times has made some substantial inroads. They have built some circulation here, some significant circulation here. The question is, can they keep it? I don't know. They also did the same brilliant thing they did in Denver with the TV book here to get 50,000 extra people on Sunday. So the battle has been joined, as they say.
Biagi: So two things, circulation and TV book, what do you mean by those?
Katz: What they have done is done everything they can to make the paper work. I mean, they've done some brilliant things, marketed the paper tremendously. Where everywhere else but the Los Angeles Times circulates the paper is sold for probably 35¢, you can buy the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times for 15¢, and the home delivery prices are lower, too. If anybody in Orange County is paying full price for the Los Angeles Times Orange County edition, they should immediately call up and complain, because I don't know anybody who isn't getting it at half price. At one point—I don't know if this is still true—they were giving away five pages of car advertising for the price of one page in our paper.
The way it worked with the TV book is that they own Dimension Cable, which is the biggest cable system in South Orange County, which is really where the battleground will be in the next five years. They took over the cable company's TV books, not just Dimension, but many of them, and they put out the books for the cable companies, these fancy cable-specific TV books, and billed customers for the Sunday Times on their cable bill for 50¢. It's a brilliant move. So you get the Times sort of along with the book, and the Times can count that circulation. Eventually, their goal will be to take circulation that they gain that way and try and turn it into daily circulation. It's a very, very brilliant move. And every week they have another contest. They give away a car a week. They are just spending money like water, taking it away from their other properties and focusing it all here. What it means for us? It mainly means good things for us, because when you're in a competitive situation, your publisher doesn't want to cut the budget so much; he wants you to have some resources to go out and fight. I think we have a publisher
who isn't about to give up. This is a man who wants to continue to keep the Register in its position of prominence.
We have a small problem in our circulation department which I won't go into, but because of it, we actually lost some circulation last year for the first time in years, and have just recently got to the point where we gained that back and edged up a little bit. But our gains have not equaled the Times'. So we have got to move ahead, and I think that's why some of these recent moves have come.
But, you know, being a newspaper isn't what it's all about anymore; it's being part of an information system. The Register often did some very clever things. The company that owns the Register, I should say—Freedom [Newspapers]. They started Orange County News Channel, which is a twenty-four-hour local cable news service which is now beamed into every cable home in Orange County. It's, I'm sure, still losing money, but as time goes on, I think it will be a big moneymaker. Even in the cable systems owned by the Times, we are there. We bought a lot of local weekly newspapers in the area, and we use those again with the idea of stretching resources. They're very successful in their own right. Freedom has put money into them to try and make them high-quality products, but they're free newspapers. They were always incredibly successful and delivered to everyone. We use them as our local news source. In other words, we have shut down some of our community editions and used the staff of these local newspapers to cover some of, and to tip us off about, local local news. They cover the chicken dinner news for us. I think that was a very smart move which will pay off in the future.
Orange County is a funny place, but it's a place where local news means a lot. We have become the research and development arm of the Los Angeles Times Orange County edition, basically. That's how I view it. They always had the franchise for national and international news, at least in the minds of the people, I think, of California.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Katz: —for whatever reason, I don't know. I don't know what the decision-making and thinking were that were going on over there, but they were always reluctant to go after us on our own ground, which was local news. Well, that's changed also since Dave Laventhol has come in, they're trying to out-local news us. A very clever move.
Rather than try and become the Times, we are trying to show people that we are a complete newspaper, which I think we are, and that we are the local news information source, that no matter what the Times says, if something moves in Orange County, we cover it in some form or another, in some place or another. We will run pictures in the paper of your cat with a sombrero on. We have a place for that in our paper. And then we will have a reporter in Afghanistan at the same time.
Biagi: When you talk about a newspaper that's part of an information delivery system, how do you see the future of newspapers in, say, ten or twenty years from now?
Katz: I think newspapers will be very different. I think that we will have customized newspapers by then. You might be my neighbor, and the paper that you get will be different from the one I get. You and I will probably get the same core paper, but the other sections that we choose to get will be customized to our choices. We've talked about Register Light, Register Classic, and Register Extra in our idea sessions, because I think people want something they can immediately see what the news is, and they want a traditional newspaper in some way or another. Maybe it
won't look traditional, but it will have the news. They want more about the things they're interested in.
My daughter worked in the circulation department last summer, a torture job, taking cancellation orders. I always asked her, "What are people canceling for?" She said a lot of them cancel because they say they didn't have time to read. That's one of the things you check off. But the truth is that people are reading more than ever; it's just that they're not reading newspapers. They're reading romance novels or niche magazines or things that interest them. So I think what will happen to newspapers is there will be some kind of core newspaper and then you will choose from a menu of some kind or another—how, I have no idea, probably through television or telephone—for the extra sections that you're interested in. They could be very specific sections like a weekly section on health and fitness or monthly tab on something else. I'm not exactly sure how it would work, but it would definitely be customized to your interest.
Biagi: It would be almost like a basic cable service and then you'd build on that, the other things that you want.
Katz: Exactly. That's how I see the way newspapers are going to be. I would be willing to bet we will be doing that within five years.
Katz: Oh, yes.
Biagi: So you would have different sections, and you would be able to custom order them.
Katz: Yes, that's how I see it.
Biagi: Inserted, perhaps.
Biagi: If you wanted health and fitness and religion and those kinds of news, then you would have that delivered.
Katz: Right. Somebody else might want entertainment and sports. I don't know whether there would be some kind of limited number. There would be a limited number of sections, and some of them maybe weekly sections, some of them maybe daily sections, some of them maybe monthly sections. You would make your menu.
Biagi: It's going to be an information packet, essentially, that would be customized, and really newspapers are in a special position to deliver all that stuff.
Katz: Right. It's possible now. This is possible now. I presume every newspaper can, but we certainly can drop you a different product than we can drop me. But we haven't done that yet. I foresee that coming very soon. And people would pay more, because they would get exactly what they want. Every Sunday morning when I go out and take the two papers, you can hardly pick them up. The first thing I do is head for the trashcan, and I stand in front of the trashcan dealing the sections I'm not interested in into the trash. What a waste of time and money and paper! A lot of trees died for nothing, you know. I think this way all that would be avoided, but the point is that we could target people who are interested in mountain biking, we could target you right down
to that and give you articles just on mountain biking. We could give you every article in the country that anybody wrote on mountain biking, perhaps. I don't know. But I think that's the way it will go.
Biagi: You've only had three days to think about this, but do you see yourself setting any kinds of particular new agenda?
Katz: No, I don't think so. I'm sure that I was chosen for continuity. I really believe in the vision that Chris has for the paper and in the idea of broadening news.
Another part which I didn't mention before, which is key, is repackaging news in different ways. When I first started in this business, I believed that every story and every brief, I mean right down to the two-sentence brief, had to be written in the same glorious prose. I no longer believe that. Everything is limited. Resources and time are limited, and reporters should spend their time with the things that need to be written beautifully, instead of with things that you need to get the information out—write a list, do a graphic. So what we're trying to do now is think of new ways to package information so that even if you're not interested in it, you'll read it.
Readers tell us that they hate jumps, but reporters don't believe that. I think that within the next year we'll go to a paper which has if no jumps, maybe one jump, but it won't be like USA Today. We don't want to be USA Today. That's very successful in its own niche way. Our paper would give you enough information on page one so that if you just had a slight interest in that story, you could read that and know the key elements of what happened. For those who wanted more, inside would be another whole package. The idea is that everything doesn't have to be a sixteen-inch narrative or an eighty-inch narrative; you have to give the package what it deserves. You have to break it down into pieces that are accessible to readers, whatever those pieces are, and you don't have to think in terms of paragraphs every time you want to get information across.
Biagi: I'm sure you've seen the proposals for graphics reporters teams and things like this. Have you done any of that?
Katz: Is that Buck Ryan's proposals? The Maestro proposal?
Biagi: It's in Texas. I think the Dallas Morning News has done it, where they've put a team together with a reporter who is a graphic artist, and they call them graphics reporters.
Katz: We have graphics reporters, too. We're thinking now in some new ways, not on breaking news, obviously. If a plane crashes, you don't stand around discussing it before you go; you go. But most of the stories that are in newspapers are enterprise. Most of them, I'd say 80 percent of them, maybe more, even, are stories that reporters and editors think up, and we're trying to think of a way to put together teams of people—we do a lot of teamwork—before we report the story. Maybe some reporting has been done, but before the story has really been solidified. Graphics and photos have always been support. The reporter reports the story, writes the story. Then they go out and get a map. Then they take a picture. In the past five years, since I've been here, and it's getting more and more refined every year, we've put teams together before anything is done except a little bit of reporting so that it's all much more unified. The graphics person and the photographer and reporter all work together on the story.
Biagi: Let's talk briefly about journalism education.
Katz: I was a journalism teacher once at Suffolk University in Boston in the late seventies. I taught documentary film. I knew nothing about documentary film, but I happened to be sitting in the Boston Globe office one summer opposite the head of the journalism faculty of Suffolk. He needed somebody to teach documentary film, he looked over at me, and I said, "Sure, I'll do it." I was about three pages ahead of the class in the book, and I showed a lot of movies. And they made movies. It was fun. I had them make movies, which was really the most fun of all. They really got into it. We really got into it. We had a great time.
At the time I was married, and my husband was teaching. He was a lawyer. He's now a diplomat, but he was a lawyer then, and he was teaching criminal justice courses at Northeastern University to policemen. We would read the papers of our students to each other, because we were in such disbelief that these could be written by people who were about to be college graduates, about to go into their professional fields.
I had two rules in my class: one was that my students spell my name right, and one was that they write in complete sentences. People couldn't even do that, and these were seniors in college in a journalism program. They could express themselves fabulously verbally, but they couldn't write a word. It was really sad. There were too many that couldn't write at all.
Biagi: So if you had to design the ideal journalism program on a college level, what would it be?
Katz: Oh, gosh, I don't know. Today it would be a program that definitely would have to have basic courses like news writing and libel law. But it would also at how to disseminate information. What's the information you're trying to get? What's the best way to package it and present it to whomever it is you're trying to publish it for? Therefore, it would involve lots of creative thinking about how you package information, and maybe it wouldn't be a newspaper at all. Maybe it wouldn't be words.
I think that if I was a journalism teacher, I would immediately stop talking about stories, and I certainly wouldn't talk about inverted pyramids; I would talk about information and say, "Then how do you deliver it? Who are you aiming at? What are the questions the reader wants to know? What does it mean to the reader, whatever it is you're doing?" Try and get them to find the best way to deliver that.
Biagi: The concept of answering the readers' questions, then.
Katz: Right. First. There is some creative thinking going on at some journalism schools. In fact, we're talking to someone from Northwestern about a really interesting idea he has for teams on stories. I would turn a journalism school into a living laboratory, and I would think of a new way to process copy from the point of the line editor to the composing room. We've been running it like an assembly line, in a linear way, for many years. Maybe that's not the way to do it. Why should copy editors write heads? It's stupid, to me. Reporters know much more about the story than the copy editors.
Biagi: They're always complaining about the heads. [Laughter.]
Katz: And the reason readers complain is because the head is completely different from the story. I think we have to examine the way we do things. We have a group now that's, in fact, studying just that, studying that piece of the process, how to manufacture the paper. I think you can make some efficiencies. One of the questions is, well, if you take away headline-writing from the copy editors, what's left? I think if you made it a series of circles instead of lines, and put copy editors
in a team with line editors, reporters, graphic artists, and photographers that work together on a piece of newspaper real estate, perhaps, that would solve that problem. I'm not really sure.
Biagi: Do you think that we're at a period at all in the history of newspaper journalism that's going to see large innovations, or do you think that we're just going to see little changes in the way we've done business? Is it time for wholesale change, do you think?
Katz: Five years ago when I came to the Register, Chris was one of the few people in the country who were talking about wholesale change in the way we look at what we do. A group of editors had just started New Direction for News and some of the other groups that really are looking at what we do. At that time I think there were a lot of traditionalists who held the point of view that, "We need to be in our ivory towers and we can't change, and we're above that." In that four and a half years everything has changed. There's not anyone anywhere, except maybe in some farfetched place, who doesn't believe that we must change or die. We're really at that point. But everybody's scared. Change is very scary. And people who advocate change are very scary people. I think that what we're going through now is people have accepted the need for change, but they can't figure out what the change should be.
Our approach at the Register is to be a work in progress and to take some risks. Some of them have been true bombs. Don't ask me about any; I can never remember any of the bombs. We'll try almost anything once. I think you have to be very risk-taking.
You talked about major and substantial change. I think there will be, but it will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. I don't know if you get Editor and Publisher.
Biagi: Yes, I read it.
Katz: Did you get this week's?
Biagi: I haven't read it yet.
Katz: Did you see it?
Katz: Well, it doesn't look anything like the magazine you got last week. It's as different as the new Boca Raton paper was to the old Boca paper. I hated the old Editor and Publisher. I thought it was the most old-fogyish, horribly put together piece of dreck, but I was taken aback by the new one, and I felt very uncomfortable with it. That dramatic change unnerved me as a reader, as a constant reader.
I think the trick here is to evolve rather than revolutionize, so that the readers you've got stay with you and they almost don't notice. Our readers tell us that they really don't see a lot of difference from the Register of two or three years ago. It's dramatically different, but we've sort of just nudged a little here, pushed a little there, and it looks a lot the same. Even in some of the new designs we're trying out, at first glance the paper doesn't look very different. It's incredibly different, but at first glance it doesn't seem so different. The catch is to keep the loyal readers, snag the potential readers and not lose the at-risk readers. All of them read newspapers differently and all of them want different things out of a story. How the hell do you do that? Whoever figures that out is going to be the king or queen of journalism.
Biagi: How do you see your audience changing? Is your audience changing in any way?
Katz: Yes. I think our audience is changing. This is Long Island with palm trees.
Biagi: Orange County?
Katz: Orange County is Long Island with palm trees. Having worked for Newsday, I can say authoritatively this is Long Island with palm trees. Orange County is basically split into two parts. North County, which is older suburbs full of a lot of people from Los Angeles, and which is changing ethnically dramatically. Most of our ethnic residents live in North County. We have the largest population of Vietnamese in the world, outside of Vietnam.
I think 20 percent is the official number of Hispanics throughout the county, primarily based in Santa Ana, in north county. There are Asians of all kinds here. Very few blacks, less than 2 percent blacks in Orange County, and most of them, I think, are professional. The county is becoming more ethnic. The Register, in the last two months, started a Spanish weekly called Excelsior, that is doing very well, very well. A local weekly newspaper in Spanish.
South County is really the battleground between us and the Times. There you have families that are unaffiliated with Los Angeles, who are young, white, primarily, families who live in new communities. Giant new communities spring up overnight. It's amazing. These are people who have no allegiance to anything, and this is where the giant battle is going on or will go on.
Biagi: Where have they come from primarily?
Katz: I don't know. Transients, I guess.
Biagi: Are they centered around a particular industry?
Katz: No, I don't think so. In Orange County there were a lot of people in the defense industry. There are a lot of them out of work right now, but these are mostly young families. South county used to be orange groves. In Suffolk County, Long Island, it was potato fields. Here it's orange groves. These orange groves have literally overnight turned into sprawling developments of tract homes, some very expensive, and they're filled with people who look exactly like everybody else. Basically, they're the young families, the two-worker households, upscale yuppies. They are very interested in international and national news as well as local news. Their communities are new, so they aren't so tied to local news. We've got to convince them that we are their local news source as they grow into the community, and that we have enough national and international news that they don't have to look anywhere else.
We can never out-national and inter-national news the Times, although if you ever did a survey of the number of stories from around the world and the nation, I would say we far outnumber the Times because they write such long, boring things. But the perception is that they are the king of the mountain on that stuff. I learned a real lesson with the war in Saudi Arabia, which was we don't have to beat them. We don't have to outnumber them. They can always outspend on us. They can always send more reporters. They can always throw more resources at something. But we have to have enough. The readers must feel that we offer a complete picture so they don't have to go somewhere else for the rest of the story. That's what I think our goal is, basically.
Biagi: Let's take a complete break and go back to the very beginning, which is March 14, 1945.
Katz: Oh, wow.
Biagi: Where were you born?
Katz: Boston, Mass.
Biagi: Your parents' names?
Katz: Lester Schwartz and Beverly Newman Schwartz.
Biagi: Tell me about them.
Katz: About my folks?
Katz: My dad was the youngest of seven or eight children. His father died of diabetes before he was born. That was before insulin. He had a very strong-willed mother, married many times. She always wore black and had a horsehair couch in her living room. It was a very strong-willed family. Dad was trained as a lawyer, but went into my mother's father's business, which was clothing stores.
Biagi: Men's or women's?
Katz: Originally men's upscale clothing stores and then later discount department stores like K-Mart. Dad was never involved in any way in journalism, except that every Sunday morning he would take—my family were incredible newspaper readers and crossword puzzle people, and every Sunday morning we would go to this store and my dad would buy every newspaper there was, and I would get three comic books.
Biagi: You'd go with him?
Katz: I'd go with him. This was a Sunday morning ritual. I would get three comic books and he would get every newspaper there was. I remember him coming home from work every night and reading the newspaper. He always started at the back, for some reason, and read from one end to the other. He did not move out of the couch until every word of the Lowell, Mass. Sun was consumed and the crossword puzzle was done. My mother was a voracious reader. She had books going in every room of the house, and she also was a crossword puzzle fanatic, but the New York Times crossword puzzle was always saved for her on Sunday morning. She, too, was a newspaper reader.
Biagi: Had she gone through high school?
Katz: Yes. My father's family, owned a grocery store in Dorchester, Massachusetts. My mother's family were a little more upscale, I think, and they owned this men's clothing store in Lowell, Massachusetts. My mother went to a girls' boarding school, the name of which escapes me, and then to Smith College, which was the proudest accomplishment in her whole life. She still talked about it forty years later, because it was unusual at the time. She always wanted to be an archeologist; instead, she married my father and became a housewife. She was a golf fanatic.
Our whole life revolved around her golf game. She played every day, won trophies. She probably could have gone professional; she was really good. But that wasn't the way of the world then. She was really just a housewife who played golf. She was very much involved in volunteer activities, with everything from the Smith College Club to Jewish charities to all kinds of clubs. She was very much into that.
Biagi: Did you live in Lowell?
Katz: I grew up in Lowell. I went to school, until high school, in Lowell. My mother was a believer in boarding schools, so both my brother and I were sent to boarding school.
Biagi: You had just the one brother?
Katz: I have the one brother.
Biagi: And his name is?
Katz: His real name is Nathan Steven Schwartz, but everybody, since he was born, has called him Nicky. Maybe now that he's grown up they call him Nick, but I still call him Nicky.
Biagi: Older or younger than you?
Katz: Younger than me by five years. My mother had a lot of miscarriages, and he and I were the only ones who made it. My mother was a very determined woman and always told us—I mean, you could never do well enough in school. If you got an A, it wasn't good enough; you had to get an A+. She really encouraged—she sent a mixed message in some way, but she always told me I could do whatever I wanted, which was, I think, a very good message. Later, when I was trying to juggle career and children and I would ask her for help babysitting if my kids got sick, she would say, "If you're going to have kids, you should have stayed home and taken care of them." But both she and my grandmother on my father's side were very determined women who controlled the situation all the time and really pushed. So my brother and I were pretty well pushed into being overachievers in every way we could be.
Biagi: Grammar school and the name of the school?
Katz: Pine Street School. Gosh, I haven't thought of that in a lot of years.
Biagi: In Lowell?
Katz: In Lowell.
Biagi: Did that go through sixth grade?
Katz: No, I think that went through third grade.
Biagi: So that was through third grade and then you went third through—
Katz: That was through third grade, definitely. Then fourth, fifth, and sixth I went to the Morey School. Then I went to Daley Junior High school. Then in ninth grade I was sent away to the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York. It was really a pretty strict place and I've always been the kind of person where if there are rules, I'm out to break them. I always was a troublemaker,
although my parents never knew it. They never really knew the trouble I got in. I was a perfect child to them, and only recently have my dad and I had talks about some of the things I did. At this boarding school I spent a lot of time being in trouble, too, but never enough to get me thrown out.
Biagi: Was it an all-girls' school?
Katz: All-girl's boarding school. Wore uniforms. Very academically rigorous. My English teacher there—Edith Prescott—really inspired me about writing. I worked on the school newspaper called the Clock for a little bit, but really I was into writing poetry. So I was editor of the literary magazine.
Biagi: Were you editor from the time you were—
Katz: My senior year I was editor, but I contributed to it all through high school, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth grades. So I went there for four years.
Biagi: Do you remember any particular teachers before high school?
Katz: Yes, Miss Delaney. I think she was in about third grade. I wonder why I remember her. Some of these women teachers that you had back then, they really pushed hard. Lowell has a big Irish population, and there were a lot of tough Irish women teachers. But the women who I really remember, when I think of who most affected my life, I think of Miss Prescott. Mrs. Mickey, who was my history teacher in high school. And Rhoda Dorsey, who is the president of Goucher College now, who taught history at Goucher. Oh, she was one tough cookie. I would say that she was an inspiration to me. Other than that, I don't know why I remember Miss Delaney. She must have given me the ruler a lot. I got the ruler a lot.
Biagi: Did you?
Katz: Oh! All the time.
Biagi: Very strict discipline in that sense?
Katz: This was K [kindergarten] through nine. I was in trouble a lot. I talked a lot. I was one of those kids who just talked and talked in school and never listened. My daughter is worse than I am and more independent even than I was. I would constantly get calls from Redlands High School, where she got very fine grades. But if she got bored, she would put her head down on the desk and go to sleep right in the class. I was not that bad, but I would talk. I was known as a constant talker. I would get all As and Bs, but Es in Effort. I would have trouble in Effort. Then my mother would always yell at me, because I used to get the ruler a lot for talking and was sent to the cloak room. They had these cloak rooms with hooks, and I spent a lot of time in them being punished.
Biagi: I never understood why that was a bad place to stay.
Katz: It was dark, I think, and scary, and you were alone.
Biagi: Couldn't talk. [Laughter.]
Katz: And you couldn't talk to anybody. Maybe Miss Delaney gave me the ruler more than most teachers, I guess.
Biagi: What did you read?
Katz: What did I read? Oh, God, I read anything I could get my hands on. I read every Nancy Drew book. I read the Bobbsey Twins. One of my favorite books, and I can't tell you why, was Green Poodles. I don't even know what it was about, but I remember it and I saved it. But I just basically read anything I could. I loved mystery stories. Still do.
Biagi: Did you go to the library a lot?
Katz: Yes. Just as the Sunday ritual was to go get the three comic books, my mother's ritual was at least three times a week to go to the library. When I think of my mother—she's dead now; she died three years ago—I think of her in the middle of the night, I mean two, three in the morning, sitting in the kitchen reading by herself, because it was a time she could read quietly.
Biagi: Not during the day so much?
Katz: No. During the day she was out playing golf and doing her charities. I don't know when she ever slept, when I think about it. We had a housekeeper. She didn't have to ever cook or do any of those things. Her life was a pretty easy one when you think about it. But going to the library was something she did through her whole life, and she knew the librarian so well, both in Lowell and then later in Andover, Massachusetts, where she died, that they would save the best books for her. She could read ten or twelve books a week. She was an amazing reader. I think she lost herself in books.
Biagi: Mostly fiction?
Katz: All fiction. The tragedy of my mother was that she was born out of her time, in a way, so she had to live through books. She was really a very strong woman, a very strong-willed woman, and if she said this pen was red and it was really white, you wouldn't argue with her. You'd say, "Okay, it's red." She was a very strong-willed woman. She controlled us all with an iron hand.
My dad was a moody kind of guy, and didn't talk much. But my parents really instilled the idea that you had to do the best you could, work real hard, and if you did that, good things would come to you.
Biagi: Did you see them working real hard? Your mother was busy.
Katz: She was always busy. I think I resented it as a child. Oh, did we resent the golf stuff. I mean, I would never pick up a golf club, although it probably could help me a little now if I played golf. We'd be sitting there at dinnertime, waiting, waiting, waiting for Mom to come home. Oh, we hated it! And it seemed so frivolous to me. But, of course, it was her way of achieving something. When you're grown up, you look back, and you can see that. I am convinced that if my mother had dedicated herself to a career the way she dedicated herself to the things she did, she would have been the president. She was just an incredibly driven person, but she just never had an outlet.
Biagi: So when you went away to boarding school, you say it was a very rigorous routine.
Katz: Oh, it was an incredibly strict place.
Biagi: What does that mean to you?
Katz: It was very academically demanding. Of course, my parents were very academically demanding, so they didn't fool around there. The school was very hard. A lot of smart kids went there.
Biagi: What kind of subjects? Would you study Latin?
Katz: I studied Latin three years, French for three years. I'm only laughing, because out of the blue this year one of my high school closest friends called me. She was this very crazy, zany kid. Her father made furniture in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Well, now she's married to the opposition leader of Yemen! She has been living all over the world, and she came to Orange County with her daughter, who goes to Claremont College now, and she called me to meet me, and my daughter went, too. Then a few weeks later she came back again. We had a great time, a great time, even though her life has been nothing like mine. Nothing. I mean, she lives in a palace! She showed me pictures of her husband, and he was surrounded by men who carried Uzis, because his life is always in danger. He's trying to bring democracy to Yemen. She lives most of the time in Switzerland with her children.
Anyway, to make a long story short, there are five people from my class in boarding school who live in this area, and she got us all together, and we had dinner.
Biagi: Had you seen them at all?
Katz: No, I didn't even know they were here. This woman got them to come to this dinner. I dreaded it terribly, because they were not my friends in school, particularly, and I really dreaded it. Well, we had the time of our lives. I mean, we had a great time. We did some talking about school and some of these teachers, but it was seeing the patterns of our lives and how similar they were in some ways and how different they were in others and what we had achieved and our children had achieved. It was really very interesting.
Biagi: What strikes you most about that group?
Katz: How we'd all been through a lot of the same problems, a couple of divorces, maybe more than that, a couple of people who wished they would have gotten divorced but didn't. The drive for achievement that was set both in this boarding school and by my parents was also in them. We all had careers, except one, who was a homemaker, but she really had to take over because her husband was sick.
It also struck me how, after thirty years, you can meet people who you haven't seen and still have just this incredibly wonderful, interesting time, because this school was such a bonding experience for everybody who went there. It had a rulebook. It's changed now. We wore these incredible uniforms and sturdy brown shoes. You really looked awful. It had rules—oh, incredible rules. I can still recite some of them.
Biagi: Such as?
Katz: Such as, "Students are not to drink. Students are not to smoke. Students are not to throw anything from the windows, including their voice." That was one of my favorites. I threw lots of things from windows.
Biagi: Did you drink and smoke, too?
Katz: I smoked. I never drank. I don't drink now, except an occasional glass of wine, but I smoked. You were allowed to go on occasional weekends. Your parents would come, and you were allowed to go out to dinner with them. Of course, my mother was a tremendous smoker—oh, tremendous. It's amazing she never got cancer from it. But you'd rush into the ladies' room and smoke till you were green, then come back and throw up. It was just to thumb our nose at the school. I got in trouble there for talking in class, too, most of the time.
Biagi: No ruler?
Katz: No. There, I don't remember the punishment. Study hall, probably. Think of this. I graduated from there in '62, so that will give you [an idea]. We were never allowed outside the grounds of the school without a chaperone, and the four years I was there, you couldn't walk in front of the school because there was a fraternity across the street. We could never leave the campus except with a chaperone, even to go downtown to shop. But times were different then.
Biagi: So was it an almost collegial bonding experience for all of these girls?
Katz: Yes. Even as we talk about it, I see the faces of some of these teachers that we did terrible things to, and housemothers. Oh, we were awful to them.
Biagi: How many students were there?
Katz: In the whole school?
Biagi: Roughly, would you guess?
Katz: I don't know. I bet there were like a hundred kids in my class. Only two Jewish kids. It was limited, I think. I'm sure they had quotas. I don't think they would say so. I'm sure they did have quotas.
Biagi: Were you conscious of that?
Katz: I guess I was. I don't know. I've never been really conscious. The only time I was really conscious of it was when I lived in Austria. I don't think I was, but I mean, now when I look back on it, it was clear. It's interesting to see what's happened to the people. You became very close because the teachers and the housemothers were your enemy, and you were trying to outsmart them every way you can.
Biagi: What was the best trick you ever pulled?
Katz: We sunbathed naked on the roof of the school. It wasn't big stuff. You couldn't do big stuff. There was nothing big to do, although somebody in my class ran away with one of the teachers and got married. That was pretty exciting. But most of the teachers were old women.
Biagi: But you did have some male teachers?
Katz: Some male teachers, but very few. Very few. Oh, that's another teacher that really, really was an influence on me, Mr. Homan, my history teacher. So Mrs. Mickey must have been my English teacher. I was in the chorus, although I couldn't sing a whit, and have a terrible voice. What else did I do? I was on the literary magazine and I fancied myself quite a poetess. They were poetesses then; now they're just poets. One of our teachers would call them "poyims." But we studied very hard there, and that was the whole point of the place, you know. Once a month or so we'd have a dance with another boy's boarding school, and that would be it.
Biagi: Was there any religious training?
Katz: Yes, they had chapel on Saturday, short, and chapel on Sunday, long. Episcopalian, I think. You'd just sleep through those or glaze your eyes over. But looking back, it was probably, more than any of the colleges I went to, it was the place where I made my closest friends.
Biagi: Do you have friends still from that time?
Katz: Yes, I do.
Biagi: Other than this group?
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Katz: What I think the school did for me was show me that there were other people in this world besides middle class, white, Jewish families from Lowell, Massachusetts.
Biagi: Because there was a variety of people?
Katz: There was a variety of people. I don't know that there was an ethnic variety, as I think of it, although we did have some very wealthy girls from Greece and Venezuela, places like that. But I mean, it really showed me that there were people of all kinds out there, and that you could be friendly with them. Also, these were very strong-willed women. The headmistresses were Miss Wellington and Miss Lay. It turned out they were gay, but I didn't find out about it till last year.
Biagi: Miss Wellington and Miss—
Katz: Lay. An irony. But nobody ever thought of those things then. These were very strong-willed women who ran this school and strong-willed women who were teachers there, and they taught you that you could do anything. I never thought that I couldn't do whatever it was I wanted. I never wanted to be anything else but a journalist. An archeologist, maybe, for a couple of days, but that was about it. I never wanted to be anything else but a reporter.
Biagi: You distinguished a reporter from a writer, poetess?
Katz: Yes, yes. I knew professionally I was never going to make it on my poems, or my "poyims," as my teacher used to say. But Miss Prescott really taught me to value every word, and I think that's what I learned out of the poetry, that every word counted. I remember learning about haiku. She loved every word so much. I guess I was in college when I started working for my local newspaper in summers, but I never wanted to do anything else, ever.
Biagi: Did you have any friends who were journalists? Did the family have any family friends who were journalists?
Katz: No, they were always in the clothing business of some kind or the food business or the wholesale this or that business.
Biagi: So when you left high school, did you have that as an idea, or was it when you got in college that you wanted to be a journalist?
Katz: I think high school, I wanted to be a journalist. I can't remember ever wanting to be anything else.
Biagi: Did you have any heroes or heroines who were journalists?
Katz: No, not at all, really. I had heard of Helen Thomas and people like that. But papers themselves were held in such different esteem back then. The newspaper was a sacred object in my family's home, especially on Sunday when the Boston papers came and the New York papers came. I mean, these were treasures to my family. So, you know, obviously I think my parents held them in such high esteem that I thought there must be something good there. When I grew up, I never thought about money, the idea that what you would do would have to make you money.
Biagi: You never made that connection?
Katz: Never made that connection. I always assumed I would get married, and I guess I always assumed that there would be money, and I always assumed that I would have kids, and I always assumed that I would have a house.
Biagi: Did you assume that you would work?
Katz: Yes, I did. My entire journalism goal in life was to be a reporter in Boston. That was it. I never went beyond that. I never wanted to be an editor. I became an editor by a fluke, and I've stayed an editor, but I never wanted to be one. When I grew up in journalism, you were terrified of editors. I remember when I first started out as a reporter, you would die before you walked into the office of the managing editor. I mean, you would. When I was at the Globe and I went to see Tom Winship, I couldn't talk in front of him. And Bob Healey, who was a columnist for the Globe. When I was managing editor in Baltimore, I met him at a Washington Press Club dinner. I mean, I had spent years seeing him, and I was a grown woman, married with children, and I could not bring myself to talk to him. He was like a god!
Biagi: Because of his position or because of the kind of person he was?
Katz: Because he was the great columnist. He turned out to be a very charming gentleman. But back then, the city editor was like Captain Queeg. You wouldn't talk to him unless you had to. It was a very different time in journalism. You went out and got that story or they'd kill you. Jim Toedtman, my friend, tells of the time when he had to get a picture of a dead boy, and he went to the family and they went after him with a gun, saying, "Get the hell out of here." He went back to the newsroom without the picture. The city editor said, "I'll do worse than come after you with a gun. You get back out there." And that's what it was like. Very different. There were women in the newsroom of the Lowell Sun, where I started as a copy girl.
Biagi: Let's get you to college first. Or did you start working in journalism before you went to college?
Katz: No, I don't think so. I think it was my summers of college.
Biagi: College you started in fall of '62.
Katz: Goucher College. My mother wanted me to go to Smith, of course, so I wouldn't apply there. No, actually, I did apply. She made me apply, but I made sure the interview went badly. That was when you interviewed for college; they don't do that anymore. I made sure that the interview went so badly that there was never a chance that I would go there. The last place she wanted me to go to was Goucher, so I made sure I was going to go there. She wanted me to go to Smith or Wellesley. She really valued that Seven Sister stuff.
Biagi: You didn't go to Goucher because it was a great journalism school, then?
Biagi: You went there—
Katz: Nobody really told you how to get to someplace, how to get to a career path. I mean, journalism wasn't even a career particularly for women then; it was a job. I think the people I can think of who were in the newsrooms at that time would never tell you they had a career. The word "planning" never entered their mind. So I went to Goucher. I was a history major.
Biagi: Did you have a minor?
Katz: I don't think so. It certainly wasn't anything scientific.
Biagi: Math wasn't—
Katz: Oh, I was terrible, terrible in math. I counted on my fingers. I haven't balanced a checkbook for ten years. I'm terrible in math and not very good in science. In college I wanted to take philosophy, but I stayed away from those courses, because I was afraid I wouldn't get good grades in them and then, of course, my family would be very angry. I see that as a loss that I never got to take some of the things I would have been interested in because of fear of failing.
Biagi: The grades, you mean.
Katz: Right. The grades. Because by then it was all ingrained, you know. You didn't have to bring the grades home at that point, but I think it was ingrained that you had to do. Although in college I was strictly a B student. Never a C, never an A; always a B.
Biagi: You lived in the dorms?
Katz: Lived in the dorms, made some very close friends there. I had this Rhoda Dorsey as my history teacher. She was another example of one of the strongest women I have ever seen.
You'd say, "The people." She'd say, "What do you mean, the people?" I mean, she really just bore into you. She terrified me.
Goucher was a hard school. It had rules, and you had to wear skirts. It was sort of just a small extension of this boarding school I had been imprisoned in for four years, and I wanted to see the world. I stayed there two years. Then I convinced my parents that there was this teacher whose name—don't even ask me his name, this fabulous history teacher at Barnard College who I wanted to study with—
Biagi: Whose name you can't remember.
Katz: I can't remember. He very quickly thereafter went to Boston University, and I didn't even have him as a teacher. But I convinced my parents I had to study with this man, so I had to go to Barnard. Well, Barnard was New York City. I could really open up my life.
Biagi: What made you really want to go to Barnard College?
Katz: Because I thought of New York City as total freedom, big city, you know. Goucher was, as I said before, just an extension of Emma Willard. It had a campus. Barnard has a little campus, but Barnard is a big university in a giant city. Think of all those opportunities to live. I love cities and I love New York, and I just felt that I'd be more at home. I wanted to loosen up after all these years of wearing girdles, really, if not metaphorically.
Biagi: Up until that point, talk about your social life and your friends.
Katz: I was always pretty chubby. My mother said that when I was born, I was a two-and-a-half-pound preemie and that she spent the first five years getting me to eat, and then I never stopped. I don't know if that's true, because I recently found my baby book, and I was actually five pounds when I was born, so she sort of stretched the truth there. It is true that I never stopped, so I've always been up and down in weight. It never really affected my social life too much.
I always had a lot of friends, because I was pretty funny. I had friends that I grew up with in Massachusetts, some of whom I still keep in touch with. I guess I was pretty popular, and I had a very close circle of friends at boarding school, and then in college, too. A lot of friends.
Really, the truth is I'm pretty shy. People think that I'm very outgoing, and people think that I tell them everything about my life. The truth is I'm really much an introvert and they don't know anything at all. But reality and perception are two different things.
Biagi: They think you're forthcoming.
Katz: Yes. I think my staff will tell you that I am very forthcoming.
Biagi: Why do you think they'd say that?
Katz: Because I act that way. I always have a lot of friends. I don't know if my social life has been the greatest, but it wasn't awful. In Lowell, I belonged to one of those little Jewish religious organizations, Young Judea. Our whole social life revolved around the temple, although we were not a religious family. My grandmother, my mother's mother, by that time had married someone whose family came over on the Mayflower, so we were definitely not a religious family.
But social life revolved around the temple, and I don't think outside of the Kelly twins, who were friends of mine, I had any friends who weren't Jewish at that time. Obviously there was no social life in boarding school—none. At Goucher there was some, but it wasn't until I got to Barnard that things really picked up. Then you really weren't connected with the school. You went to classes there, but your life was separate.
Biagi: Where did you live?
Katz: The first year I lived in a women's residence—not in a dorm. There were five or six rooms around a kitchen, and different people lived in them. They weren't all college students from Barnard. Some of them were older. One of them was a nurse, I remember, who lived in our suite. I lived there the first year, a pretty awful place.
Katz: It was just grungy and disgusting.
Biagi: And you didn't know anybody in the city, did you?
Katz: Yes, I knew two people in the city. Two of my friends from Goucher, close friends from Goucher, had quit Goucher and had moved to the city. One just graduated from college this year; she's taken a hundred years to get through. The other, I don't know what she was doing then, but she had also quit Goucher and was in the city.
Biagi: But you went to Barnard on your own, in that sense? You didn't go with anybody because anybody else was going?
Katz: No. I just wanted to stretch my wings a little and be free of all those rules. Goucher really was pretty strict. You had to wear skirts to class! Imagine that in '63. Well, maybe that seems normal, actually, in '63, but Barnard wasn't like that at all. It was all these funky people, and it was a pretty funky place. I didn't know anybody there, and I worked hard because I had to earn money. I didn't have to. My father gave me credit cards and cash, but I felt an obligation to work. Besides going to school, I had a job as a governess for two psychiatrists. I schlepped their kids to dance class.
Biagi: Had you worked before in other jobs?
Katz: Every summer I'd worked.
Biagi: Doing what kinds of things?
Katz: Working for the newspaper.
Biagi: In college. But in high school, had you worked?
Katz: I worked in my father's discount store. I was a bagger and I ran a cash register. What else did I do?
Biagi: Did he pay you a wage?
Katz: He didn't own the whole department store. He owned the men's department. It was like a concession. A company has a shoe department in all the K-Marts. So he owned the men's department in several of the stores. They were called Stuart's Department Stores. I worked there and fell madly in love with someone who I met there, who then turned out to work at the local paper.
Biagi: How old were you then?
Katz: I was probably a senior in high school, and he was working for the newspaper and working part time in this department store, in the shoe department, I think. He was a sportswriter at the paper.
Biagi: Did you ever go with him to the paper at all?
Katz: Not at the time, no.
Biagi: So then when you were at Barnard and when you were a junior, would you say, was the first time you went to work in the summers?
Katz: No, I think I worked right from freshman year.
Biagi: At Goucher also?
Biagi: Where did you work? At which paper?
Katz: Lowell Sun.
Biagi: That would be for two years, then?
Katz: I worked there, I think, three summers. Yes, three summers. I'll tell you why I remember, because Pat Collins, a TV personality, began the year before me. And Nancy Scannell, the late Washington Post sportswriter, started the year after I did. We all worked in the women's department. My mom had grown up in the town. She knew the head of the women's department, so she got me the job there, writing weddings. Actually, I started out as a copy girl.
Biagi: How did you get the job?
Katz: I'm sure my mother got it for me. I'm positive.
Biagi: Did you go down and apply, or did she tell you that there was a job waiting for you?
Katz: I don't remember, but I had to go see the managing editor. I went there and he hired me as a copy girl. My family was pretty prominent in Lowell, my mother's family. My mother had grown up there, you know, and she knew all these people. So she must have fixed it, actually.
Biagi: That would be what year?
Katz: The summer between high school and college, I think, was the first year I worked there, and I was a copy girl. So summer '62. My job was very exciting. That was hot type.
Biagi: Oh, sure.
Katz: And, you know, Massachusetts in the summer ain't great.
Biagi: Isn't cool?
Katz: No. The newsroom was on the third floor, and each desk had "in" and "out" wire baskets, and you'd pick up the copy, trudging around the newsroom to all the desks. You'd pick up this hard copy that had been pasted and grunged together—you know what it looked like. Then you went through a double door, you went down a flight of stairs into what seemed to me, what I picture in my head now, a room, giant, filled with linotypes. It can't have been that big, but to me it seems like a hundred miles long, filled with men and machines. No women there. Men just sweating away. It was so hot, you'd get the blast of air as you opened this door. You'd go down about five steps. I'd go to the bank and I would give them the copy, and they would give me proofs.
Right before you went up the stairs to the double doors back to the newsroom, was what looked like a medieval gallery hung up on the wall that you went up a few stairs to get into. Inside these five or six very old proofreaders sat reading everything. I put the proofs in a bucket and I'd pulley up to them. Then they would drop the finished proofs back, and I'd bring them back to the bank, and then I'd just do the circle again. I did that for one or two summers.
Biagi: Was this gallery beside the linotype room?
Katz: It was in the linotype room. It was right through the double doors, up a few steps. It was rickety, wooden—
Biagi: It was in the heat?
Katz: Oh, yes. Think of a medieval gallery. I don't think there were any windows in there.
Biagi: Did they have the green eyeshades?
Katz: I can't remember that. There were women in there, I remember that. I mean, they probably weren't that old, but to me they were pretty old. That was probably when thirty-five seemed old to me. They seemed very, very, very old. I remember one woman, she must have been in her sixties. They would put the proofs back in the bucket, and I would pulley it down, the finished proofs, bring them back to the bank.
Biagi: By "bank," you mean?
Katz: That's what they called it, the bank where they fitted all the type in wooden page forms. That's where I learned to read upside down, which actually has come in pretty handy through the years.
My first summer there, they gave me my name in type. I still have that in my safe deposit box. I have that one and I have the one from my first byline in my safe deposit box. I think that's when I really decided, "Hey, this is pretty exciting." I can't imagine why, because it was a drudgery job of the first degree.
Biagi: Do you remember the smell?
Katz: No, I just remember the heat. It would rise up. You could see it. But the men were wonderful and very kind to me.
Biagi: You would have been seventeen?
Katz: Yes, seventeen. I joked around with them a lot and had a really good time, and it just seemed like the greatest. I remember the men in the composing room more than the people in the newsroom.
Biagi: The other women you talked about, were they copy girls as well? Nancy?
Katz: No. They were interns on the women's desk. They graduated. I don't remember who took my place as copy girl. Maybe it was a boy. I don't know.
Biagi: Did you do that for a year?
Katz: One summer or two. I'm not really certain.
Biagi: Were there any other copy girls?
Katz: No, I was the only one. There was only one person who did this. It was a small newspaper. I did it all day. That was one of my thinner periods because I walked so much all day and it was so hot. You could just see the heat rising and the metal bubbling in those pots. I was so impressed with those guys. They would just punch away, and they just seemed like the coolest people. They really were so friendly. The man on the bank, his name was Ebby. I have never thought of that till this day. He would talk to me about newspapers. This was their life, putting out this newspaper.
The people in the newsroom were real kind to me, too, but a copy girl was just a nobody. When I moved up to the women's department, though, and wrote weddings, then I got to be a little more of a somebody. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Anybody particular? Why did that happen that you moved to weddings?
Katz: I think I just sort of graduated after a couple of years. They knew I was pretty eager to be a journalist. They liked me a lot, and I worked hard. The woman who ran the department, whose name was Ann, was a friend of my mom's, too. She was older than my mom, but she was a friend of my mom's. She drove me pretty hard.
Biagi: Was your mom involved in what would be society or women's news? Is that how they knew her?
Katz: Yes, probably. My mom, with all of her charity stuff, was president of Hadassah. My father, too, was involved in charities. So my mom's name was in the society column a lot. That's probably how she knew these people, but also she knew some of them from school when she grew up. It was a great newsroom. It was a classic newsroom.
Biagi: Describe it to me.
Katz: It wasn't very big. I see the composing room as vast. I see the newsroom as small. Down the end toward the composing room was the county desk. The Lowell Sun had several county
bureaus, and a woman who was on the desk, who also knew my mother, Norma Ackerson, was the kind of woman in journalism then, you know; never married, lived with her mother, worked like a dog, never got anywhere, hard smoking, hard talking, probably hard drinking, I don't know. She may still be alive. I have no idea. She went to the Quincy Patriot-Ledger later in life, but she ran the Sun's county operation. She was the only woman who wasn't in the society department. In the society department, they wore hats, you know, the whole schmeer.
Katz: I don't necessarily remember gloves, but they definitely dressed up every day. They took society very seriously. And weddings, I mean, I had dreams of stephanotis. I wrote about that stuff till I was blue. But Norma, who wasn't in the society bunch, she was a hard lady. She wore pants. Women never wore pants then. She was chubby and pushy and aggressive. She would have been accepted now, but then she was very different. "She lives with her mother," they would say.
Then off behind the county desk was the morgue. Now they call it the information center. Then just across from the county desk was the city desk. Charlie Sampas was the editor. He ran that place. He also wrote a column. He was pretty big in the town. A lot of Greeks in Lowell. Reporters rimmed around the city desk. I don't remember where the copy desk was. Maybe they didn't even have copy desks at the time. There was a very old man named Frank, who was an assistant editor. They were all characters. That was what was so wonderful about them. Now we're all yuppies, but then they were all characters. That's how it worked. Behind the city desk there was a row of reporters, and then there was the women's desk. Then on the other side of the room was the sports desk. They were hard driving, hard talking, hard drinking, probably ran a bookie joint out of there. They did in Baltimore, I know. It was a very small place, so everybody talked to everybody else.
Biagi: About how many people in there on a regular day?
Katz: Gee, I don't know. I bet they had less than sixty people in that room. Oh, maybe less. I see it as many less. They had a lot of bureaus, Concord and Acton.
Biagi: The paper was circulating to how many, would you guess?
Katz: At that time, Lowell was a city of about 100,000. I'll bet it was 50,000 maybe. I don't know. I'd be curious to really find out now; it would be interesting. I didn't know the word circulation then, because that was at a time when journalists would never think of other departments. Oh, you'd spit when you'd talk about those departments. You certainly never talked to anybody who was in them.
The paper was owned by two incredible brothers, the Costellos. One of them still owns the paper. A very rich local family lived on the other side of town. I lived on the Jewish side of town. They lived on the WASPy side of town. They owned also an auto dealership. There was Frank Costello, and he worked like a dog, and then there was Clemmy Costello, and he spent most of the year in Paris, and he would come to the paper and he would wear a cape and he would wear these white shirts that were like handmade in Paris, with his chest hair sticking out. I mean, everyone in the whole place was a character.
The managing editor had hired the political reporter he decided I was going to marry. His goal in life was to get us together, although I had been crazy about this guy on the sports desk. He tried very hard, even to the point of sending us both to cover [Lyndon B.] Johnson's
inauguration. So I could be with this guy. But it never did work. We dated for a long time, but it never worked out, and he dropped out of journalism, I think. But there were a lot of young kids in that room, because they paid nothing. There were a lot of old people. There are very few old people now.
Biagi: Were there any other young women working in the women's section?
Katz: Nancy Scannell was there, Pat Collins was there. There were others, I'm sure.
Biagi: You worked there two summers?
Katz: I'm not sure. I think I worked there the summer after my senior year in high school and then the summer after my freshman year in college, summer after my sophomore year in college. Yes, because the summer after my senior year of college, I went to Europe. The summer after my junior year, I worked for a congressman. So just basically three years, I guess, three summers.
Biagi: You graduated in 1962?
Katz: 1962, from high school, '66 from college.
Biagi: So you did graduate in four years.
Katz: Four years. Most people did then. Everybody did then.
Biagi: It was expected, yes.
Katz: I can't imagine anybody who didn't. I didn't know anybody who didn't.
Biagi: Then how did it come about that you went to work for a congressman?
Katz: It must have been after my junior year in college I went to work for my local congressman, Brad Morse, F. Bradford Morse. That's right, it was after my junior year. I met my husband, in fact, in that office. I was hired by Brad Morse. My mother knew him, too. My mother knew everybody. That's probably how I got the job. It was one of those summer internships. You had to apply, though. It was probably not just because my mother knew him, but I'm sure that helped, and from her good deeds.
I went to work for a group called the Wednesday Club, under a man named Doug Bailey, who is now a very famous political consultant, a brilliant, brilliant guy. Three or four of us kids worked with him in an office, researching political strategy, that kind of stuff. My ex-husband was there. He was younger than me, a year. He got the job because his father was a very well-known Republican in Massachusetts, was assistant to the governor, and ran political campaigns for people like Elliot Richardson.* He ran Brad's [Morse] campaign. So he was down there for that. So I did that one summer.
Biagi: Your husband's name is?
* Elliot L. Richardson, secretary of defense in the Nixon administration. Born in Boston on July 20, 1920.
Katz: Stephen Robert Katz.
Biagi: So all this time you were Schwartz.
Biagi: You're still Schwartz as a junior and a senior in college. Then you went to Europe?
Katz: Yes. Every year at the paper they let you do more, you know. After spending your summer writing weddings, then they let you go out and do "man on the street" and stories. I worked in the county. I got a chance to do everything but sports, and then you would never imagine a woman would do that. When I graduated from college, they offered me a job in Washington.
Biagi: So the set of type that's in your safe deposit box, that byline came from which first story?
Katz: I couldn't tell you that for sure. Somewhere in my garage is a scrapbook of my stories, but I would never, ever look at them. I probably thought of myself as a great writer, but compared to these writers now, I was nothing. I would say that my skill was getting people to talk to me. It still is. I'll go into the supermarket, and some stranger will tell me about her abortion, over the lettuce. My father, too, has that knack. People tell you everything, even things you don't want to know. Strangers talk to me. People felt pretty comfortable with me. I was a very aggressive reporter. I loved being out on the street; I hated being in the office.
Biagi: Would you call yourself a better reporter than writer?
Katz: Oh, yes! I was probably a pretty good writer, I guess. I don't know. But I sweated every word. Every word was like having a baby to me. Now they teach it so differently. I could not write the next word till the first word was right. If my lead wasn't right, I couldn't go to the second paragraph. So it's lucky they had later deadlines then, because I would sweat every word. I hated it. Hated it. It was too hard.
Biagi: Would you put it off?
Katz: Yes, I probably did that, too. I sweated it and sweated it and sweated it.
Biagi: But would you make your deadline?
Katz: Sometimes. I made deadlines pretty much. I mean, they'd beat you up if you didn't. It was very different then. You had to do those things. They didn't have computers, and, of course, they didn't edit you the way they edit you now. I mean, it was a very different kind of editing. Now we craft stories. Then we put them on paper and pasted them together, put a headline on them, and got them out.
Biagi: It's a different kind of craft. [Laughter.]
Katz: It was never considered a career or profession then. Being with the people on the street, I loved that. I could find a story in anyone. I still can. Anywhere. When I was in intensive care recently, I was the only person who had a cellular phone, and I was calling back to the office every day with ideas for stories. I mean, I was very good at story ideas, but writing was always hard for me, always. But I loved it. I loved it and I hated it at the same time.
Biagi: Let's stop a minute.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Biagi: And you met him—
Katz: I met him the summer of my junior year in college. We were both interns in a group of congressmen's offices in Washington. They were called the Wednesday Club. It included Tupper from Maine and Brad Morse from Massachusetts, Silvio Conte was one. They were liberal Republicans. It was a group of liberal Republican congressmen. We had both been hired to work through Brad Morse, who was my congressman and, as I said, Steve's father ran his campaign.
Biagi: Was this in New York?
Biagi: So you went to Washington and worked.
Katz: Yes, it was a summer internship, the traditional summer internship in the House. Lots of college kids go every summer and work in Washington. We worked for Doug Bailey. There were the two of us and a guy named Nicholas Danforth III. I don't know whatever happened to him.
Biagi: Right. [Laughter.] Purina or something.
Katz: Once during the summer he had enough money to fly to England for the weekend. We worked for this brilliant, brilliant man named Doug Bailey, who has become a very famous Republican political strategist. We just did research, I think, pretty much.
Then when the summer was over, Congressman Tupper, one of the Wednesday Club, wanted to become ambassador to Expo. He was from Maine. He wanted to become ambassador to Expo, which was in Canada that year. So they asked me if I would help them research a book on Canadian-American relations. Doug Bailey was the lead writer. I did some work the first few months of my senior year, but Steve did most of it and I took all the money. It was called Canada and the United States: The Second Hundred Years. Congressman Tupper got to go to the Expo.
Biagi: Whose name was on the book as author?
Katz: Stanley R. Tupper. I'm sure three people read it. But it got published, and I got a thousand bucks or something, which Steve had really earned, to be honest with you. I took the money and went to Europe that summer after my senior year.
Biagi: Did you go alone?
Katz: No, I went with a friend named Ellen Rosenbush. We had a pretty nice time. We went all over Europe and fell in love a few times, and we went to the traditional spots and then we drove all over Yugoslavia and Italy. We had a great time. Rented a car and really had a wonderful time.
Biagi: Then when the summer was over?
Katz: I came back and went to journalism school.
Biagi: You had applied while you were at Barnard?
Katz: Yes. I had applied, and I had also gotten a teaching job in Brazil at a girls' school. That was a really good deal. In Sao Paulo. But Columbia Journalism School wouldn't let me delay it a year.
Biagi: Did you just apply to Columbia, or did you apply to others?
Katz: No, just Columbia. But they wouldn't let me delay my coming so I could go to Sao Paulo. So I gave up the teaching and went to Columbia.
Biagi: Fall of '66.
Biagi: Still your goal is to be a reporter on a Boston newspaper?
Katz: Yes, pretty much.
Biagi: So you figured that would be the way.
Katz: Right. Columbia was very famous. I guess I saw that that was a way. I went there knowing that I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. They taught us about television, too. In fact, that was Fred Friendly's first year, and I did my thesis with him, also about Canada and the United States. I didn't want to get rid of that. I used that as my senior college thesis, too.
Biagi: Made good use of it. [Laughter.]
Katz: I got a lot of mileage out of that sucker. [Laughter.] But I always went there knowing that I wanted to be a newspaper journalist and never changed my mind the whole time, although we learned about other things, and I met some truly great people there.
Biagi: As classmates or as faculty members?
Katz: As classmates. Molly Ivins sat next to me. We've remained friends all these years, although we don't see each other too often. She is truly one of the greatest writers in America, I think, and a real character. She was a real character then, too. Jim Toedtman, managing editor of New York Newsday and was my boss in Boston and Baltimore, was in my class, and Howie Schneider, who was my boss at Newsday. Now we see my classmates' names everywhere.
Biagi: What about faculty? Do you have any memorable faculty stories, good and bad?
Katz: There was John Hohenberg. He was greatly famous. I remember him teaching. We were in this giant classroom. Typewriters still, of course. One of the things we used to do was try and emulate a wire service report of a plane crash, with first leads and second leads. I couldn't do it. You see, I still had this problem where I couldn't write the next word if the first word wasn't right. So I remember him coming and just ripping the paper out of my typewriter. Another teacher, Melvin Mencher, said I would never get anywhere in journalism. He lived to retract those words. But I was not one of the great stars of Columbia Journalism School.
I was madly in love with one of my classmates, and he was madly in love with me, too. I had a great time there, didn't really learn a lot, but made tremendous contacts.
Biagi: Let me move back one second. I didn't clarify. How did you learn to type?
Katz: I went to typing class one summer. (Lowell High School, I think.) My mother thought that would be an important thing to do, I'm sure.
Biagi: So you were typing by the time you got to high school?
Katz: I think during high school. One summer during high school I went to typing class. My mother was the kind of person who believed every minute—and I'm the same way—every minute must be filled with something productive. My children have never been allowed to just sit around all summer; they've got to work. They've got to earn their keep. So you had to go to typing school if you couldn't do anything else.
Biagi: So you graduated with another B average, would you say, at Columbia?
Biagi: And you were there the year?
Katz: I was there the whole year. Right. I remember the very first day of journalism school. I got all dressed up. I had bought this beautiful gray suit at Di Pinna with orange trim, and I was really dressed up. We sat in the auditorium. As they read our names off, they read a place in New York City next to it, and then they said, "Okay, go find a story. Be back at four." I mean, half the class didn't even know where they were. I was lucky, because at least I knew I was in New York City and I had been there for two years. I got the Bronx Botanical Gardens.
Biagi: You weren't dressed for that. [Laughter.]
Katz: No, I wasn't dressed [for that]. As I recall, it was raining. I had snakeskin shoes. I was so proud of those shoes. I got them at Di Pinna, too. I was really dressed up. I had to go slog around the Bronx Botanical Gardens in the rain. I'd never been into the boroughs. I didn't know where the hell Bronx was. I remember going down into the subway and seeing someone named David Diaz, who was in my class, looking equally lost. I mean, some of these people really had no idea where any of these places were. You had to go find a story at these places.
But I went there and I found some story. God knows what it was. But I found a story. As I said, that was always a thing that I did best. It wasn't a bad story, but you had to write it, too, by four o'clock. That was really tough. But I accomplished that, too, I think.
Biagi: Was that kind of typical of the curriculum, that they'd send you out to do things and then you'd come back?
Katz: Yes. They believed at that time far more than they do now that students should understand the community. During January we had internships, and three of us went to the New York Times in Washington. I worked with Eileen Shanahan. I was in such awe of her. I couldn't even talk. Of course, when we met again twenty-five years later, she didn't remember a minute of it, but I remembered. I trailed her around for a week. I knew I wasn't going to be a TV journalist.
That was never an issue for me. What was really important for me was that journalism school was a place to meet people and get contacts. I really loved it. Had a great time. It was probably the best year of my life socially.
Biagi: Did you live near the campus?
Katz: Yes, we lived on 109th and Riverside, about five or six of us. We had this gorgeous apartment for which we paid $300. It was the same apartment I had lived in as an undergraduate. I had only lived in a women's hotel for one year, then I lived in an apartment on 109th and Riverside the rest of the time.
Biagi: What was your parents' reaction to this, that you were going to become a journalist?
Katz: Oh, they were thrilled.
Biagi: Did they like the idea?
Katz: Yes. They were thrilled. Like I say, my mother played that two-edged sword later in life, but my parents always said, "You do what you want to do." I don't think they ever saw it as a career, but I don't really know. They never discouraged me in any way. When I called my father to tell him I was named editor of the Register, he cried. He absolutely cried. He's eighty-one and he lives near here now. He just sobbed. Unless he read it in the paper, he still doesn't know I'm a vice president, which probably would mean more to him because he was in business. I haven't had a chance to talk to him over the weekend.
But, yes, they always encouraged me to go for it, except for one small thing, and I think it was my mother's reaction, because she stayed home and really believed that she had given everything to her kids and I should, too. In a way she had a career, which was all her clubs and golf, and we were brought up by our housekeeper, who lived with us for eighteen years, and was a mother to us, too. She ran the whole household. Addie, her name was, Addie Janiero. She was fantastic. She had lived in a convent, working for a priest till she was forty, then she came to work for us. She stayed with us until—gosh, I don't know, until she retired. I remember we'd sit at dinner, and the family would be at the table and she'd sit by the counter on a chair or a stool, and she'd be saying to my father, "Now, Lessie, now you do this, now you do that." She really ran our house. But my mother, I think, was a little jealous of the fact that I had this career, too, and sort of felt that tug that you should stay home and take care of your children. "It's so selfish of you to have children," she'd say.
Biagi: Graduated from Columbia?
Katz: Right. I got my diploma in '67. Times were so different. Dozens of newspapers came to recruit, and Molly [Ivins] went to Minneapolis, ten or twelve people went to Newsday. I went back to Lowell Sun, because Dave Conners, who was the managing editor, asked me if I would like to be their Washington bureau, a one-person bureau.
Biagi: Had you maintained your friendship with Steve, too?
Katz: Yes, I had maintained my friendship with Steve. That's part of the story, too. The guy that was in my journalism school class I was also seeing, but I maintained my friendship with Steve and was actually engaged to him on and off during my journalism school year. I could never make up my mind.
I took the job in Washington and moved there. I worked at it very briefly. Steve came to move my stuff down from Massachusetts. I was living with a girl I knew when I grew up, and we were going to move together into a bigger apartment, a nicer apartment. She said, "If you're going to marry this guy anyway, you might as well do it now and get it over with." We decided on the spot to elope, but Steve had come from a much more religious household than I had, and he wanted to be married by a rabbi. The rabbi wouldn't marry us—said Steve was under age—and we went back to Massachusetts.
The way I quit my job, when I think of it now, it's amazing I ever got a job again. I just wrote on—it must have been a teletype machine, "I quit. Goodbye. See ya around," and sent the message, and that was it, and walked out.
Biagi: And you'd been there a few weeks?
Katz: A couple of months maybe. No two weeks' notice, no nothing. I had worked for these people for years. All through college I had done work for them in New York, even, too. I remember I covered Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowden when they visited New York, and by mistake I tripped him and he put his foot in a wading pond at one of the museums.
Biagi: By "under age," you mean?
Katz: He must have been twenty. I think you had to be twenty-one to get married.
Biagi: But you were—
Katz: Twenty-one. Yes, he's nine months younger than me. So we came back to Massachusetts. I quit my job. It's amazing anyone ever hired me, really. Think about it. If anyone had ever done that to me, I'd make sure their life was blackballed forever. But the [Lowell] Sun was pretty good about it, I guess.
We came back to Boston, we got married, over my parents' objections, because they didn't like Steve.
Biagi: By a rabbi?
Katz: By a rabbi. Steve was in law school at Boston University. I got a job with the Quincy Patriot-Ledger. I worked in their Norwood bureau. It was in the basement of a bank. I covered Norwood and Dedham. Then later I graduated to Wellesley and Needham. One of my highlights there was covering Congressman Margaret Heckler, as she campaigned at the dump on Saturdays. You'd go to the campaigning in the dump. You know, you covered city council and you covered school boards. When I think of it now, how hard that stuff was. But I loved it, and I worked nights.
We had no money, Steve and I. Steve went to law school and he worked for the attorney general. Remember that his family had connections with the governor. I worked nights for the Ledger and days for a kosher deli as a waitress. It was the only job I was ever fired from in my life. I mixed milk and meat once, and they threw me out on my ear. But I worked days for them and nights at the Ledger.
Biagi: When did you ever see Steve?
Katz: Not much, I guess. I don't really remember. That was probably the beginning of the end. I don't know. [Laughter.] That was the history of our entire marriage. It was at its best, though, when we never saw each other. When I actually spent time at home is when it dissolved. When I first met him, he was a rock and roll drummer. This was '67, '68. He got As in what he liked and Fs in what he didn't like, and he wore no shoes and made beaded necklaces and was kind of a hippie.
Biagi: This was in the sixties.
Katz: He was really into that stuff. Now he's a diplomat at the United Nations and speaks eight languages and travels around the world. It's very different. He reads poetry in Portuguese. He talks about Namibia. A very different person. But at that time we had this little apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts, and I worked at the Ledger.
Biagi: The apartment was in the—
Katz: The apartment was in Brookline, Massachusetts, where everybody moved when they got married. My parents, when they first got married, had lived just a couple of blocks away.
At the Ledger I met a man who has been my mentor my whole life, to this day, named Charlie O'Brien. He was the night city editor of this bureau in the basement of the bank. He and I have been friends, and he has been my mentor for twenty-seven years, I would say. We just decided the other night, I think it's twenty-seven years. But he always helped me. I've been lucky that way with a lot of men who helped me through, but he was a particularly important person. He was the night city editor. He was mean, mean.
Biagi: Do you remember particular incidents with Charlie?
Katz: Only in my next job. He's the reason I became an editor, because we had such a fight once. I worked for him in Quincy, and then a few years later I worked for him again at the Boston Herald American. Charlie has red hair and he's a black Irishman, but he really is a laid-back kind of guy. Peggy Simpson worked for him, too. That's where we met. A story was never good enough for him. I covered state government then. You know reporters—these incremental nothingnesses you think are the greatest stories in the world. I was worse than anybody about that stuff, I think. I covered health and human services.
I came back one day and I was just trying to convince him that my story was worth page one, and he wouldn't listen. I was loud even then. The editor of the Boston Herald American at that time was Don Forst, who's now the editor of New York Newsday, and he's this little guy, a real "New Yorky" kind of guy. He came out of the office. Everybody knew there was a giant commotion. I was screaming at Charlie. Don has this incredibly nasal voice. He said, "You think you can do better than him?" [Demonstrates] Like that. I said, "Any asshole can do better than him."
The next morning when I came to work, there was a sign on the bulletin board announcing that I was now metro editor, and underneath it, some reporter, somebody had written in red crayon "A mistake." I still have it. That person subsequently a year later apologized to me, but that's how I became an editor. That's how I left reporting, very suddenly.
Biagi: Charlie was somehow indirectly responsible?
Katz: Right. He's been responsible for my whole career. In fact, when I got named editor Friday, he was the first person I called. He'll get a big dinner out of it. He's been there for me for my whole life. I'm only getting to know him now, twenty-seven years later, as a person, which is very interesting, I think. But he's been part of my whole life.
Biagi: We want to go back to you in Brookline and Charlie O'Brien in the basement.
Katz: Right. And a whole bunch of young kids, truly young kids.
Biagi: You included.
Katz: Right. Young, pushy kids covering city council meetings, making them boring.
Biagi: Do you remember any stories that were particularly noteworthy, either because they were particularly good or particularly bad?
Katz: No. I just remember covering millions of city council meetings and selectmen's meetings. I don't remember ever at the Ledger doing anything of note, but I must have at some point. The boss was this old coot named Bill White. He's dead, so it doesn't hurt to say bad things about him. This old drunk ran the place. It was a mess. It was just a bunch of kids running wild.
Biagi: Other women there?
Katz: Yes. Janie Eckstein sat next to me. I wonder whatever happened to her. Steve and I were actually very friendly with her and her husband. She left journalism, I think, and became a chef in Miami. But it was all just young kids. The Ledger recruited tons of young kids to cover these towns, and then each of us had a local person who worked part time as a correspondent that helped us cover each town. I had a woman in Norwood who also wrote for romance magazines. So that was her side career. But she was pretty good, actually. She also bred kerry blue terriers, I think. In Dedham I had this guy named Dan something or other. Oh, he was another old coot who drank himself to death.
But we had a great time. It was a whole bunch of kids stuck in this basement of the bank, just having a hell of a time.
Biagi: For how long did you have these two jobs?
Katz: I don't think I lasted at the restaurant that long, to be honest with you. Maybe six months. I was not ever cut out to be a waitress, although in boarding school I worked in the kitchen crew and in college, to make money, I worked in the kitchen crew.
Biagi: And Steve is going to law school.
Katz: Steve is going to law school, doing real well, liked being in law.
Biagi: How long were you in the basement?
Katz: Let's see. October '67. Well, I couldn't have spent too much time with the Lowell Sun, because I got out of journalism school in June '67, and Steve and I got married October 1, '67, so it was only a couple of months in Washington. We didn't have a honeymoon. We got married the night the Red Sox won the pennant. Everyone in the temple had radios in their ears; they were
far more interested in that. We joined the celebration when we got to Boston, and we stayed overnight in a Sheraton and the next day went to Plymouth Rock, and then went home to his mother's for dinner. That was our honeymoon. Because he had to go to law school the next day, and I had to go back to the Ledger.
So I stayed at the Ledger to '69, I think, maybe a year and a half. In '69 I was recruited to the Boston Herald Traveler, which was the Republican paper, the first in the country to come out for [Richard M.] Nixon, almost as conservative as the Register. They had got it into their heads that they needed a bunch of young hotshots to change the tone, certainly not to change the conservatism, but to change the tone, and I was recruited to run a suburban operation, as well as be a reporter. So I hired all these correspondents and we ran this operation.
But this was the paper where I really met people. This was the big time. This was Boston. At that time, when I grew up, the Boston Traveler had a morning and afternoon edition. There were three papers in town. There was the Boston Globe, the Record American, which was the racy Hearst tabloid, and the Boston Traveler, which was the paper of choice of most people. The Globe was not the dominant paper then. The elite, particularly in some of those Republican suburbs of Boston, read the Herald Traveler, so I was going to the big time. That's where I met the true characters. That's where you saw journalism at its best at that time, a mirror of that time. I was there for Chappaquiddick, I was there for all the good stuff.* It was wonderful.
Most of the reporters were Irish. It was a time when there were people who reported and other people who wrote. Some of the people weren't literate. [Laughter.] They would go out and they would report, and then they would do what they called "dump," to rewrite men. There was this one guy named Earl "The Pearl" Marchand. Earl had a photographic memory. He was a great writer. He went to Harvard. What the hell he was doing there, I don't know. The place was full of old boozers and old characters, the most wonderful people I had ever met.
Biagi: And mostly male?
Katz: Mostly male, yes. There was Rose Walsh. She was a society woman. She always wore hats. She was about ninety-eight, I think, at the time. She seemed like she was always ninety-eight. In the young group there were women, but there were no women who weren't on the—let me think. I don't remember any women who were not in the young group who covered news.
Biagi: They were in with the women's section?
Katz: Yes. There were a lot of women in the women's section. See, other than my stint at the Lowell Sun, I have never worked for features. So my experience has always been on the news side. That is very unusual for women my age.
Biagi: So when you went there to the Boston Traveler, you went there to work on news.
Katz: Yes, to do this suburban operation. I did that for a while. I recruited this whole bunch of people, including some women. Then they liked me a lot, and I got to do more and more things.
* On July 18, 1969, Senator Edward M. Kennedy pled guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal accident at Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, on July 18, in which Mary Jo Kopechne was drowned. He was given a two-month suspended sentence on July 25.
Biagi: When you recruited for that job, where did the people come from? Were they people you had met in journalism? Were they people you had met in journalism school?
Katz: I don't know how I found them. Some of them worked for the small newspapers in the suburbs. At the Brookline Citizen, I found someone named Barbara Rabinowitz, who I've remained friendly with all these years. People like that. They worked for the little papers around. They were correspondents, basically.
This was not the Don Forst time. This was when the paper was owned by—who did own it? I guess it was a group of people who owned the paper and owned Channel 5, the television station. Eventually they had to divest, and they sold the newspaper to Hearst. I was gone by then. Hearst did the craziest thing. They combined the Record American, this racy, blue-collar tab, with the most staid Republican broadsheet of the world. I mean, it was impossible and never worked. Well, I shouldn't say it never worked, because it's still going. Two men who were very important in my life were at the Herald Traveler besides all the characters. One was Bob Kiersted, who was the city editor, and another was Charlie Ball, who was the assistant city editor.
Biagi: Another Charlie.
Katz: Another Charlie. Charlie Ball had gone to Columbia. He was a pretty sharp guy. Kiersted was an old Irish—well, he wasn't old. I take that back, because he just retired this year from the Boston Globe. But he seemed old. Everybody seemed old. He was the city editor. He really liked me a lot and he really pushed me a lot. I did real well with him. I just loved it there. I loved every person, I loved listening to them talk. I remember when Chappaquiddick happened and they talked about what the real story was and how it could never be printed.
Biagi: Now that we're on the sixties, let's just take a few minutes here, because you are in the sixties. I'd like to just mention some of the highlight events of the sixties and ask you what role they played in your life, news events. John Kennedy's assassination [November 22, 1963].
Katz: I was still in college. I was on a train to the Harvard-Yale game. The only time in my life I ever got invited, I didn't get to go. They stopped the train in New Jersey, and I was with my Goucher roommate. We got off the train and went back to Goucher. Then we got a group of kids together. Somebody had a station wagon; I don't even know who the hell it was. We drove to Washington and stood all night outside the Capitol. We just waited with everyone else. For news. That's what I remember. Thousands of people waiting. We drove to Washington. We had this incredible need to be there. I remember that, and I remember the Cuba crisis, listening to that on the radio at college, not understanding a bit of it. But, you know, John F. Kennedy was—well, I came from Massachusetts, so he was like a star where I came from. My dad had gone to Boston Latin School with his older brother, and my dad always told stories about how they would give speeches in Latin School in Latin, and the kids would try and make each other laugh during the speeches, but when the older Kennedy, Joe, would give speeches, he would say, "I'm going to be president of the United States one day. I take this seriously."
Biagi: In Latin?
Katz: I don't know. But, "This is a serious thing. Treat it seriously." My father had great respect for him, but not much respect for John F. John F. Kennedy, I think, was more respected outside of Massachusetts than in. I remember that assassination. A sad time.
Biagi: And then Martin Luther King's assassination [April 4, 1968].
Katz: By then I was working. Suddenly the [Vietnam] war was far more important to me than anything. I didn't know that many blacks. I have to be honest with you. I grew up not even knowing any. I remember what a horrible thing it was, and also that somebody from my journalism school class was there and talked about it later. But in some ways, Kent State had much more of an impact on me than Martin Luther King's assassination.* I remember that really hitting.
Steve and I, which was so weird, because I worked for a very conservative newspaper, were really active in the antiwar movement. We probably would have moved to Canada, but Steve is deathly allergic to fish and nuts, and he got rejected by the army, thank goodness.
Biagi: So when did your activism start? What year?
Katz: Gosh, I can't remember. I know when I was at the Boston Herald I was active, and even before that. We would go to marches. We got gassed in all the nice places.
Biagi: Such as?
Katz: Washington. We were pretty actively against it. We would have gone to Canada, I think. But I wonder, looking back on it, was I a deep thinker about these things? Probably not. I just believed it was so wrong. But did I really understand what was swirling around me? I don't know. Years later I was talking with a friend of mine when we lived in Austria about the situation in the Middle East, trying to describe what was going on, and we were trying to describe to each other, and we really couldn't do it intelligently. I think one of the big failings of the media is that we don't always help people understand. We're just a snapshot in time. We don't offer enough perspective. If somebody asks me to explain, whether it's the Vietnam War or the IRA or the Middle East chaos, I don't know that I could really give you chapter and verse. I just knew that I was very much against people killing each other over in Vietnam.
Biagi: So did you and Steve both march?
Katz: Oh, yes.
Biagi: In Boston?
Katz: In Boston, which is interesting. You could never do that now as a journalist.
Biagi: I was just going to ask you that. Did you see any ethical issues?
* May 4, 1970. Four students at Kent State University in Ohio slain by National Guardsmen at demonstration protesting April 30 incursion into Cambodia.
Katz: No. In fact, it was just the opposite. The journalists were unethical. I'm at the Boston Herald Traveler. You have a staff of basically old conservative people and young kids. What happened is, they made me go cover these demonstrations, and maybe 100,000 people would turn out, and the editors would cut it down to 20,000. I mean, journalists then played fast and loose with the facts. When I was at the Herald American, I remember once congratulating a reporter on great quotes in a story, and he said, "Yeah, I made them up." I remember at Christmastime. The Herald newsroom was on the second floor. They had this giant lobby below. We'd be like kids, you know, at a bannister, looking down as people brought in booze and all kinds of gifts for the staff. You could never in a million years get away with that now. All the reporters were incredibly close with the police, with the this, with the that. They were in everybody's pockets.
Biagi: So the ethical issue, you thought was different? You were participating in the antiwar demonstrations.
Katz: Funny, I thought it was wrong for the people to get the hams and booze. That, I thought, was outrageous. But the idea that I would participate in demonstrations, looking back on it now, I guess I felt that I could keep my distance as a writer and not let my own personal views color my stories.
Biagi: In reality, were you covering those issues at all as a reporter?
Katz: Yes, I was covering them. I was indeed covering demonstrations and all kinds of things. I felt that the Herald was being unethical because they were changing the police estimates and facts. I mean, to me that was unethical. The fact that I was covering it, even though I was a part of the anti-war movement, didn't seem wrong.
I mean, the truth is that all journalists have views and we all come to every story with our history, our own eyes. So there's no such thing as true objectivity. One of the interesting things about the Register is that because the paper is Libertarian in its editorial philosophy and one of the deals that was cut when it came away from Libertarianism in the content of the news was that if you can't have Libertarianism in the news, you can't take any sides in the news. We have to be antiseptic and right down the middle. We advocate nothing. That's hard when most reporters come out of liberal backgrounds. It's very easy to see, now that I'm forty-seven, that just with whom you start the story, just the first words of the story can put you on one side or the other.
I'm real conscious of government stories because of the Register's philosophy and how the media presents them. Take a story from last week saying that the county government was going to close an office that did twenty adoptions a year. The story was written from the point of view that twenty families weren't going to get their babies. They would have to go to private adoption agencies, and have to pay $600 at a private adoption agency. I said, "You know, you could look at it in another way, that here they ran this whole office and all they did was twenty adoptions a year, and in a time of a county budget crisis, maybe, possibly, it might have been an efficiency that was not going to hurt too many people, you could look at it that way." But immediately reporters jump to the bleeding heart/victim point of view. So it's very hard to be straight down the middle.
It would be interesting to go back into the trunks and get out my clips and see now, with these old eyes, whether I was objective. I like to think I was.
© 1993, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.