[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: Today we need to finish up, and I wanted to ask you, first of all, to go over again how you got from the San Bernardino paper to the Register.
Katz: One day I got a phone call from the managing editor of the Register, Tim Kelly.
Biagi: How long had you been at San Bernardino?
Katz: About fourteen months. I came there July 1, 1986, and I left there the last of January '88. So about fourteen months. Kelly called me up and basically asked me to meet him and the current editor for lunch, and I did.
Biagi: Why do you think he called you? Why not someone else?
Katz: I think it was what I said yesterday. I think that several women on the staff had gone in and talked to the editor about the fact that while there were plenty of women at the Register, there was only one, maybe two, women in any management position above assistant city editor. I think they definitely were looking for a woman. I think he called me because I had worked in a very similar place, Newsday. Because Orange County is really Long Island with palm trees. Because I had devoted most of my career to local news, and that's what the Register is about, and because the year I was at Gannet our paper won best of Gannett. I guess that he thought that I was the kind of person that would suit the needs of the paper.
Biagi: When you went to San Bernardino, what were some of the changes that happened at the paper that you think accounted for that award?
Katz: Gosh, I don't remember. I think we became much more timely. We redesigned a lot of things. We reached out more to the people of San Bernardino. We looked for different content in stories. We gave the paper a little more authority. We organized it better. It was everything from content to presentation. Gannett has a very elaborate system of monthly contests, and I guess we came up as the most improved at the end of the year when they counted up the votes. They've since changed the paper even more, to reach out to readers, which I think is a good thing. But again, I was lucky I was there and we won the award. My boss was very gracious about sharing some of that honor with me, and I think Chris [Anderson] heard about me, and that was that.
Biagi: Why did you feel that the move to the Register would be a good move?
Katz: My career has been a career that hops back and forth between very sick papers, some now dead, and very wealthy and successful papers. After I spent some time talking to both Chris and Tim, I felt that the Register would be the perfect place for me, because I've always been really devoted to local news. I've always felt that is the heart of what news is about. It is true that
everything is local news in today's world, but I think that a lot of papers are so busy focusing overseas and nationally they never look at the news around them.
The Register looks at the world through the eyes of Orange County. I really like that a lot. It was a paper that even then was known for innovation and risk-taking, and I value that. It was a major paper in size, and yet it had the family feeling of the News American, the paper I had worked for. It was an exciting place, and there weren't any of those traditions that keep some papers rolling along in a way that no one person can have an impact. It was very clear that even the lowliest clerk with a good idea at the Register could have a big influence, and I like that, too. I like the fact that they had made a commitment to hiring women and minorities. What I most liked was it was clearly a place with enormous resources and a very talented staff and no deadwood. We have people that could do more, there's no question about it, but there is nobody who does nothing. Also Chris Anderson, the editor, had really done some very major things, and he was clearly committed to making it one of the great papers of America, but not in the traditional ways. I really liked that idea.
Biagi: What makes the Register, do you think, different from other papers?
Katz: We care very little about what other journalists think and are far more devoted to our customers. I mean, just the fact that we call them customers, our readers are customers, makes a lot of people shake in their boots.
Katz: Because I think a lot of journalists don't like to admit the fact that what we do is sell a product. Yes, I entered this business because I wanted to change the world, and I still feel strongly that the point of journalism is to point out what's happening to people who need to see and to be a voice for the voiceless. But there's no question that what we are is a business, as well, and an information provider. What we are really doing in one way is no different than K-Mart selling shoes. What you have to do is get out there and sell. I think that the people at the Register, certainly Chris Anderson, understood from day one that it's all well and good to put out the greatest paper in America. If you don't produce it on time or get it to the doorstep on time, or if you don't position it correctly and give the readers what they want, as well as what you think they should have, your product will die. That's the current danger to the whole profession. I was sick of that. I had closed a paper, and I vowed I would never do that again, because that was a total waste. There was no reason for that paper to die.
Biagi: I guess the critics would say that there's always conflict between the business of newspapering and the editorial product.
Katz: Not at all.
Biagi: You don't think it's true?
Katz: I think there can be. I think there's that danger. But I think at the Register we have perhaps the highest—I was going to say the highest standards, but certainly equally as high as any place I've ever worked. We just realize you don't have to compromise your standards to sell your product. In our newsroom, you're not allowed to use anonymous sources, for example. The Washington Post, the Boston Globe, all the big papers in this country always rely on anonymous sources. I realized once when I talked to our Washington correspondent that sometimes even the PR people for senators and congressmen, who are paid to be their spokespeople, say, "I'll give you
this as long as it's off the record." So you have to say "according to a high-level source" or something. We will not allow that in our paper. We insist on being even more credible, I think, than some others. So you draw the line. You just watch very carefully where the line is. We're not going to put stories in the paper just to sell products, but we have some wonderful things in our paper, and I see nothing wrong with selling it, it being the paper.
Biagi: So you don't see a conflict. Or has there ever been a conflict or arguments about, "This is a new advertiser, great advertiser. Let's do a story on that advertiser"?
Katz: No, no one has ever asked me at this paper or at any paper, actually, I've worked for, except The Danube Weekly, to do that.
Biagi: Have there been other ethical situations you've found yourself in where there were ethical judgments you had to make that were difficult?
Katz: In my life?
Biagi: No, in your profession.
Katz: Well, that's what I mean.
Biagi: [Laughter.] Same thing.
Katz: Yes. I mean, not just at the Register, you mean.
Biagi: Not just at the Register, but in the newspaper business. Can you talk about a couple of them?
Katz: I can talk about one that comes to mind right away, which was in the city of Baltimore, the mayor's top assistant, not just an aide, but his right-hand woman, was arrested for shoplifting. We knew that and so did the Baltimore Sun. I presume the television stations did, too. But at least I knew that the Baltimore Sun knew that. The woman's psychiatrist called us and said that she would kill herself if we printed it, and we had to determine whether or not we were willing to go ahead with that information and what its value was to the community. One thing we did was try and figure out where she was, and our reporter found her having dinner with a group of people at a restaurant. It wasn't that she was hospitalized or clearly so depressed she was hiding in her house or anything. She was leading a very active life and still was running the mayor's staff, public staff, public funds. So we went ahead and printed it, and she never did kill herself, but she did lose her job. The Baltimore Sun chose not to print it.
A couple of others. Our publisher in Baltimore was arrested for drunk driving. That was a pretty easy one. You go ahead and print it.
Biagi: Was there a plea made to not print it?
Katz: No, no, there never was. I think people in journalism understand that to take the high road serves you better in the end. I was thinking of it last night. I've been one of these people who was never discriminated against, in fact was helped by being a woman, and if you asked that question, I have never (knock on wood) yet been asked to do anything that I would consider to be so unethical that I would have to leave.
Biagi: At the Register, is there an ethics code for the paper, or is there just a situational ethics code?
Katz: Both. Many things are on a case-by-case basis. Even the question of anonymous sources is. I would allow an anonymous source if, for example, the person who gave the information could be endangered in some way. You'd have to see what the story value is. But we do have a code of ethics and we have policies about everything from being under the influence of substances to what are the kinds of jobs you can take while you work at the Register.
Biagi: So there is a policy.
Katz: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Biagi: That everybody understands when they get there.
Katz: They're given a packet when they come, and they have to sign to say that they've read it. Sometimes you wonder. But I think the expectation is that the people you hire are as ethical as you are, and sometimes it's depressing to find out that's not true, but I've been lucky. I have not, that I can think of right now off the top of my head, ever had to fire anybody for being in the pocket of somebody else.
Biagi: Have other issues come up, such as fabricating quotes?
Katz: No. It's funny. There really is a difference in the time now. When I first started in the business, I was a kid. There were people who fabricated quotes and were quite proud of it. I can remember complimenting someone on a wonderful quote that he had gotten on a story in Massachusetts, and he said, "Oh, I just made it up." This was an older person. Not to say that all old people have bad ethics, but this was someone who was a different generation of journalism. A person who fabricated a quote who worked for me now would be instantly fired. There would be no discussion.
Biagi: Are there other fireable offenses, would you say, on ethics?
Katz: On ethics? Well, yes. If we discovered conflict of interest between a reporter and a story they were writing about. Insubordination is a fireable offense. Refusal to do a story, for example, could be a fireable offense.
Biagi: What about—since you're in the land of Disneyland—the relationship between Disneyland and the tourist industry and your newspaper? In other words, there are lots of freebies that go out from Disneyland all the time.
Katz: If there are, not many of them ever come to my paper. We have a rule that you can't accept anything worth more than five dollars. We let people buy their sources lunches, but we ask them not to take from others. There are times when obviously we'll go out to lunch and somebody else will pick up the tab, but you have to be careful about that, and we ask them to be. We pay for our own way on flights. If somebody gets a big bouquet of flowers or anything like that, we try to send them over to the hospital.
There are two interesting things at many papers, and especially the big ones. We get hundreds and hundreds of books from publishers for review by our reporters, and records and
tapes. It used to be that they were given to the person to review, and that person got to keep them. That was one way. But the other way was that the staff just took them.
Biagi: The ones that weren't reviewing them?
Katz: Right. They just put the books on a table and you could take what you wanted. Since I've been here, we charge a dollar for hardback and 50¢ for a paperback, and a dollar for a tape or a CD. At the end of the year we'll give all the money to the Register charities. So at least somebody is benefitting.
I think really the biggest problem is sports, because the sports reporters—first of all, there's all that food, you know, and there's always setups for them wherever they go. They travel with the teams. I think it was very clear when Magic Johnson got AIDS that many of the sports reporters were too close to that situation to ask the appropriate questions. I'm talking about countrywide; I'm not talking about the Register, necessarily. Many of them couldn't separate their relationship with the subjects they cover and the paper. Because they spend far more time in the presence of the sports figures than they do in the office. I think it's hard for a society columnist sometimes. Sometimes they believe after a while that they're one of those people that they cover. Those are the dangers, I think.
Biagi: Or the entertainment industry? Does that affect the Register at all? Do you cover Hollywood?
Katz: Yes, we do cover Hollywood. We have a TV critic. We have an entertainment staff of sixteen people that cover everything from ballet to jazz to you name it, but we pay for everything that we do. I think it's important. I think the other is far more subtle, though, getting so close to someone you cover that you can't cover them objectively. And it was interesting for us, because when Magic Johnson made his announcement, we had lost our Lakers writer. He had gone to open a pub in Scotland. We were in between Lakers writers, so we sent to the press conference a woman sports reporter who was a general assignment sports reporter. She was the one that asked several of the hard questions about Johnson's medical state. While all the others were afraid, she was the one that found out that Cookie [Johnson] was pregnant, and she was the one that asked about his T-cell count and some of the other hard medical questions that were never, of course, answered. But I think it was because she had never traveled with the team.
We tried to do a story after the Magic story broke about what it's like to travel with these teams, both for the reporters and for the sports teams, because Magic—I mean, he's not alone. There are groupies at every stop, and the whole team sort of shares them. It's not just the basketball teams; the same groupies hang around the baseball teams. I am convinced he is not going to be the only HIV-positive sports figure that we're going to be hearing from. Well, Arthur Ashe is a different situation because he got it from a blood transfusion. But I think Magic's not going to be the only one who got it from fooling around on the road.
The big issue was a lot of sports reporters over the years have participated, too. At least that's what some of our sports reporters say. So I think you have to keep your distance. Sometimes it's very difficult to do that.
Biagi: Let's talk about criticizing newspapers. You have a TV critic who criticizes television, what's on television. Does the Register have a policy or a columnist who looks at newspapers in general and criticizes the press in general?
Katz: No, we don't have a David Shaw like the Los Angeles Times. We do have an ombudsman, Pat Riley. His job is to listen to reader complaints and reader concerns, to look into them and then to report back to readers once a week in a column which answers some of their more important concerns. It's unfortunate that Pat doesn't go beyond that and look at industry issues, but right now he is really set up strictly as an ombudsman, and I think that's an important thing for a paper, because readers have a place to go and register their concerns. Pat answers every one of them, as far as I can tell.
Biagi: If you had a column like that and you were writing about the newspaper industry in general, and you had, say, three criticisms about newspapers in general, what would they be today?
Katz: Today? Out of touch with their readers, boring, and arrogant.
Biagi: Let's take them one at a time. Out of touch with their readers. We've talked about that a little bit.
Katz: I think that basically what's happened is that journalists are no longer of the people. I won't say they are elitists, but they are certainly not like the masses, so that they don't share many of the experiences of the people that they're supposed to write about. And if you don't share them, you don't know that they exist. That's another argument for diversity. One example is that we as a profession are obsessed with every little nuance of politicians from the board of supervisors to the presidency. And readers could care less, I think. We have to get out of the box, the bureaucratic box, and out of the city halls and into the neighborhoods. I think we fail to do that.
Biagi: Boring. Go ahead.
Katz: Boring. I think we fell into that, but I think the Register is working very hard at that, and everybody else is, too. They just don't know how to do it. Boring. They're boring. What can I say? They're boring. They're gray, they're boring.
Biagi: Why are they boring? What would make them less boring?
Katz: One thing that would make them less boring is shorter stories, and I don't necessarily mean that everything should turn into USA Today, nor do I mean that we should run around putting color everywhere we can just for the sake of color. But boring, to me, means that nobody assesses the information that you have to deliver to the reader or thinks about how to present it in a way that's going to entice people to read it, even if it's something they're not very interested in.
One enormous problem with newspapers, I guess if you had asked me what a fourth thing is, that it's impossible for a reader to find what they're interested in in a newspaper without doing what one reader once said at a focus group—aerobics. Turn page after page after page after page until you finally come to something you're interested in. There's no map for the readers by topics, so if you're interested in the environment, you could just go immediately to page three, seven, twelve, and ninety-two, like a book has an index, which will tell you all the environment stories. So I don't think newspapers are very well presented, and I certainly don't think they're presented in a way that respects what readers say is their lack of time to read. I mean, the perfect example is that, like death and taxes, one thing that readers tell us for sure is that they don't like jumps, but I can't think of a newspaper that doesn't jump. We persist in doing it.
Biagi: New York Times is jumping from page one to another section.
Katz: I think that's outrageous. And the Los Angeles Times will jump a story three or four times. Now, that's, in my opinion, not a good thing. It is true that if you have a story that is so fascinating, so grabbing, that readers will follow it if it jumps nine times. But the point is, you very seldom have those. What you have in most newspapers is a bunch of bureaucratic stories or stories about cops and courts, stories that don't relate to readers' lives, stories that go on and on and on and are not artfully packaged in a way that will entice readers. Every other industry that sells something tries to package it in the best way possible. I think newspapers are yet to—maybe that's where we're going in the nineties.
Biagi: And arrogance.
Katz: That goes back to thinking that we know better than the readers, which will only lead us to our deaths, like lemmings over the cliff. A perfect example: the Register started a mall beat and a shopping beat and a pets and hobbies beat. We got ridiculed nationally by the industry for that, but readers send letters by the hundreds to those reporters. That's what readers want is a guide, a help, aid with coping with everyday living because it's become so complicated. They want a much broader definition of news than I'm afraid a lot of newspapers are willing to provide.
Biagi: Why do you think that the establishment journalism took you on on that mall beat so much and criticized you so much?
Katz: I don't know. I think a lot of them are afraid of change. Even our own reporters were afraid. I don't want you to think that our reporters just said, "Hey, great! A mall beat." I mean, you could just see it in their faces. They were terrified that we were going to become pap and that we would never do the hard-hitting kinds of pieces that journalism has been known for through the ages. What they found was that you can do both. In fact, we were doing harder stuff than we had ever done before. We won a Pulitzer for one of the things we did—
Biagi: Which was?
Katz: Our reporter who covered military affairs won a Pulitzer for beat writing. I think our reporters came around right away. The interesting thing is that the industry came around, too, and now journalists come from all over the world to see what we do. I mean, every week or two we have somebody coming to see what the Register formula is. Gannett built its News 2000 program based on some of our ideas. They sent an executive out to spend a few days with us. We've had people from as far away as Johannesburg and Japan. We had a whole group of Japanese come and film one of our news meetings. In the last month we had editors from Africa, thirty editors from Africa. One stayed a month with us.
Biagi: What intrigues them when you talk to them? What intrigues them about what you do?
Katz: I think it intrigues them that we've had the courage to go ahead and actually do it, do something different, and we've survived. Not only survived, but we've actually built readership. We haven't crossed that bridge into what you were talking about before. Marketing the newspaper hasn't meant changing our ethics and changing our standards. In fact, the paper, I think, has dramatically improved.
Biagi: What do you envision, then, in the year 2000?
Katz: Customized newspapers. I think we'll continue to hone the target marketing and provide information for target groups. I don't know if this is what will happen, but I envision that readers will have every day a core newspaper which gives them the basic facts—from what are now our traditional sections—but they'll also be able to order up extra in-depth sections on one subject or another, or even order up a cafeteria of sections.
It might end up being Register Light, Register Classic, and Register Extra, Register Light being some kind of spadia that readers get and they can take off and put in their pocket or purse, which gives the news highlights. They can take it to work with them in the morning. And Register Classic, which would be a core paper that gives you the basics. And then Register Extra, which readers pay extra money for, detailed information on certain subjects.
Biagi: What's the relationship of the Register to your cable news operation?
Katz: Right now our relationship is only that we are in the same building, but that is not how it was envisioned and that is not how we're going to be. OCN is a twenty-four-hour cable news service, a local version of CNN. We're in every cable home in the county. It's part of basic cable service. It was envisioned that along with their regular staff of reporters and camera people, OCN would also use the Register reporters as supplemental staff and for their expertise. So à la "Nightline," debriefing our reporters on the subjects they covered and/or going out with our reporters on assignments. I think that we'll be getting back to that.
It really becomes a whole information package, if you look at it. We have these weekly newspapers that cover the local local local local news—you know, the chicken dinners and below. Then we have the Register which is the product that sews together the county and gives us the stories that are cross city lines or are of interest to different geographical areas. We have InfoLine, which is the phone line operation we have which provides information. Readers can call in and get information on everything from their stock portfolio to movie times to tips on cooking from our food critic to information on the election. Eleven thousand people called in election night to get returns. Then the cable operation, which gives visual news of the county. It sort of is the parallel to the Register visually.
In the future there will be other products spinning off, with the Register at the hub of the wheel. We get a tremendous amount of information every day that we don't use, and it can be sliced and diced. Even what we do use can be sliced and diced in different ways and—to use that dirty word—sold again and again. I think that's the direction that newspapers are going to go.
Biagi: That is the only paper in the country doing that right now?
Katz: A lot of papers have something similar to InfoLine. Some charge for it.
Biagi: But I mean the cable news operation.
Katz: The only paper in the country? Maybe. Remember that we are a chain and we own five television stations, too, so this is really a part of Freedom. It's not done by the newspaper.
Biagi: Freedom Newspapers.
Katz: Yes, Freedom Newspapers, Inc. Or Freedom, Inc., I think it is. This is just one piece of their pie.
Biagi: But I mean connecting the two together, a newspaper and a cable operation. Do you know of any other group that's doing that?
Katz: Not that I know of. I think there was something like that in Pittsburgh at one point, but I'm not sure. But we were only the second local twenty-four-hour local news cable operation in the country that I know of, the first being on Long Island. Had nothing to do with Newsday. Now they're happening everywhere. People see this as the wave of the future. I mean, the real question to me is who owns the ways into people's houses. One of them is dropping a package on your doorstep. One of them is coming in through your telephone line, fiber optics. And one of them is coming in through your TV. We've got to be there with all of that.
People, I think, are moving toward increased choice in what they read. They don't want necessarily the "World" section of the paper. They may want sort of a summary of the highlights so they can talk intelligently to their friends, or at least seem to talk intelligently. But what they really may want is the section on parenting or aging or business.
Biagi: And those needs will change throughout their life.
Biagi: They won't want everything all at once.
Katz: We have the capability now to target market house by house. Lots of newspapers know from their own surveys and from surveys they can buy, lots about the people who are living in the community, everything from how much they make to whether they like to mountain bike or knit. So once you can figure out how to deliver a product that appeals to that knitting market or that mountain biking market, you can deliver both ads and information to them and charge more for it. The Register also has a Spanish-language newspaper which is local. So we're trying to cover all the basics and become a great big information network.
Biagi: We'll stop the professional stuff there, and we'll go back and catch up all the personal stuff that we forgot and that we decided that I'm supposed to ask you. Do you have any feelings at all that you were expected to behave a certain way because you're a woman, or a girl, as opposed to your brother?
Katz: You mean by my parents?
Biagi: Yes. Did your family distinguish between you or treat you differently as children?
Katz: No, I don't think so. No, no.
Biagi: The expectations were the same?
Katz: The expectations were the same, maybe even a little higher for me. I sort of felt sorry for my brother because he was always told, "Your sister can do it. You can do it, too." My mother went to college, her brother didn't. I think the expectation from the beginning was that all those things would be something I would do. So, no, I don't think so. I think my parents both—well, my mother was really the driving force. But the expectation always was that I would go to college so that I would have a career, something she wanted desperately and never really had, I think.
Biagi: Was your brother raised, do you think, any differently from you?
Katz: No, I don't think so. He was very sick when he was a child, so he got a lot more attention. He was really sick the first couple of years. He almost died. He had a kidney ailment. So he got a lot more attention than I did, but I don't think he was basically raised any differently, no.
Biagi: Do you feel you were ever either assigned a story or not assigned a story because you're a woman?
Katz: No, I don't think so. I don't think I was ever conscious of being a woman in journalism. I knew that I was a woman and I knew that I was a journalist. I wasn't blind. But even though there were clearly fewer women in the newsroom when I started in journalism, I don't think I was ever conscious of the fact that I was a woman and that somehow we should feel differently. I mean, to me it was a shared passion for something that the people in the newsroom had, and once you got in there, I don't think I was ever treated any differently because I was a woman. I have, however—shamefully, I will say—been cautious about sending women to certain situations.
Biagi: Have you?
Biagi: For instance?
Katz: One of our columnists here wanted to spend the night in a drug house alone with drug addicts. I didn't want her to do that. I like to think I would have been equally cautious if it was a man, but I don't know if I would have, to be perfectly, totally honest. I don't know if I would have. But she was young.
Biagi: Did she go?
Katz: Yes, she did, and nothing happened. But I was very cautious. When I was young, I would have done anything, gone anywhere, put myself in the line of any fire to get a story. Now that I'm older and I'm supervising people, I'm far more cautious of the fact that maybe no story is worth it if they get killed or hurt. I'm more cautious about what they do. We let them do it, but I want real close understandings about how they do it. We had one photographer spend a long time running the border with illegal aliens. I mean, he could have really got hurt. The same guy also spent time with Vietnamese gangs, and he did, in fact, get mugged and had his photo equipment stolen. I think a lot harder these days about how worth it that is.
Biagi: You've talked to me a lot about not being discriminated against ever. Why do you say that?
Katz: Because it's true. I can't think of a time when anybody treated me any differently in a newsroom because I was a woman, maybe because I was always on the news side as opposed to being on the features side, and maybe because I was always incredibly aggressive and just spoke up for myself and went after the stories as hard as any man. I know they spoke differently of other people in features, but I did, too.
Biagi: Did you?
Biagi: What did they say about the people in features?
Katz: You thought of features people as somehow less because they weren't doing "the news," which, of course, is different now because it's all the news. In fact, much of the stuff that used to be on the features pages is now on page one of newspapers, which is another complication, because what happens to features? So I thought of myself as one of them. I went drinking after work with them, although I didn't stay all night like most of them. I never thought of myself as a girl or a woman, depending on what age I was, on the paper. I was always accepted, so it never was a problem for me. And I don't think my bosses ever treated me differently.
Biagi: When you talk about socializing, did you socialize a lot with your co-workers, would you say, or at least the same as everybody else?
Katz: Yes. I mean, years ago. As I moved up, it got harder because you supervise them. But sure. Over the years you dated people in your newsroom. They were soulmates. It's really hard to explain to people who aren't in journalism. It's really what I said before. I don't think I'm the only person who feels this way. We are members of a club, a very wonderful secret club that no one else can understand. I would spend hours just listening to the older guys talk about the stories they used to cover, tell the tales. I think that's the saddest thing about journalism today. There aren't any of those people left. We're the older guys, and we don't have any stories.
Biagi: You could become a character. [Laughter.]
Katz: There aren't any characters left. There are very few. We have only one in our newsroom—well, maybe two in our newsroom. That's what I mean when I say we're out of touch with the community. I mean, the characters were just unbelievable in the old days, and everybody was a character. Now everybody looks like everybody else. I had a reporter the other day I offered a job to, and she said she had to talk to her accountant before she took the job. I couldn't believe it.
Biagi: What does that tell you?
Katz: It tells me that the profession is in deep trouble. I also had someone, however, write me a note asking for a job. Her quote was something like, "I don't just have hunger in my belly. The passion consumes me." It was just a marvelous, marvelous thing. I said, "Hire this person!"
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Biagi: —applying now?
Katz: I think you have a lot more people now who think of themselves as—I call them artistes, prima donnas. I don't care if you're a prime donna. I'll take any prima donna if they deliver, but I can't stand prima donnas who don't give me the goods. I think it's become a very different kind of—
Biagi: So there's a distance between the reporter and the people they cover?
Katz: Oh, tremendous distance. The reporters—talk about the arrogance. I don't think it's at our place, although I'm sure we have some of them just like everybody else. There's this arrogance that the people we cover don't lead real lives. Unfortunately, they are leading the real lives, and journalists are the ones who are out of touch. But way back when I started in this business, talking about the question you asked about being a woman and feeling different from the male reporters, we were all together. We were clansmen. We were brothers. And the fact that we used
the ladies' room and they used the men's room didn't make a lot of difference, although at the Boston Herald American they had chaises-lounges in the ladies' room.
Biagi: That was a benefit, huh? [Laughter.]
Katz: So you could retire and recline if you wanted to, and a wonderful mural on the wall of ladies with parasols walking their poodles. A big sign that said, "No gaming allowed." [Laughter.] It was sort of a parlor attached to the ladies' room. No men allowed. But we could always just retire to our chaises if we felt faint from covering any of those terrible stories.
It didn't happen to me, but I'm sure that during that same time there were plenty of women who weren't allowed to go and cover Watts or cover some of the big riots, murders, and other troubles that happened. I'm sure that my experience is not necessarily the standard.
Biagi: Are a lot of your friends journalists? Or do you have all kinds of friends?
Katz: I have all kinds of friends, but many of my friends are journalists.
Biagi: Do you spend more time, would you say, with your friends who are journalists than those who aren't?
Katz: Well, the truth is that I don't have a lot of time to spend with my friends. I was just talking about that this morning. The truth is that this work sort of takes over your life, and it's very hard. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: Have you been involved from the beginning, or are you now, in press associations, groups?
Katz: I'm not a joiner, but I have been involved. Not from the beginning, no, but in later life I have been involved in groups. I'm a board member of the California Society of Newspaper Editors (CSNE), elected board member. I'm an elected board member of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association (APME), and I'm an elected board member of the most fun group of all, JAWS, the Journalism and Women Symposium.
Biagi: Is that a Southern California group?
Katz: No, that's national. You haven't heard? JAWS is how I got into this.
Biagi: Is that right?
Katz: Oh, you should absolutely join.
Biagi: I haven't heard about it.
Katz: JAWS is a national group of women journalists. It started I'm not sure how long ago—I want to say ten years ago—as six people in Tad Bartimus' living room, Tad Bartimus being the very great and brilliant AP writer, who writes from the Midwest Colorado. She got six women together in her living room to discuss issues of women in journalism. It grew and grew, and I got
involved, I guess three or four years ago, when Peggy Simpson, who I had met at the Boston Herald American, and had worked for Hearst, too, invited me to one of JAWS camps. They hold one every year just after Labor Day. I got involved in that. It used to be in Colorado, but then it grew so big it moved to Santa Fe, and it was in Santa Fe for two years. Then this year it was in Jackson Hole. I've been to three of them, and every year it's grown and changed.
It's, to me, the most interesting group of all, because at ASNE, which is the American Society of Newspaper Editors, APME, and even CSNE, you see the same group of thirty or forty women who are running newspapers either as managing editors or as editors across the country. It's the same faces everywhere and all the time. Different women go to JAWS camp. I think about four hundred people belong now, but they limit the camp to the site, and in past years it's been about eighty people. First of all, the group is all over the place demographically. There's a lot of young kids. They have minority scholarships, so it's a mixed group. There are some older, much older women journalists. I think the first year I went to camp, I met Dave Zeek's mother, who was a reporter in Panama in the thirties. Just listening to her was a highlight for me. Dave is the managing editor of the Kansas City Star.
It used to be there were the six people in the living room. Then it got to be a few people in a motel with no program. Now JAWS camp has grown so big and has gotten a little formal that it has a board, that it has a program. But the program is usually fascinating. I wasn't there this year, but Molly Ivins, who was a classmate of mine and is probably the greatest writer I know, spoke. I went the year before, and they had the first woman general in the air force and [Congresswoman] Pat [Patricia] Schroeder and the woman who started Emily's List. Also, the woman who started the nation's first health care collective for black women. It was really exciting.
But it's very informal, unlike most other conventions. It's a way for women in the profession to network and get together and meet each other, just as men have always done. There are women that you would never meet at any traditional convention. They aren't just the big names in their field, but they're some of the most interesting people I've met in journalism.
I understand that discrimination was a problem for many women. But I think maybe not an equally big problem, but certainly a significant one is that women are brought up differently than men and don't understand how to be part of a team. They certainly have no tradition of networking. That was really brought home to me in Baltimore, where every morning my boss, the editor, went and played pick-up basketball with a group of businessmen in the community. I went and swam by myself. I watched my male bosses over the years picking up the phone and networking, spending a lot of time talking to other men at other papers. I don't think women feel comfortable doing that, and I don't think they naturally do that. I certainly don't. There haven't been enough other women, for one thing. So I think one of the real strengths of JAWS is it gives you a place to do that with people that you would never meet.
At APME, I just got a phone call yesterday. "There will be the usual wine and cheese for women," which is just repulsive.
Biagi: Still they're having that?
Katz: Yes. I think they feel compelled to gather this little band together. This year we've grown to thirty, I understand. Thirty out of 180 editors that will be there. Thirty who are women managing editors or above. They feel compelled to come together at least once to talk. I guess I don't think that's bad necessarily.
Biagi: It isn't enough, is what you're saying.
Katz: Yes. Once there are enough of us, a critical mass, then you're not different anymore. I say I was never discriminated against, but clearly I was one of very few people in the newsroom who was a woman. I just never let it affect me or never thought about it. But that doesn't mean that it was unimportant. I'm sure it was a problem for a lot of other people. I was just pushier than most and never really—you know, once I decide I'm going to do something, I just do it. I fought as hard as any male reporter to get the stories, so they let me do them, and I did them better than a lot of others, so I got to keep doing them.
Biagi: How do you think that women's role in journalism has changed from the time you started to the time today?
Katz: I think that in many places women at lower levels are equal in the newsroom. At upper levels, that's still not true. There are still many glass ceilings. But women have moved out of feature sections and are now in jobs across the board in newsrooms. And in some newsrooms like mine, we don't even notice whether you're a woman or not, although we're still pretty conscious, unfortunately, of whether you're a minority or not.
Maurine Beasley posed that question so many years ago. Is journalism turning into a woman's profession? And is that bad? I mean, I don't know. There are certainly more women than men in a lot of newsrooms today. They're just not the leaders. Is that bad? Is that going to make a change? I don't know. I think that there are more women than men in the world, and as long as we reflect the community we cover, it's healthy. I just can't imagine that journalism is going to become a second-class profession because there are more women in it. But what I can imagine is that if we continue to be arrogant, women or men, and ignore our readers, many of whom are women, we're going to not be here anymore.
A real interesting question for the nineties is whether to bring back "women's" sections. A lot of papers are doing it or thinking about it. Of course, they're aiming at a different woman, you know. It's not the little mother now. It's not Mrs. Cleaver. But it's the professional woman who's juggling madly, trying to figure out her life as wife, mother, career woman, chauffeur, cleaner. The woman who has to take care of her elderly parents as well as her own little children. You know, the person who's trying to do it all. That's a real question, the women's sections. Whether you mainstream information for women or whether you break out a section. I haven't decided yet. My sense is, you probably do something special as well as mainstream.
Biagi: Would you call it a women's section?
Katz: Well, no. They do call it in Chicago "WomanNews," all one word. I don't know what I'd call it.
Biagi: That's an off turn of events after all the—
Katz: Well, you know, I was a history major. Everything is cycles.
Biagi: Yes. It's a helix. It doesn't cycle back to the same place. It cycles back to a different place.
Katz: Right, but it's definitely back to the future, no question about it. You know, chicken dinners? I mean, I started out doing chicken dinner journalism, and now we are all of a sudden newspapers across the country are saying chicken dinners are incredibly important. We can't afford to miss a chicken dinner.
Biagi: By chicken dinners, what do you mean?
Katz: I mean little community events, celebratory stories—stories of people who have accomplished some little feat—local, local news. I think newspapers have focused too much on the wider community in a way that doesn't bring it back home to the readers. They focus on the bad, and readers just say, "I'm tired of reading this absolutely depressing stuff. I can't stand it. I have to go read a romance novel or something else because just reading the newspaper is so horrible that I can't. It hurts me; it doesn't help me." I think we've really got to change our approach to what we serve up to readers.
Someone told me this week, just this week, that women readers read less. I thought women readers would read more, but it turns out that women readers read less of a story and read faster through the paper. They cherrypick the paper much more than men. So the thing to do is figure out what it is they're looking for and serve it up to them in beautiful presentation.
Biagi: Which journalists do you most admire? You mentioned Molly Ivins.
Katz: She is one I admire. Russell Baker. Molly Ivins. I admire Molly Ivins because she's a great writer and she has her own voice that she has cultivated over the years. She's also a great character. But there are a lot of famous names in journalism. But I think there are a lot of unsung heroes who you don't ever hear about, the people who grind out the day-to-day stuff. Those are the people I really admire, because they aren't becoming national figures or making six-figure incomes; they're going to school board meetings or finding that neighborhood story or spending hours trying to craft a sentence into something beautiful. So I guess those are the people I really admire the most.
Biagi: Reflecting on your whole life now so far, the least fulfilling time of your life?
Katz: The least fulfilling?
Biagi: The least happy.
Katz: The least happy.
Katz: Professionally. Wow. I mean, I've loved every job I've ever had, really. I guess the least happy time was when I was a waitress in the kosher restaurant and trying to work nights as a journalist, or maybe it was the time when I was running The Danube Weekly and I saw what the truth was, because I felt so disconnected from what I did. I think the tough part for journalists—and I go back to that whole idea that we have some special blood type or something that identifies us, some purple mark on our foreheads—the hard part is to have a life outside. I think that's been the hardest thing for me and everyone I know. How do we balance what is basically a way of life with a real life outside the paper. I've had a lot of unhappy times in my life, least fulfilling times, but it's never been at any journalism job. It's never been professionally in my career. I've always loved every job I ever did. Some have been better than others, but I've always loved the moment. It's an addiction. I have an addiction to this. There's no question about it.
Biagi: And the most fulfilling, the best moment professionally so far?
Katz: I guess the best moment was when I was named editor of this paper, which I still haven't taken in. Going back to least and most fulfilling, I would say that my time at the Baltimore News American was both the least and the most fulfilling time.
Katz: Because it was the most depressing time of my life in terms of where journalism was going and where the particular newspaper I was working at was going—which was nowhere. It was also the most fulfilling, because when we accomplished something with the weenie little resources that we had and a staff who were so distracted from their work because they worried about whether they'd have a job the next day, that being able to get them focused and put out the kind of paper they did was probably the most exciting. I didn't realize how much I could stretch, and I don't think any of them did either. So that was the most fulfilling. It was also the most depressing, because you never knew when the paper would die. We were riding the death barge. That's what we said. We were on the death barge, and the barge sank. We used to call it that. Lots of funeral jokes. You know, you didn't see any future. And it's scary when you don't know what's going to happen. In Baltimore, the paper just died. They came in one morning and it shut the same morning.
But now there's a federal law that says you've got to give people sixty days' notice. So now Hearst is doing an incredible thing in San Antonio where it bought the competing paper owned by Rupert Murdock, kept all the people at the competing paper, and closed its own paper and fired all its own staff. I find that a stunning move, not out of character for that company, but a stunning move. Those staffers have to go in to work every day and put out a paper for ninety days or sixty days, whatever that law is, even though they know that at the end of it, there's no job. I don't know how they do that, because I know that under the circumstances I was in, it was hard enough. To go in there and ask your people to give 120 percent when I didn't know if we were going to have a paycheck, and all these people had families and kids, was pretty tough. But to know that the paper is going down in sixty or ninety days and that you have to work it through, I think just must be the worst torture ever.
I guess the best moment was when I stood up in front of my newsroom here and promised them that I would try and be a good leader that would inspire them as much as they inspired me every day. That was a pretty exciting minute in my life, I can tell you that. [Tape interruption.]
The one time in my life that I remember being discriminated against as a woman was not by other journalists, but when I was the managing editor of the San Bernardino Sun. I went to meet the sheriff of San Bernardino County, who thought he was Hop Along Cassidy. He was the most macho man I had ever met. Older. Remington statues of cowboys in his office. Wore boots and spurs. When I went over to meet him and I brought our city editor, he would not talk to me directly. He would talk only to the city editor, who was a man. And he called me "ma'am" and patted me a lot.
Biagi: What did you do?
Katz: I just kept talking. I just kept confronting him, and I also do want to say that I have made calling me "ma'am" a fireable offense in every newsroom I work in. It is true. That and putting the word "spectacular" with the word "fire," are two fireable offenses in the newsroom. Anyway, that was the only time I think I ever can remember anybody treating me differently because I was a woman.
Biagi: Is it a good profession for women?
Katz: Oh, it's a great profession for people. I don't know why we separate women out. It's the greatest profession of all. I can't think of anything else I would rather do, and I've tried a few other things. It's a great profession. You're delivering. You're telling people what they need to know to live their lives. You're bringing the world closer together. Making things better for people if you do it right. At the very least, you're informing them, keeping them informed.
What's most frustrating about it, though, sometimes is that I can't change things as much as I want to. A really good example is Somalia. I look at those pictures of starving babies every day. I want to hop on the plane and go over there and spoonfeed them. All I can do, unless I join World Vision or something and drop my job, is just keep pushing those pictures in the face of the public and then write little blocks that says, "Here's where you can contribute." But I can't personally help. I can only do it with the vehicle I have. And that sometimes is a little frustrating. But I think that at its very best, you're changing the world.
Biagi: All right.
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