Because this session was videotaped,
material from other sessions may be repeated here.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: Tonnie, tell me about the newspaper business today. How do you see your role as a newspaper editor ten years from now? What is the future of newspapers as you see it?
Katz: I'm not even sure I can envision what the role of the editor will be. I think that we're changing organizations. At least the paper that I work for is a changing organization. I just came back from the APME [American Society of Newspaper Editors] convention, and what I saw there was a lot of editors wringing their hands about the need for change, and not doing very much. But there are a couple of papers in this country—and the Register is one of them—that are trying all kinds of things.
I think the editor of the past was an editor of a big paper product that was plunked on your doorstep every morning or in your bushes or on your garageway, and the editor of the future will be someone who has a much greater role in marketing, in cooperating and working with advertising and circulation, and will be sort of the chief traffic cop of an information center that delivers information in a variety of ways, the big paper product being just one of them.
What we really are, I've learned in the last year, is an information center. Already the Register, the paper I work for, is delivering information by telephone, by fax, soon by computer, possibly by CD-ROM disks, by television, as well as by a variety of paper products, not just one. The Register itself is just the mother ship, and we're creating a lot of little other PT boats in the armada to cover the market completely. I don't think that the editor of ten years ago would be talking about products, customers, and markets; I think they would be talking about stories. Now I think those things are changing, and the lines are blurring. You have to be far more careful about holding that line of credibility, because really a newsroom, all they have to sell is credibility. We have to be very careful, but we have to be far more connected with our customers.
Biagi: This is different for you, coming from the news side. I remember a year ago when you and I spoke, that role that you had there on the news side was just changing into a managerial role. How have you evolved to think like a manager?
Katz: I've been a manager as editor, managing editor and line editor, and holding various management positions in the newsroom for probably ten years, but I had never been out of the newsroom. I think that newsrooms have traditionally been considered ivory towers that stay very much apart from the other divisions of the newspaper, and that is changing dramatically. I'm now part of a strategic team. I don't even think the last editor of the paper did this kind of thing. I'm now part of a strategic team with the head of advertising and the head of circulation and the head of our weekly newspapers. We work together to figure out a strategy for the paper for the next three years.
That's what we've spent the last six months doing. So I really feel a need to know much more about business, much more about marketing, just so I can understand where they're coming from. I often have to say to them, "Stop. Say this in English to me. Tell me what you're talking about in English," because they really get into that business marketing mode and start talking in a jargon I have no idea what they're talking about. But it's a very big change for editors, I think.
As we move toward more customized products—and I think that's where we're going in the next ten years—we'll be creating a different newspaper for every person that we serve, or a different portfolio of products, a better way of saying it. For every person we serve, a personalized portfolio that includes all kinds of media. I think it's important that the editor work with the other departments and the whole newsroom staff. We have really thrown the doors wide open and made a newspaper without walls at the Register.
Biagi: When you talk about a customized product, I'm not sure everybody would understand that term, which is common in your area now. How would you describe a customized product?
Katz: I'll give you an example. This month the Register started—I want to say it's the first, but since I can't document that, I'd say it's definitely one of the first customized products in the country. It's a weekly tabloid magazine dedicated to varsity sports—high school prep sports. It's every team, every high school, gender equity, girls and boys, and every kid, every Tuesday. That is only delivered to those people who have a seven-day Register subscription and who pay a quarter extra delivery fee for that particular product. What we're doing is targeting a smaller market within our larger market. We didn't take anything of our regular sports coverage out of the paper; what we did was give a certain group of people a product that's far more in depth than anybody would ever want, except these specific people, because they're generally the kids themselves or the families of kids who play in high school sports, or the coaches or the booster clubs. So they're people who have an intense interest in this subject, and it is delivered only to them once they pay their quarter. They pay three months in advance, and they get it every Tuesday with their paper.
You have to think of newspapers in another way. What we have is a distribution system, probably the best distribution system in—definitely the best in this county. So we are able now to deliver a product to you that we might not give to your neighbor. The way I see it working is that we will create more and more of these specialized or special interest products, maybe a personal finance magazine. My newsroom already does books. Maybe a kid's product. They will be targeted at people who are interested in them, and those people will somehow sign up for them and look at it like cable television packaging. You have your basic package, and then you pay a little extra for HBO or Showtime. That's exactly the concept that I think customized newspapers is looking at.
Biagi: And you're going to "bag wrap" this—that is, plastic wrap it for each customer?
Katz: We just top it. We just top it on the paper. It's an integral part of your paper for the people who order it. It's topped on the paper. Now they already get—we own many weeklies in this market, so if you live in Laguna Beach, like I do, I get on Thursdays the Register and something called the Laguna Beach News, which is our local local news product. It's put out by an entirely different editorial staff, although we work very closely together. And that's topped on the product. So now on Tuesdays, my varsity is topped on the product.
Eventually there will be a whole menu of things that subscribers can choose from. The way I see it, it will be a daily newspaper that has a core product, core group of sections perhaps, that gives you the basics, sort of like basic cable. Then you would potentially build a daily, give them some choices daily. Do they want the sports section or the features section? They would get to choose. They would only choose classified on the days they wanted. Most people stand in front of their garbage pail, as you watch them, before they bring the paper in the house, and they deal out the sections they're not going to use that day. What we would do then is give them only what they wanted, along with a core paper so that they would be informed generally. Then you could extrapolate that further and have weekly products that are a little more in depth, and then monthly products that are really in depth, quarterly. I mean, you can just get any way you want to go.
And it doesn't just mean on paper. Seven-thousand people a day call our info-line about stocks. We have a really extensive telephone information delivery network going. I envision the day when you would never have stocks listings in the newspaper. We probably have them now only because we're in a competitive market. Because you can get stock listings literally up to the minute within every fifteen minutes now by calling on the telephone. Why do you want something that's twenty-four hours old in the paper? It seems like a waste of trees and it's not as timely.
Biagi: Why the Register? How is the Register going to survive when so many newspapers are struggling?
Katz: Because the culture at the Register is a risk-taking one, a future-looking one, and we have never been burdened by the traditions that some of the great newspapers have. I look at some of these great newspapers and they are like the city of Vienna, you know, a place that has had its heyday, and it's passed. The Register is now having its heyday. One of the greatest things about this paper is that nothing is set in stone; it's willing to change and willing to try things and fail. I mean, we've failed at quite a few things. The paper itself is a work in progress. We're always trying new things, always trying to interact with readers, figure out ways that we can do that, if their voice is in the paper, get them feeling that they have a stake in the newspaper.
I think that the last editor before me [N. Christian Anderson] was very reader oriented and a real visionary about some of these things. He was talking about "newsrooms without walls" when people were laughing at us.
Biagi: What does that mean?
Katz: In our case, it means that we basically don't have a feature department and a metro department and a city desk and a business section group. All the reporters write for all sections of the paper, and they are clumped together by related topics at the Register, and it is very much a team way of doing things. If you go through the Register newsroom, you'll see circles of people working together in all kinds of little rooms. I mean, it's really a fascinating thing, and we're evolving that more and more to the point where people really feel they have a stake in the paper, that they are empowered to make decisions, and that it's their responsibility and good fortune to have that decision-making ability. So it's not some editor on high, pronouncing, and a group of munchkins below just scurrying around, fulfilling those pronouncements. It's very much a collegial, creative atmosphere.
Biagi: What are some of the risks that the Register has taken while you've been there?
Katz: Certainly the newsroom without walls was a great risk. I mean, changing the culture of a newsroom—I mean, we're supposed to be some of the most flexible people alive, but journalists happen to be some of the most traditional people alive. We also happen to be amongst the poorest communicators in our own environment, as opposed to outside, and it was a giant risk to change the culture of our newsroom. And we did it in a very unusual way, by bringing in a company that does creative thinking. They taught us a process of how to do that, to think of new and different ideas to really push the envelope.
At first, everyone was very frightened, and I was, too, actually, by the idea that you would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. I mean, what were they really asking us to do—broaden the news to write about things like shopping and malls and pets and hobbies and things that readers were very interested in, but reporters kind of looked down their nose at.
Biagi: You got a lot of criticism for your mall beat, didn't you?
Katz: We did, but now there is not a week that goes by that we do not have one or two people from somewhere in the world that come and study the way we do things. As I look at it, I don't see it as being very different, but clearly it is, because people seem to go away feeling what we're doing is very different and very exciting. But there are now "newsrooms without walls" cropping up all across America. In the last week alone, we've had editors from Minneapolis, an editor from Newcastle-on-Tyne in England, someone from South Africa, someone from Clarion in Buenos Aires. People have heard about what the Register is doing and are coming to see how they can adapt it to their own newsroom. What we say is that what you see here is customized for us. You need to take a look at your own newsroom and customize something for you. I wouldn't necessarily have a mall beat in Alaska. There might be a grizzly bear beat or something. But it's worked for us.
In fact, the rule we set is that there is nothing in stone. The only rule we have, besides the fact that you can't call me "ma'am," is that nothing is in stone. So we are in the midst of looking at all our beats again. The mall beat may die and something else come up. We feel a great need to do much more with television as a beat, because television is becoming so insidiously part of everyone's lives, and we're talking about five hundred channels. We're talking about delivering information through computers that are televisions. We're talking about interactive TV. In fact, the Freedom Corporation, the company that owns the Register, are involved in a venture, an interactive TV venture, for advertising.
So I think that that's why the Register is really a very different place. It's a place that encourages people to think differently, to take risks. But we have been very cautious about not abandoning our journalistic traditions of being a voice for the voiceless, championing freedom of information, first amendment rights. Public service has been a very important—still very important with us. So it's adding, as opposed to changing.
Biagi: I'm having a flashback now to your early days in newspapering and that old grizzled newsroom that you told me about on the East Coast. Put me there. Just describe that for me again, because I remember you telling me about what it was like.
Katz: The newsrooms of twenty-five years [ago] are nothing like the newsrooms of today. In one way, they were a lot better, and that was that the people who were the reporters and the editors were far more in touch with the people because they were of them, and so although they happened to be very heavily weighted toward males and certainly very white and not diverse at all,
they at least were economically part of the people they reported on, and much closer to them, I think.
In newsrooms that I worked with, I was one of the few women, and I was very different because I always was in news. I've never done any features work. That's, I think, pretty unusual for someone my age not to come up through the features side, because it used to be women only worked in features, and could squeak over to news later on, maybe, if they were lucky. But you had a lot of guys who were older, or seemed older. But they talked a different game. Everything was breaking news, news of the moment. There was no planning. I can't imagine any two journalists from those kind of newsrooms sitting around talking about, "How are we going to put out our home and garden section?" Those things were just not subjects you would write about. It was crime, breaking news, politics, a very different range of—and then some features on the side for the women, and a few recipes. A very different kind of newsroom.
There were reporters that went out and talked to people and got the stories, and then they would do what they called "dumping" to reporters who wrote the stories—rewrite men. They were always men, so I can say that. Never rewrite people. You know, the editors were the stars and very unapproachable. I mean, when I worked at the Boston Globe, I was terrified. You would never, ever think of—when I started in the business, you would never think of walking into the editor's office, much less making a criticism of the paper or the person. You would just quake when they called you in there. There's a columnist at the Boston Globe named Bob Healey, who I never spoke to because he seemed such a star that I was terrified of him. I mean, many years later I met him at a White House correspondents' dinner, and he was a charming fellow and really astonished to hear this. But I think that that's the way the newsroom of the past was.
The newsroom of the present is far more diverse, which is wonderful, and I don't just mean ethnically, although certainly that. It's more diverse in age. Actually, our newsroom is very young. I'm one of the oldest people. We're trying very hard to hire some older people. It's very diverse in gender, it's very diverse in sexuality or the sexuality preferences. You're really trying to build a newsroom that reflects the community you serve, and the only difference is that generally the reporters and editors are much better educated and far more highly paid, although they would contend not highly paid enough, but far more highly paid then the public at large. And they all want a sort of—I won't say a nine-to-five existence, but much more a nine-to-five existence than ever was before. So that's hard. It's a very changed culture.
Biagi: Was it Baltimore that I'm thinking of? I'm trying to think of the old newspaper building you told me about, when you went upstairs and everything was awry and creaky and really had an old atmosphere.
Katz: Both papers, the one in Boston and one in Baltimore that I worked at. In Baltimore, the newsroom was painted sort of bathroom green, because they had got the paint from somebody's brother-in-law who was colorblind, or it was the cheapest paint they could find. We knew they were going to sell the paper when they washed the windows. You couldn't see out of the windows and things were piled everywhere. The tile on the floor was mismatched. A piece of tile would break and they'd throw in another one—you know, these carpet tile kind of things. The furniture was so worn that they were actually places in the arms which had dents from the hundreds of years. Nothing matched.
I mean, you'd never go into a newsroom today and see that. Now everything is ergonomically correct. Everyone has to have desks and chairs that are set for them and ergonomically right. People are wearing wrist braces for RSI, repetitive stress syndrome.
Newsrooms are full of computers. They look like insurance companies. You don't have the clanging of the wire service machines. That was always so exciting, to hear that thing clacking in the background.
Biagi: Bells going off.
Katz: The bells going off.
Katz: That's right.
Biagi: You would have the noise of the typewriters.
Katz: Now people worry about whether there's a glare screen on their computer. And the ladies' rooms would always be miles away from the newsroom, because they always assumed that the women didn't need to be close by.
Biagi: What about the press room itself, where the presses were?
Katz: Press rooms probably haven't changed much. Certainly composing rooms have changed. When I started out, I started in hot type, and I was a copy clerk. I remember my job was to go in the newsroom to each desk, each departments' desk, pick up the paper that had typed copy on it, to bring it down to the composing room where they would make these lead lines. Then I would bring it to a pulley basket that would send it up to a group of proofreaders, very old people in this sort of medieval little room hanging over the whole composing room. And the composing room was giant. As far as you could see were these machines that made the type out of lead. I mean, it was so hot, because they had the lead pots. Every typesetter had a lead pot melting. It's nothing like that anymore.
Biagi: That was how many years ago?
Katz: I started in high school, in the summer, so that would have been—I graduated from high school in '62, so it would have been somewhere between '58 and '62. I don't know when these typesetting machines disappeared. We have one in our lobby at the Register as sort of a museum piece. It's pretty frightening to feel that the technology has changed so.
But even in the last few years, technology is changing so rapidly. I mean, that's really what's changing in the delivery of news, is the technology. I just can't imagine where we're going in the next few years. Fiber optics—telephone companies that will bring information in or partner with information companies in bringing information in.
The thing is that people are now so inundated by information that our role has changed. It used to be that we would deliver the information of the day to people, but now there's so much information that our role is to actually sort of "traffic cop" it and choose what we think, we hope we understand what they want and need, are the most important things for making sense. So we might actually, at the Register, we'll often have a story that will guide you, give you bibliography, guide you to some other source or some other place for far more information, or give you a couple of phone lines that you can call and get more information. We don't pretend to be the be-all and end-all. We're more than the television in terms of delivering information. We give you more than just that quick piece of news that flashes by and that has no depth at all. We try and put
some perspective on it, but we know that in your daily newspaper we can't give total perspective, so we try and lead you to places which, if you have far greater interest in finding out more, that you can find out everything there is to know on whatever subject it is.
Biagi: That first start as a copy clerk, working as a copy clerk, what made you think that you were going to go into newspapers? How did you know that? Or did you know that at that time?
Katz: I don't ever remember wanting to do anything else. I'm not exactly sure why. My dad, who was first a lawyer and then in my grandfather's clothing business, I seem to recall him talking about wanting to be a journalist. I was on my literary magazine in high school, the editor of my poetry magazine, which is a far cry from journalism. My poetry was terrible, but it was fun. I don't know why I wanted to be a journalist. Every Sunday, when I was a kid, my dad would take my brother and I down to the local store and we would buy all the newspapers there were. My parents subscribed every day to the Boston and local newspaper, but on Sundays they would get the New York Times and the Herald Tribune, anything they could get their hands on.
There was a great tradition of reading newspapers, and they hung around all week as my mother did the crossword puzzle or left certain things to read later. My mom's dead now, but my dad still reads a newspaper, every single word from back to front—I'm not exactly sure why—and then he does the crossword puzzle when it's over. He really devours that newspaper. That way of life is changing, and maybe that's why. I mean, I used to get three comic books every Sunday and he read the newspapers. If I'd saved the comic books, I could have been rich, because they are now great collector's items, but I threw them all away, so I guess I had to go into the newspaper business. But I never wanted to be anything else.
Biagi: Tell me about your mom and your dad.
Katz: You know, middle class. My mom was a stay-at-home mom who alternately felt that she wanted to have more and made me feel guilty for doing it, alternately, I guess, encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. That made me feel guilty for having children and not staying home with them.
My dad was a guy who, I guess, was a lawyer before I was born and then went into my mom's dad's clothing business, and he ended up owning stores very similar to K-Mart, a group of stores.
Biagi: In Massachusetts.
Katz: In Massachusetts. My mom was a voracious reader. In fact, one of my memories of her is that besides newspapers, she would be up—I'd wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, and at four or five in the morning she'd be sitting in the kitchen reading books. I mean, she would read ten and twelve books a week.
My dad, typical father, would work and come home and their great joy in life was to play golf. But they really instilled the idea of you can be anything and should work real hard to be something, of hard work. Hard work makes for achievement. They never told you that luck made for achievement. They believed that busy hands—something I believe in with my own children, you know. My children have to work to go to school, and that's always been a requirement, that they have a job to support themselves. I mean, I pay for a lot, but they have to support themselves in terms of their fun money.
Biagi: What form did your busy hands take when you were going through school?
Katz: The form it took was working at the newspaper in high school. I went to a boarding school, and then when I came home in the summers, I worked at the local newspaper. I think it all started because my mom grew up with the managing editor, and she helped me get that job. So every summer in high school I worked at the newspaper.
Biagi: Which newspaper?
Katz: The Lowell [Massachusetts] Sun. It still exists and does very well, I guess. It was a small, probably 80,000 [circulation] newspaper in a city of about 100,000, a mill city in Massachusetts, a diverse city, but not diverse in the way we know it now. It was a lot of French Canadians, a lot of Irish, some Jewish people, and a lot of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. It's now got a huge Puerto Rican population and Cambodian population. When I lived there, it was the typical declining city where people were moving to the suburbs around it, where the downtown was dying, but the newspaper was the only game in town. The Boston television stations never—and still don't—cover local news there, so if you wanted to know what was going on in your town, whether it be the school lunches or the social news or the news news, you had to read the Lowell Sun. That's where I started.
Biagi: Did your family take an active part in the Jewish community there?
Katz: Yes, they did, both parents. My mom was president of all the clubs one could be. She was also very proudly president of her college. She went to Smith College. She was very proud that she was president of that club. She was a typical woman of her time, I think. Had she put the energy and intellect to a job, and drive, to a job that she did to these other things—volunteer work, golf, she was a champion golfer, could have been pro, if she'd wanted, I think. One of my best memories of her is in the middle of winter when the snow was up to your knees, playing golf, swathed in wool and playing golf with orange golf balls. She would play golf anywhere, any time, with anybody. She was a real champion golfer. Had she turned—I mean, it just wasn't her time. Had she turned those energies to a job, I think she would have been just unbeatable.
Biagi: Were the goals of your family the same for your brother as they were for you?
Katz: I think so. I think so. They were very pushy about education, and they always—typical Jewish family. If you got an A, it wasn't good enough; you had to have an A+. My brother was sick as a child, so they were a little easier on him, I think, than they were on me. It's funny, in my mom's family, there was her and her brother, but she was the one that went to college, not her brother, which I think is pretty unusual for her time. But my parents were upwardly mobile. I like to think they were. We were both sent to boarding school. It was always a push to go to a certain kind of college. You just couldn't go to any college; you had to go to one of the top colleges.
Biagi: You ended up at?
Katz: I ended up in protest. I started out at Goucher College, and my mother wanted me to go to Smith College, but just the fact that I heard so much about it, I hated it. So I ended up at Goucher College for the first two years, and then I went to Barnard College, which is part of Columbia [University], and then to Columbia Graduate School of Journalism after that.
Biagi: Did you always have the idea that you would go to Columbia?
Katz: No, I don't think so. What I realize now is that's probably the last thing you should do is go to journalism school. But at the time, I think people felt that that was a good way to get a job, and it certainly was at the time. I don't think it's a particular good way now. I'll say this because of what this is about. I think that one of the sorriest things is what's happened to journalism education. Instead of being hotbeds of experimentation for the future of journalism, journalism education has generally—I don't want to make these wild generalizations—has in many cases that I have observed firsthand turned into a place where old journalists go to tell war stories.
Biagi: You've told me that you were having interesting correspondence with the dean of Columbia.
Katz: Right. I'm sure she wouldn't want this on television.
Biagi: But what was your point of view in that correspondence? What were the issues you were talking about?
Katz: Exactly that—that we can no longer stay in our ivory towers, that we have to think of readers as customers. I mean, the idea that we're a business is so alien, that we have to worry about what news we present and broaden the definition of news so that we do include things like shopping and living in your environment and not just Bosnia stories, to talk about one of the big stories of today. Not just important stories. We really have to look at how people live their lives and how we can be more helpful and useful in making them live their lives, because they're very complicated lives.
So maybe it's more important to have, in this bad economy, stories and tips about how you can survive this bad economy than it is to have minutia coverage of what's happening in Bosnia. I mean, you have to have a balance of both, obviously. You can't leave that out. The truth is, nobody reads about Bosnia anymore. These stories become incremental drum beats, and the honest, sad truth is that none of us have found a way of presenting them so that people feel engaged with them. I mean, they read a few of them and then they just start glazing when they see those stories. That's certainly a challenge for the future.
But in my correspondence with her, I said that what you needed to do was train students who understood the new ways of presenting stories, that everything shouldn't be considered a narrative, certainly a long narrative, that there's a whole toolbox of ways that you can present information and that kids should know about that, that they should be aware of technology and changing technology, and they shouldn't be so stuck in their ways. You can't teach the inverted pyramid anymore, because although that's one way to present a story, it's certainly not the only way. And that it's really important to have a broad base of education and learning and specialties in some other things besides journalism, that philosophizing wasn't as important as maybe some practical experience in other areas.
Biagi: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Katz: The first one. No. I'm sure it was an obituary, probably, or it might have been a "man on the street." The Lowell Sun was very big on "man on the street" interviews.
Biagi: It was "man on the street" interviews.
Katz: Yes, usually it was men on the street, because they would never try and have diversity. I mean, that was never an expectation. Actually, it might have been a wedding. It could have been a wedding.
I wrote millions of weddings. Because every summer I would move up one step, so first I was a copy clerk. I think I did that for two summers. Then the third summer, I worked on the women's pages, and that's exactly what they were called.
Interestingly enough, there's back to the future in everything, so here we are in 1993 deciding whether we should have women's pages again, and some papers, like the Chicago Tribune, have indeed done that. I'm trying to figure out how I can serve that population without ghettoizing them in a women's page. But I mean, the women's page of the sixties was very different from the women's page of the 1990s. That was addressed to society and recipes and all those fun things that women did. Now it's much more addressed at how to survive having a job and home and kids and maybe being single. The issues are very different. It's much more serious—personal finance for women. Those were never issues that were addressed. It was a much more frothy kind of thing.
So it was probably an obituary or a wedding, and probably had "stephanotis" somewhere in it. [Laughter.]
Biagi: You know how to spell that, I'll bet.
Katz: I did. I don't know if I can now. That's what we have copy editors for, to correct those things.
Biagi: So after Columbia, then you had this summer training. What were your goals? What did you want to do?
Katz: Well, I never really thought about it. My only goal was to become a reporter in Boston, which shows how limited my world view was. After Columbia, I worked for the Lowell Sun very briefly as a Washington correspondent, and then I ran off and got married, which killed that job, and came back to Boston with my now ex-husband, who was a student in law school at the time, and went to work for another local newspaper called the Quincy Patriot-Ledger. Then I finally did get to the Boston papers, always focused on local news.
My whole career has really been focused on local news, although I did spend time as a foreign correspondent. I've really tried to look at even national and international news as local news. I have this theory that what people want is more news of where they live and work, and that means more news of where they currently live and work, more news of where they used to live and work, more news of where they fantasize about living or working, or more news about where their families came from and used to live and work. So if you look at it that way, say you're Hispanic, living in Southern California, the soccer scores for Mexico City are really local news. So we are, in fact, right now trying to figure out how to put a new twist on national/international news, which people generally—they feel it has to be in their paper and that it has to have some kind of depth, but they would never read it if they could help it, unfortunately.
One of the few talents I have is being able to predict what readers read, and they would much rather read about a dog that can call 911 with its paws or a new cream—this week the story about the new cream that you rub on your thighs and immediately your thighs disappear—than they would about South Africa, Bosnia, or things they really should know to live in this world.
Biagi: How did you end up on the Boston Globe?
Katz: I have to correct the record here, because I was corespondent for the Boston Globe. I had worked for the Boston Herald, which was the competition, and then we moved to Great Britain for three years, where I had two children. I came back to the States, and the editor that I had at the Boston Herald had moved to the Boston Globe, and he found me and asked me to join this—he found me selling ads for a little weekly newspaper in Framingham, Massachusetts, and he asked me to join this team called the Trend Team.
One of the problems we've always had is how to cover local news. I mean, there's a lot of it. For the major metros or even papers like the Register, how do you choose what you're going to cover and what you're not? You can't cover everything, no matter how big your staff is. How do you choose how to link the issues from one community to another. So the Boston Globe's theory at that time, which I absolutely think was a good one and is probably in use somewhere still, was to write trend stories. You would look at a variety of trends, some of them serious and some of them not so serious, that would link suburban communities together, and that's how we would look at them.
Biagi: What was your favorite trend story that you did?
Katz: I had two, I think. One was the disappearance of plastic plants. There was a time when plastic plants were very big, and even Mamie Eisenhower—here's a fact you don't know. Mamie Eisenhower had plastic plants on the table, the dining room table at the White House. But then plastic plants went out of favor. I wrote a story about how everybody was trying to get rid of them and couldn't. One church was giving thousands away, and somebody had buried hers and they kept coming back in the rains. That was a fun story.
Biagi: How did you, first of all, find a story, and then find all the people that you could write about who were having reappearing plastic plants?
Katz: The same way you do journalism now—by knowing the community and talking to everybody.
Biagi: The woman, for instance, who had the plastic plants coming out of the dirt.
Katz: I don't know how I found her. Probably the way I find—I mean, people just tend to talk to me. It's like pulling a string. You find one and they lead you to another, and they lead you to another. I tried to find subjects that were interesting to people. I mean, I did plenty of serious ones, but I can't think of any of them at this moment.
Biagi: So your other favorite story was?
Katz: I did one about the decline of public toilets, and found someone in Britain who had actually done a study about the decline of the American public toilet. I did one on the decline of the Jewish mother, the traditional Jewish mother who used to wash the shoelaces every morning so the kid would have white shoelaces. It was really a trend story on how women's lives were changing. I don't even think I realized that then, but that's what it became.
But my favorite story was a story that we did about people in suburban Boston who never went to the city. I got the idea because on the side I drove a school bus to make ends meet. Remember that I was only with the Globe as a correspondent, so I was making only two dollars more than day care, so I drove a school bus to get some more money. One of the kids in my school bus had a mother, and we got talking once, and she told me that in twenty years since she
graduated from college in Boston and moved the twenty-five miles to Framingham, Massachusetts, she had never been back. The reason was that everything was in the suburbs for her.
When I started talking to people about that, I realized that that indeed was the trend. People thought of the big city as a dangerous place, and as the suburbs matured, all those services and amenities that you'd go to the city for were now in the suburbs. There were good restaurants, there was theater. It wasn't the same kind of theater, but it was theater. The hospitals were there. It was easy to go to a mall and park and shop than it was to go into the city and pay for parking, and perhaps there was always the feeling—and I guess there still is—that cities are dangerous places where good folk from suburbia will have terrible things happen to them. So that feeling was important even then, and I think it's certainly worse now. You can see that in Los Angeles.
So we did a story focusing on this woman. Her name was Sandy Bailey, who had never returned to Boston in all those years, and we focused on her and her family. I found quite a few other people in different suburbs. That was the whole goal, to touch bases with different places. One guy hadn't been to Boston in forty-nine years, and he lived fifteen miles away. Then one of the columnists from the Globe, Jack Thomas, wrote a column about, "Yes, Sandy, there is a city," and we got sacks of mail. It got to be a kind of challenge, and we brought Jack to the suburbs and showed him how wonderful it was. He brought Sandy to the city and showed her Little Italy and the Mass Turnpike Extension, which she had never seen. It was a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun.
What we really did was touch a nerve, and you could actually do that story right here today and it would be just as good, because people in Orange County, including myself, unfortunately, very seldom go to Los Angeles. There's not the need. These are mature places that offer you everything you have. I don't think I go to Los Angeles five times a year, which is a shame, because the cities are important places that you should know, and they shouldn't be—I don't think I'm afraid of it. It's just too far away.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Biagi: Tell me about your life there. It seemed rather busy. You've got the two children now.
Katz: I have two children who have sort of grown up and gone away. They come home to do their laundry.
Biagi: But your life there was certainly—they were young and you were a correspondent now for the Boston Globe.
Katz: Oh, my life then do you want to know about?
Biagi: Yes. And you're working out of your house?
Katz: No. Actually, I was working out of an office over a pizza parlor in Framingham, Massachusetts, with Bill Hamilton, who is now here in Los Angeles as the Washington Post correspondent. So Bill and I were in this pizza parlor. He was a full-timer; I was just this correspondent. We held down the western suburbs of Boston together from this ridiculous office over the pizza parlor.
My life was—I had two small children and I worked very long hours. I've always been a compulsive, driven worker, but it was made easier by the fact that I had full-time live-in help and had a husband at that time who was pretty cooperative about most of the stuff.
Biagi: But you said that you were making two dollars more than day care?
Katz: Yes. Even today, if one actually calculated what I get paid an hour, I think the money is not the reason why you do this. It couldn't be.
Biagi: What was your total salary then?
Katz: I got $100 a week, and day care was $102.
Biagi: For the whole week it was only two dollars.
Katz: It was only two dollars more a week than day care was.
Biagi: A week, not a day. Two dollars a week, then.
Katz: Two dollars a week more. I mean, there were times when I got paid less than I was paying in day care, but, you know, I was lucky. I had a husband who made a living, too, so we weren't dependent on my income. In later life, that changed, and luckily enough, I was able to make enough money to carry my family. But at that time I was able to do these things because somebody else was bringing in money, as well.
Biagi: So from the Boston Globe, this glorious job that you had as a correspondent with the Boston Globe, what changed that situation?
Katz: I guess I've always had—it's interesting because of our previous conversation. I've always had this feeling for the underdog. There was a paper called the Boston Herald. It was then called the Boston Herald American and was owned by Hearst. When I first worked for it, it was called the Boston Herald Traveler and it was owned by a private consortium. Then it was a rock-red Republican newspaper, and when Hearst bought it, they somehow married this wild tabloid and this rock-red Republican newspaper and came out with a pretty awful paper. It was definitely the number-two paper in the market, and no one ever read it. I didn't think I was ever going to get picked up full time by the Globe.
One day, in a fit of pique, I took three stories that I had written for the Globe, the first three that I could get, and wrote on a napkin, "These could have been in your paper," and sent them to the editor of the Herald.
Biagi: Did you know him?
Katz: No, I never met the man. And two days later, they hired me.
Biagi: Why on a napkin?
Katz: It happened to be the only piece of paper I had at the time. I think I was probably in a restaurant. And just mailed it off. No résumé, no nothing.
Biagi: What were the three stories?
Katz: Oh, I have no idea. Probably some of these trend stories, because that's what I had been doing.
He hired me, and I went to work as a reporter at the Herald. It was the first time I'd really had a taste of what it was like to work in a paper that was invisible in the community, because the Globe was so strong. In the correct demographics, you really had the feeling that people weren't reading what you did. But it was a lot of fun. We had a tremendous amount of fun.
Biagi: What did the newsroom look like?
Katz: The newsroom there was sort of similar to the one in Baltimore, just bigger.
Biagi: Were you among a few women reporters? Were there any other women reporters?
Katz: There were a couple of women who were very elderly, as I recall. And again, who knows how elderly they really were? But from that perspective, they seemed very elderly, and I think they probably were in their seventies. One of them always wore hats, and she wrote about social events. I can't remember her name. And one of whom—Eleanor Roberts, who's still alive and still working, and she must be in her eighties now, who was in the features side. There were more women by then, but not a lot. Again, they were mostly in features.
I went to work as—I started out as just a general assignment reporter and then I became an investigative reporter. I was very mouthy, and one day I mouthed off too much and I became an editor.
Biagi: What do you mean, you mouthed off too much?
Katz: Well, I had an editor who is one of my closest friends now and who has been my mentor for twenty-five years, and he had also been my editor at the Patriot-Ledger, so this was our second time together.
Biagi: And his name is?
Katz: His name is Charlie O'Brien. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: Tell me about Charlie O'Brien and the Boston Herald.
Katz: Well, Charlie is a very different editor, not the kind of editor that I am. He's now in the ice cream business, but then he was the political editor, and I was covering the State House in Boston. I was covering health and human services. I was convinced that every story—you know how young journalists are. Every story you do is the be-all and end-all and has to be ninety inches long and be on page one. Charlie is a very laid-back kind of guy. I'm kind of a hyper editor. He's a very laid-back person. So I came to him with what I thought was a page-one story idea, and he just, you know, gave me one of those looks, like, "Give me a break," and told me it was just an incremental piece of a story and didn't really deserve anything, or maybe a few inches.
I got very angry and stormed around the newsroom and made a scene, and the editor of the paper came out and heard all that. I mean, it was really an enormous commotion. And heard all this and basically looked me in the eye and said, "You think you can do better than him?"
And I said, "Any asshole can do better than him," with a little more spirit when I said it.
And the next day when I came to work, there was a sign on the bulletin board that I had been named the metro editor. Someone had written in red crayon—you know those red crayons they used to use in newsrooms—someone had written in red crayon underneath it, "A mistake." I still have that somewhere.
Biagi: Did you save it?
Katz: Oh, I definitely saved it. I have it framed. "A mistake," they wrote. It was a punishment, because my staff was a group of people who were over-the-hill drunks.
Biagi: Male? Mostly male?
Katz: All male. There were no women. My assistant had no teeth and, you know, wouldn't know a new story if he fell over it.
Biagi: What was the average age?
Katz: Fifties. And you'd never know when he came in in the morning if they would be there. They might be sent to dry out. I mean, it was just incredible. What a bunch they were. But, you know, I kind of got into it a little bit. The punishment for me was not being able to leave the newsroom, because I would never be in the newsroom as a reporter. I was one of those. Now you can't do that so much, because you have such great distances to cover. When I was in San Bernardino, for example, the reporters had to cover a county that was the size of five states. Here in Orange County, traffic is so bad, it's hard for them to get out, and you have so much more information you have to process in really a shorter time, that you really spend a lot of time working the phones. But then days would go by and I wouldn't be in the paper.
So this was a double punishment for me, because as an editor, you never left the paper. But I realized, kind of, that after a while that what you had here was a whole group of people who could do what they wanted and who could do the kinds of stories that were important, and so I just worked with them. I adopted the philosophy that we would get an inch a year or an inch a week or an a month ahead, and it really worked out in the end. They grew to respect me, and I learned a lot about editing.
Biagi: What year was this?
Katz: This was—let's see. Probably '79. In 1980, Newsday recruited me as an editor, and I went there. So, I mean, that was the end of my reporting career and the end of my—I had achieved my goal of being a reporter in Boston, and everything else from then on has been sort of a happening. Totally unplanned.
Biagi: Totally unplanned, would you say?
Katz: Yes, totally unplanned.
Biagi: You said you never had a résumé.
Biagi: But you had napkins.
Katz: I had napkins, yeah. I mean, except for my napkin, I've never applied for a job, and I don't know if you can call that applying for a job. It's just worked out really well.
Biagi: So Newsday recruited you.
Katz: Newsday recruited me, and I went to work there. I spent three months on the copy desk, which is what they wanted all potential line editors to do. That was the greatest suffering I have ever done. I don't have that kind of mentality to be a copy editor, but I sure learned a lot about editing and storytelling and about the area. It was a good way to do that.
Biagi: Were you commuting to Long Island?
Katz: We lived in Queens. We were supposed to be going to Singapore, where my ex-husband was going to be a law teacher, so we put that off, because I wanted to try Newsday. It was a big, famous paper, and I wanted to try that, so we put off going to Singapore for a year. I went to work for Newsday, and he got another degree, one of his many degrees, at Columbia, in international affairs. He already had a degree in international law from London, so this just went right in with it. So we lived in Queens, sort of in the middle, and I commuted to Long Island every day.
After three months I became night editor, and then in another couple of months I became the Sunday/projects editor, so I was in charge of all the projects that Newsday did—investigations and the Saturday and Sunday desk. I had an assistant.
Biagi: Your children now are how old?
Katz: Let's see. They would have been probably nine and seven, in there. Eight and six, something like that.
Biagi: So their care, how did you manage that?
Katz: How did we manage that? In Queens we had a family of people—a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter, a teenage daughter. She was great. She wore all kinds of leather and chains.
Biagi: The grandmother or the daughter? [Laughter.]
Katz: The daughter. No, the grandmother was great, and the mother—well, they were all great. Mrs. Baliner. I haven't thought of her in years. We've had a series of—I mean, I could never be a government official, because, in truth, I have hired illegal aliens. But we've had a series of people through the years.
Biagi: So the whole family would watch the kids?
Katz: The whole family would watch the kids. Then when I was night editor, it was great, because my hours were 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., and that was perfect, because I could come home at 5 a.m., stay up, have breakfast with the kids, then go to sleep, get up at one. Actually, it was the best shift I ever worked. Get up at one and do my errands or whatever, and when they came home from school at 3:30, I was available. Then they were young enough so they went to bed by nine,
and I was off to work. So that worked really well, and Steve was around to help, too. He did a lot. He was great with the kids.
Biagi: So you were at Newsday how long?
Katz: I was at Newsday briefly, only about a year, fourteen months. We moved to Austria, where Steve was a diplomat for the United Nations, and he still is with the United Nations.
Biagi: Was there ever a thought that you would stay at Newsday and he would go?
Katz: No. I mean, I think now those things happen, but the way we worked our career was, it was sort of like your turn, my turn, your turn, my turn. So this was his turn. All his life he had wanted to work for the United Nations, and when we came back from Britain, he was offered a job with the Law of the Sea Conference, because law of the sea was actually one of his expertises. But it was a three-month job, and I said, "We have two little kids, you have this mortgage. How can you leave your law firm and have a three-month job?" Well, the Law of the Sea Conference lasted twelve years, and he was really unhappy. So how many times do you get a second chance at something?
So the day before he was supposed to leave for Singapore, we hadn't told Newsday that, but he was supposed to leave for Singapore. Someone from the United Nations called him and asked him if he'd like to do a three-month stint in Vienna, and I said, "Go for it," because I had always felt guilty about the other thing. So he went and did that three-month stint, and it's now at least twelve years later, and he's still working for the United Nations.
Biagi: So he went first?
Katz: He went first, and we came. He went in June, and we moved there in October.
Biagi: So you just severed all ties with Newsday? Did you have an idea that you'd be back, or did you say you'd be back?
Katz: I never said I would, I never said I wouldn't, but I certainly never severed any ties.
Biagi: You weren't corresponding for them or anything.
Katz: I did that in Europe. I did some of that in Europe. That was a time when the Poles were coming out of Poland, very oppressive. They were leaving in droves. They all had to go through Vienna, so I did a lot of work on that for them. Then when that ended, someone solicited me for a job at a little weekly English-language daily called the Danube Weekly, and I worked for them for a while, until I took the whole staff and the whole staff quit. A totally stupid protest.
Biagi: Tell me about that protest, though.
Katz: I'm not even sure why we did it, but I'm sure it was very important at the time. They always would tell you in journalism school that you needed to be so pure, that if ever there was some question, you should be willing to just up and quit your job. Of course, they never figured you might have children and a home and all those things, or they never told you about that part. But the Danube Weekly was a place where I was making less than I was spending on things, so money was not the issue there. All I remember was that the publisher was a very difficult person,
and I'm sure it had something to do with that. The whole staff just up and quit one day. I didn't do journalism after that. I did some freelancing and tried to learn German.
Then in February of '83, I came back to the States with the kids.
Biagi: The art gallery in between.
Katz: No, the art gallery was years before in Wales.
Biagi: Years before in Wales. I had forgotten about that.
Katz: I came back in '83 and could have—Newsday had a job that they were holding for me, and I could have gone to work for them, but I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to them. I had some time to think about it, and I ended up going to work for Jim Toedtman, who was my boss in Boston, one of my bosses in Boston, and in Baltimore.
Biagi: Did he call you or find out about you again?
Katz: When I got back to the States, I called my friend Charlie O'Brien, because I was in Boston, and we kept seeing each other and he kept counseling me and helping me. I didn't know what I wanted to do. Then one day he took me to a party for the editor who we had both worked for at the Boston Herald, who was leaving to go, I guess, to Newsday. Jim Toedtman was there, too, and he at that time was the editor in Baltimore, at the Baltimore News American. He was looking for a managing editor. We had gone to school together, too, to journalism school together, although he was much older than I was. So he asked me if I would come to Baltimore as the managing editor, which was a pretty good deal—I mean, even though the paper was failing madly. It immediately put me into a very different place, so I decided to take the leap.
I went to Baltimore for the day. I really loved it. This was another paper that nobody ever read. In fact, we had this way of—whenever we went out on the streets and saw someone reading the paper, we'd give them a quarter so they could buy it again. But that was okay. It was, you know, bringing back another lost paper. In fact, this death barge actually sank. The Boston Herald is doing very well now, but the death barge of the News American actually did sink there years later.
Biagi: And you were there the day it died.
Katz: Yeah, I was the editor and the managing editor when it died—the last leader of the last newsroom. Right. I think that the experience in Baltimore was the greatest I ever had, because we were a band of people who were fighting the great enemy—the Baltimore Sun. We really stretched ourselves, and I had no clue how much I could do. I never knew until that time how much I could do, and I think a lot of people there felt that way, too. And we were so close, you know, we were like a little band of commandos against the great Baltimore Sun. We had a lot of hits, which was nice.
Biagi: What were some of the challenges you faced that you remember now?
Katz: Well, when anybody came to work wearing a tie, you knew they were out job-hunting, so you faced that challenge. You faced the challenge of the fact that people really weren't reading you and that your company wasn't really supporting you with any resources, so you faced the challenge of how to cover the news. With a shrinking reader base, we were supposed to be an
afternoon paper but the truth was that we came out just after the morning rush. We weren't late enough for an afternoon paper or early enough for a morning paper. Our delivery system was terrible. Of course, I didn't know anything about circulation at that time. I mean, sometimes I fantasize that if I knew then what I know now, I really could have saved that paper. I certainly could have done a lot better with it. But, you know, we forged on.
The paper failed on May 31, 1986. There is not a week that goes by that I don't hear from somebody there. We are still a very close band of people, and I have just hired someone who worked there. In fact, there are four or five people at the Register who used to work there with me.
Biagi: Did you have the same kind of a grizzled crowd that you had before?
Katz: Yeah. This will tell you what my newsrooms were like. In every newsroom but the Register, people actually dropped dead in the newsroom. [Laughter.]
Biagi: This is not a good historic fact.
Katz: No. I had my three. You know journalists say death comes in threes, so I've had my three. So that's the end of that. People actually keeled over in the newsrooms, which is very unpleasant, I can tell you.
Biagi: I bet it is.
Katz: Yeah, the News American was a very funky bunch. It was some yuppies, a nice diversity, but they didn't even realize they were diverse. I mean, they didn't realize that was a goal; it just happened because the city of Baltimore has a large black community and it hired a lot of black reporters, but they weren't using that in the sense that they were using it to understand the community these people represented, which is the whole point of diversity, it seems to me. There were a lot of older people there who had made their career there, people who—you meet them in all papers, except the Register, because we don't have that kind of crowd—a lot of dead wood, people who may have been great in their day, but sort of were—how to say it?—do nothing, relaxing on company time, and they were people who looked at the world differently than it really was, who were left behind in the changes of journalism.
It was a real challenge getting this group together, but we had a common enemy. It's like the State of Israel. We had a common enemy and that was the Baltimore Sun. We didn't understand at the News American about what competition really is, that competition is a beautiful sunny day, that television is competition, that niche publications—we never understood any of those things. So the Baltimore Sun was our enemy and we were totally focused on that. It actually was a very, very talented bunch of people, and when the paper folded, over a hundred recruiters came. Anybody who was sober did much better than they had ever done before.
Biagi: Is that how you got your job? [Laughter.]
Katz: Because I was sober?
Katz: No. Actually, I mean, I was in a really good position then, because there were—and still are—very few women in management, so I had a slew of job offers from people who had never
even met me. They didn't even care, which really made me very angry, because they wanted a woman manager in the newsroom.
Biagi: Did you know about the suits that were taking place in the newsroom?
Katz: No. I was so insulated, my whole life, I never learned—I guess I must have known about the AP [Associated Press] suit, because I knew Peggy Simpson. She also worked for Charlie. She was a Washington reporter when I was the State House reporter in Boston. And another woman, Shelley Cohen, who still is on the editorial page at the Boston Herald, she was also involved in that. But I never internalized any of that. It never was a problem for me, and I was never a feminist or a joiner. I never had a problem in all my years in the business. In fact, to be perfectly honest, the fact that I was a woman helped me a lot because times changed. I have a friend who works for the New York Times, and if she'd been around in the 1920s, she would have been an organizer in the shirt factories. If she'd been my age now, she'd be probably the editor of the New York Times, but unfortunately she's probably fifteen years older than me, and it's a tragedy, because she was totally overlooked and put down because she was just a woman. A great writer, great organizing skills, very passionate, very aggressive. Would have been a terrific editor.
Biagi: But you said that before, that you think it actually helped you. Why do you say that?
Katz: Because, you know, I was a woman manager at a time when people were looking for women managers.
Biagi: But you didn't know why they were looking for women managers?
Katz: No. I mean, I was totally naive. Working for the kinds of papers I did, you know, the second-class papers, although they were very good—don't get me wrong. The News American was a great newspaper, and people went to the best places. Probably 20 percent of the staff is at the Philadelphia Inquirer. We were really respected as a newspaper—great writers, great reporters.
I think that there was a time at the end of the eighties where everybody woke up to diversity and realized that—in fact, I had once been on a panel about pink-collar journalism. Was the newsroom of the nineties going to change because there were so many women? Because what you saw was an influx of women at the lower levels, and all of a sudden, reporting staffs had often more women than men. The pay was low, and men left and women stayed. So there was this push to move women up, and I was lucky. I was already a managing editor, and I think I'm okay at what I do. You know, I do it pretty well. I don't know if I'm the greatest journalist in America, but I think I can do it okay. So I think that that combination, and the fact that I'm pretty aggressive, that combination made people want to hire me.
Biagi: And you had had experience.
Katz: Experience in management. Right. Again, I know plenty of better journalists than I am, although I think I'm a pretty good journalist, but I wouldn't pretend that I'm one of the great journalists of the world. I have really good people skills and it helped me as a reporter and it helped me as an editor. I think editors were looking for that at the time.
Biagi: So who was it who was looking for you at that time?
Katz: Well, a lot of people. I had about thirty job offers, and I narrowed it down to three—the Los Angeles Times, Minneapolis, and Gannett. I didn't really think seriously of Gannett. But I decided not to go to the Los Angeles Times because they wanted you to go back, and somehow after that grueling experience at Baltimore, I felt I had earned what I had and wanted to go forward rather than back. I didn't want to have to prove myself all over again.
Biagi: They wanted you to become a reporter?
Katz: No, they wanted me to become a city editor, and I had been a managing editor. Not that I care particularly much about titles, but I really felt I had earned more than stepping back and just being one of millions of people. Minneapolis was a great place, and the editor there had hired me at Newsday, so I knew him real well and I really respect him, but it's also a very cold place, and they didn't have a job. They just wanted to hire me, but they didn't know as what, so that was kind of uncertain. I knew that I'd have a good job with money, good money, but I didn't know what I would be doing. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: So we have you in Baltimore, headed for California.
Katz: In the end, I went to work for Gannett.
Biagi: Was there somebody that you knew at Gannett?
Katz: No, I didn't know anybody. They solicited me, and they were very smart, I have to say. They basically said, "Go talk to anybody, but talk to us last." When the Baltimore News American folded, I had 120 people, approximately, who needed jobs, and I was trying to place them. I called Gannett and they invited me down for dinner.
Biagi: That's in San Bernardino?
Katz: No, they were in Washington [D.C.] or Virginia, I guess, is their headquarters. I went there for a dinner with all the Gannett big-wigs, trying to persuade them to take some of my people. At the same time, they were trying to persuade me that I wasn't thinking high enough, that I shouldn't want to be an editor of a paper, I should want to be a publisher. They show you these lists of women that they have as editors and publishers. I mean, it is clearly a company that has put their money where their mouth is on the issue of diversity and promoting people of color and women, and I respected that. I guess I was so worn down by the whole process, when John Quinn came over to the table and said, "When are you going to get this woman to come and work for us?" I just said, "Okay, okay," you know. "I'll come."
I went downstairs and called the Los Angeles Times from the lobby and said that I'd changed my mind and wasn't going to come to Los Angeles.
Biagi: So you had actually been hired.
Katz: Yes. Oh, yeah, I'd been hired and accepted the job, but it gnawed at me that it wasn't a job I felt was right, even though I really liked the person who had offered me the job, a lot.
So I accepted the job with Gannett as a general executive. But I never got to be a general executive, because a job opened up as managing editor in San Bernardino very quickly, and I got sent to California.
Biagi: So you moved from Baltimore to California.
Biagi: And you had never lived in California?
Katz: No, and, in fact, I had joked many times with my friends about what kind of crazy people live in California. You know, it's going to drop off the edge of the sea. And not only did I end up living in California, but I literally ended up living a mile from the San Andreas Fault. A friend of mine who is in television in Boston sent me a tape of a show that she had done which showed how San Bernardino would just evaporate when the Big One comes. She reminded me how I had said, "What kind of idiots would live in any place like that?" And there I was, sitting right there.
I worked for a great guy in San Bernardino who had been a publisher. I had this in my mind that—I couldn't understand the publisher's actions in Baltimore that resulted in the paper failing, and I felt either he knew something I didn't understand or else he was an idiot. I wanted to know which it was. So when Gannett basically said, "We'll train you as a publisher," that's what appealed to me about it. Bob Ritter, who was my boss in San Bernardino and had been a publisher, was a great person in the sense that he would sit you down next to him and basically show you how everything worked, really mentor you in that way. He gave me a share of the credit as well when we got Best of Gannett our first year. I soon realized that actually being a publisher is what I didn't want to do, because it involved bean-counting and all those things I hate in life. I don't even balance my checkbook. The most liberating moment in my life was when I stopped balancing my checkbook. For three cents, I'd spend eight hours trying to figure out where I went wrong.
Biagi: So bean-counting is not your strength.
Katz: Bean-counting is not my strength, no. I can add and subtract and that's about it. But I was very happy there. After, I guess, about thirteen months into my job in San Bernardino, I got a call from the then managing editor of the Orange County Register, asking me to meet him.
Biagi: That's Chris [Anderson]?
Katz: No, his name was Tim Kelly. He asked me to meet him and Chris for lunch, who was the editor at the time. We met in Riverside. I remember I told Bob that they had asked me.
And the funniest thing was that after I turned down the Los Angeles Times, the next day they called me back and said, "You're making a huge mistake." But by then I'd accepted, and I was going to stick with—I mean, I couldn't wishy-wash around anymore. I accepted Gannett, so I told them no. So the woman said to me, "Well, just don't ever go to work for the Register." Well, I had never really heard of the Register, so I said, "Fine, fine," and that was the end of that. And there I was, just a few years later, coming down the pike as assistant managing editor of the Register.
Biagi: This is what year?
Katz: I guess it was February 1, 1988. Chris and Tim and I had a very bizarre lunch.
Biagi: Why was it bizarre?
Katz: It was bizarre because nobody said why we were there. I said to myself after the first half hour, "I'm certainly not going to ask why. I'm going to bluff this out and see where it goes." We had this lunch. We talked about everything. I blithered on for hours, it seemed. I mean, Chris has this wonderful way of saying nothing and just staring at you, that can make you very uncomfortable. Tim lamely tried to keep the conversation going, and it was just awful.
I went back to my paper and said to Ritter, "You just would not believe this lunch." We laughed for hours about it.
The very next day, Tim called me back and he said, "Was that the worst experience of your life?"
I said, "It certainly was."
In the parking lot, as we went to leave this lunch, Tim went to get the car, and Chris said to me, "We're looking for someone good to replace an assistant managing editor for news who's leaving."
I said, "Well, I certainly hope you find that person." We shook hands and we parted, and that was the end.
Biagi: That was the only mention?
Katz: The only mention, the whole lunch. They certainly didn't say, "This is why you're here." I mean, so I just thought these were strange people.
So Tim called me back the next day and he said, "It was the strangest lunch. Would you come down and talk to us on Saturday about this job that we were trying to talk about?"
Biagi: In the parking lot.
Katz: In the parking lot. I said, "Okay, I'll come." So that next Saturday I drove down to Orange County, having never been here. I went to the Register, which is this incredibly state of the art, imposing—I mean, I had never been in a newsroom like this. It had everything. I spent the day, about seven hours, locked in a room with Chris and Tim, doing some more talking. Basically, they asked me what I would want to take the job, and I just threw out a number that was totally ridiculous in my mind, and Chris said, "Okay, that sounds pretty reasonable." Inside I was thinking, "Holy God! This is the most amazing thing!" But I said, "Do you think I could have a week to think this over?" You know, big decision. I was literally shaking.
I left the Register. I wanted that job so bad, I can't begin to tell you. Once I'd seen the place, I had seen the resources they had, had seen the paper, I had known of the paper the whole time I was in San Bernardino, and what wonderful things they were doing and how exciting it was. So when they actually offered me this job at what I thought was an amazing sum, I just went to a restaurant and just sat there and shook for about two hours, and then tried to figure out how I was going to work it physically, because I couldn't move. I thought they were pretty foolish, hiring me, because it seemed to me that they should have someone who lived in the county, but they were willing to hire me, even though I didn't live in the county.
Biagi: How far away did you live?
Katz: I lived about an hour and ten minutes. In California you measure by time as opposed to mileage. About an hour and ten minutes away. I talked with my kids, and they agreed I should take the job, and I did, and began this horrendous commute. But then someone from the Register took my job in San Bernardino, and we started switching families, I guess you'd say, and that made it a lot easier. About two nights a week we did that, and I went and stayed at his house with his kids and his cat, and he went and babysat my house and my kids and my dog. We've become lasting friends and our families have become close. It really worked out real well, but it was a rather bizarre arrangement when you think of it.
Biagi: When I met you a year ago or so, the job that you now have had just been offered to you, I guess. You, to me, seem to have the same kind of wondrous excitement about it and surprise.
Biagi: Why were you surprised?
Katz: Well, I mean, this is my third job at the Register. It's the longest I've ever stayed anywhere. I've never stayed anywhere longer than three years. Not that I ever felt I finished a job, but something better always came along. Several other things have come along in my time at the Register, some of them pretty amazing, but when I really sat down and thought about it, they've never been able to match the kind of work that is happening at the Register. I just feel that if anything's going to happen in United States journalism, it's going to come out of this newspaper and maybe a couple of other newspapers, but certainly this one.
So I got hired as assistant managing editor for news. Then we changed our whole newsroom and I moved up to managing editor, and that astonished me, because I just never imagined I'd get the job. I applied because I wanted the parking space. That's what I told the publisher, anyway, and because I didn't really want somebody else to be my boss, but I just assumed it was a futile effort.
Katz: I think because I had the feeling that women could only go so far. I underestimated by a long shot the people I work for. I got the managing editor's job, but then as far as the editor's job went, I mean, it all happened very fast, but I truly believed, in the two years between managing editor and editor, that the Register, being the size it was and having the reputation it was, they could get anybody to be their editor. I didn't imagine they would take the risk of having me as the editor, because it is a risk. At this point in time, women have made it to managing editor status, and there's probably a few women—well, there might be thirty, forty now, out of 1,700 papers. But at the little papers, women have a lot of jobs, but at the papers over 100,000, in 1993 there are only, if you believe the Los Angeles Times, only seven women who are the editors. The Register is the largest paper. We're the twenty-sixth biggest paper in the country and the largest paper that has a woman—the largest woman editor at the largest paper. [Biagi laughs.]
So I think I didn't believe that could happen. I didn't believe that was a possibility. The two or three times that people had significantly recruited me out of the Register, the publisher—I'm sure Chris made him do this—the publisher would come down and sit there and say, "Yes, a large Jewish woman could become the editor of this paper," but I never believed it. So I always was waiting, I think, to see what Chris would do, knowing or believing, anyway, that if he left or moved up, then I would have to leave. So I never really put any roots down for a long time.
Then it all happened in like twenty-four hours. Chris was moved up to associate publisher, and he came and talked to me about being editor, but he didn't say I was going to get the job. Far from it. He said that the paper had a rule, which I knew about, that they would do a national search for division heads. I said I understood that and I'd throw my hat in the ring if they wanted me to, because I didn't really want somebody else as my boss, but I really felt, "This is it. I'll probably be leaving here soon." That was on a Wednesday, I guess, or Tuesday.
On a Wednesday, Chris was actually named the associate publisher, and he talked to me about it. On Thursday morning, he met with the newsroom division heads to talk about the future. He had told me that we were going to have a national search, but when they asked the question of when we were going to have a new editor, he said he thought we'd have one by Monday. I was kind of stunned there, because I knew I was the only candidate in the house. Unless they had already done this wild national search or had the [unclear] national search, I thought, "This is pretty unusual."
That afternoon he asked me if I would go and talk to the publisher, and I did. I talked to him for half an hour. We had a nice chat. I mean, it was nothing in depth. It was just a little chat. That was Thursday. I guess on Thursday afternoon, Chris asked me if I wanted the job. It was so bizarre. The whole thing was so bizarre, I just said, "Sure. Okay."
He said, "Well, we'll announce it tomorrow."
The next morning, we held a newsroom staff meeting, and on the way to the staff meeting, Chris said, "By the way, the publisher says that you should be vice president," which is just another two words on your card and doesn't really get you anything, but, you know, it's a nice gesture on their part. So this all happened in four days.
Biagi: Why you, do you think?
Katz: Well, I was there, and I think they wanted to move quickly. That's one thing. I think our newsroom is so unusual that even now when we're trying to find people to work with us as managers, they really have to be reeducated. So I knew the drill and believed in it, truly believed in what we were doing. I think there was a feeling that we needed continuity. I got along pretty well with the staff. I don't think anybody was terribly unhappy that this happened. Maybe one or two. But I think there was continuity of philosophy and continuity of people. Chris had been away a lot as editor because he's very well known nationally, and I basically had carried the newsroom for a long time, so it was really just sort of giving me a lot of what I had already done. I get along really well with him, and I would still report to him. We just each moved up a step.
So it really kept all those things together. I think the fact that I truly believed in what we were doing and am a pretty flexible person, and I think they wanted to make a statement that they really would put their money where their mouth was when it came to diversity and changing times, because it really made a statement, I think. I don't know.
And for this publisher [R. David Threshie], who is a very wonderful man, a really caring man who is also an owner of this paper, so he really looks at it as a family, I think this was a very hard thing for him to do, because he's a traditionalist in many ways. I often find it amazing that he encourages change the way he does when he is such a traditionalist in his own viewpoint. I mean, traditional to the point of really being a man of the fifties in a lot of ways. So I really admire him for doing things that make him uncomfortable but that he thinks are right.
Biagi: Do you think you make him uncomfortable?
Katz: Yeah, I do.
Katz: The idea of a woman editor, much less a Jewish woman editor, to be perfectly honest, probably did make him very uncomfortable. I think we've really had to grow our relationship, and we've both worked very hard at it. I think he respects me, and I certainly respect him. He's vaguely said a couple of times that I do a pretty good job, but I think the idea of a woman running his paper must be hard for him to take some days. So I admire him for that.
Biagi: Do you think your being there will make a difference? If so, how?
Katz: Yeah, I think it has made a difference. I think my boss being there made a real difference, and I carry on that legacy that he left. He didn't leave very far; he moved up two flights of stairs, but I believe very much the same way he does. I think being a woman, being committed to diversity, having another view of the world. My whole life has been taking risks and encouraging people in my newsroom to do that. I think it makes a difference with that.
We got a book. The general manager and Chris, who is the associate publisher, work as a team, and they distributed a book to all the division heads, called Zap, which is, I guess, the going book now about how you manage people. It was very interesting to me and to a lot of women in my newsroom, because the guys who read it—it takes about changing cultures and empowering—the new word, empowering—your people. The men who read it just sit there and say, "Oh, this is fascinating." The women who read it say, "So what's new here?" Because I think women are nurturers and are sharers more than—
Biagi: Do you think there's a different style of female management?
Katz: Well, I've really been thinking about this a lot lately because of another editor that I know who has really moved up and how she's approached it. I think there are two styles of women management: you either become like men or you stay like women. This other woman that I know, who is a very powerful woman, her first day on her first job wore a man's suit—literally a man's suit with a tie—and has adopted a very manly way of doing things. I would just look dumb if I did that. I'm more the motherly type, I guess, and the teacher type, you know. I like to joke with my people. They try so hard, I try and make them at least somewhat happy and have a little fun at it. So I would say I go in the other direction. I try and use people skills to get them to do things.
Biagi: Let me ask you one last thing. When you started all of this, you were a very young girl walking into a newsroom that was very traditional. If a young girl like you walked into the newsroom today and wanted to become a journalist, what would you say to her?
Katz: That's a hard question. I would say take chances. I would say be willing to move—physically move from place to place. I would say learn as much as you can about things that have nothing to do with journalism. I would say hone your people skills. I would say study other companies, not the media, to see the kinds of things that they're doing, that are innovative. I would say try and be innovative. I would definitely say be honest with yourself and be honest in the way you present yourself to people. I mean, I've always been just me, and I think that's helped me a lot. I haven't tried to be anybody else. I think that's really important.
Biagi: It seems you care an awful lot about journalism, though.
Katz: I do. I think I'm a very lucky person. The publisher and I just talked about this yesterday. So many people in this world work at jobs they hate, and so their life is spending eight hours at something they hate, and their life is everything else. If you're a journalist, it is your life. It's a way of life; it's not a job. So you either have to love it or get away from it, because they don't pay that way. I could make three times what I make if I left journalism, as a manager of a company. A lot of these skills are very transferrable.
You have to love what you do, and I really believe that. I got into the business because I believe that what we do can make a difference. When I went to APME two weeks ago, all these people were sitting around, wringing their hands and saying that journalism was changing, and they hoped to hell it didn't change too much in the next fifteen years before they retired. I look at it completely differently. I think this is the most exciting time in journalism. I mean, I can't believe how exciting this is. We're talking about delivering information in many, many different ways. Technology is changing every day. We're talking about getting the word out to people in ways we can't even imagine now, and changing the way we do things, how we do things, and yet still having that important role that I think the media has. We're at a time when we're at our lowest in the way people look at us, so we have our image to change, the way we work to change, the way we present information to change, and the kind of information we have is going to change, that we are giving is going to change. So, to me, the opportunities and the possibilities are fantastic.
I'm really glad that I'm here now instead of back then, because I don't think I would have been able to have this kind of role. I mean, I'm pushy enough so I probably would have had some kind of role, but sometimes I can't believe that I'm so lucky to be here now, because we're going to set the changes for the next fifty years right now in what we're doing, and we have so many other things to think about in the way we're doing things. So it's real exciting. It's never boring. I have never had a day that I didn't want to go to work or a day that was boring. I just wish some of them were a little shorter, because I'm getting older and it's harder to do. But they're always fun—always.
Biagi: Thank you.
Katz: Thanks. Fun!
© 1993, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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