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2008-02-15 17:15:00

NAREE Gets the Last Word from Orlando Sentinel Publisher

Kathleen WaltzIt was a night to remember for journalists attending the National Assn. of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) reception Feb. 13 at the International Builder Show in Orlando, FL.
The guest speaker was Kathleen M. Waltz, publisher of The Orlando Sentinel for seven years, and a 34-year veteran with Tribune Co., owner of the Sentinel.  Chicago-based Tribune, which also publishes The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, recently was taken private in an $8 billion deal mounted by Sam Zell, the Chicago real estate investor.
In a well-received session, Waltz spoke of  how newspapers can stay vibrant in today's changing media environment. Unusually candid, Waltz said newspapers long ago had lost the franchise that assured a 20-25% return on investment for owners. Classified sections, those featuring autos and jobs, are dead in the water, she said.
"How can you compete with free ads such as those on Craigslist," she asked. The industry, she said was slow to see this happening.

Applause broke out after she firmly said she thought advertorial real estate sections pandered to advertisers, but did not serve readers. She said now, with real estate in a slump, was a time for newspapers to revive real estate sections and to experiment with how such news is presented.

She also dismissed the notion that reporters need to be jacks of all trades -- Internet writers, video correspondents, and bloggers. That assures a loss in quality, away from their basic mission, she said. But reporters do need to understand the business side of newspapering, she said, and to realize what makes a successful news and advertising operation.

Flattering her real-estate writer audience, she said she could think of no other topic -- except health care -- that was as important to readers because it strikes them where they live, and within their home communities.

She also offered a broader view of making newspapers ALL LOCAL, ALL THE TIME. The operative standard of judgment on coverage should be "Who Cares?," she said.

The audience filled a reception room in the Orange County Convention Center.

Little did they know that they would be hearing Waltz last public address as publisher of the Sentinel.

The next day -- Valentine's Day -- Waltz tendered her resignation, saying that she was leaving after discussions with the new ownership on streamlining the paper's operations. Her departure came days after Zell had paid a visit to the Sentinel, meeting with staff, and became involved in a heated exchange with a staff photographer in which he was quoted using the "F" word.

(Carl Larsen is a free-lance writer and a past president of the National Assn. of Real Estate Editors.)

NAREE Members React to Waltz's Departure from Orlando Sentinel 

By Mary Doyle-Kimball
NAREE News Editor & Executive Director

"It's not a good day," said Harold Bubil, Real Estate Editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as he learned the news that Orlando Sentinel Publisher, Kathleen Waltz, left the paper today, less than 24 hours after Waltz spoke to the NAREE reception at the International Builders Show. 

"She was one of the few people who understood both sides of the business, so I'm surprised she lasted this long," said Steve Kerch, editor of Marketwatch and a former real estate editor for the Chicago Tribune, a sister paper of the Orlando Sentinel and the lead paper in Tribune Company which owns both papers. Kerch started as real estate editor at the same time Waltz began working in the classified ads at the Tribune many years ago.

Shannon Behnken of the Tampa Tribune who also heard Waltz's remarks was disheartened with today's news after hearing Waltz's candid remarks to  the NAREE reception, "I thought it was encouraging that even though she was a publisher, she cared about journalism."

Bubil expressed shock and alarm saying," It makes us staffers wary when we see publishers jump off the ship. We look to the leadership to stay the course.

Many reporters stopped by the NAREE Table outside the Press Room at the International Builders' Show after the news of Waltz's departure spread by word of mouth and e-mails to myriad real estate editors, writers, columnists, and authors gathered in Orlando. 

Syndicated columnist and NAREE past president Lew Sichelman summed up the buzz on the lips of many as he sped by, " The real question is, 'Why did she leave?'"

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