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From AJR,   December 2012/January 2013  issue

A Rebirth in Orange County    

After being laid off by the Los Angeles Times, reporter Margot Roosevelt is excited about joining the burgeoning staff of the OC Register.Fri., December 21, 2012.


By Gabby Siskind
Gabby Siskind (gsiskind3@gmail.com) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.     

It's been quite a rollercoaster for Margot Roosevelt.

Last year, the veteran journalist, with more than 30 years of reporting experience, found herself a victim of the traumatic changes that have rocked the newspaper business in recent years: She was laid off by the Los Angeles Times.

Now she's been caught up in Publisher Aaron Kushner's hiring spree at the Orange County Register, where she's covering the economy for the paper's business section.

"We hired Margot, just as we have hired dozens of others, because we like the verve and skill she brings to her work and felt we had an important area [where] she could bring that passion to bear for our subscribers," says Kushner, who is also CEO of Freedom Communications Holdings, the Register's parent company.

While many legacy news outlets have been cutting back, Kushner, whose private equity group acquired the paper in July, is adding journalists, lots of them, to the roster. Kushner says he has created 100 positions, and more are coming.


Margot Roosevelt

And Roosevelt is excited to be one of the new hires.

"The Register is one of the most dynamic newspapers in the country," she says. "It has attracted a score of talented new reporters to complement an already excellent staff."

That's quite a contrast to what has happened at the Times, whose staff is far smaller than in its glory days and whose owner, Tribune Co., is emerging from bankruptcy.

"I was surprised to be laid off from the L.A. Times after five years, but the paper has had to shrink by half in recent years," Roosevelt says. "The paper had five environmental reporters, and when they sought to cut costs, I was the person with the least seniority."

But Roosevelt hardly spent the past year on the beach. She had a yearlong writing stint with Reuters as part of "American Mosaic," an ambitious polling project. Roosevelt traveled to eight states, writing news features about how groups like veterans, evangelicals and steelworkers felt about the issues and candidates in the 2012 election.

Roosevelt, who says she's "over 50," started reporting for the Washington Post in 1979 after graduating from Harvard University. She first worked for the Metro desk and then moved on to the National staff, where she had the opportunity to cover presidential and congressional campaigns. "As a congressional reporter, I learned how the legislative branch works, and was able to cover a kaleidoscope of constantly evolving issues," she says. "I learned to be a quick study and write fast."

Roosevelt then moved to New York as the Post's bureau chief, where she covered breaking news one day and wrote profiles for the Style section the next.

In 1988, Roosevelt joined Time magazine as its Paris correspondent. "I already spoke French and Spanish. It was a great beat with a lot of freedom," she says. "I had a fascinating time covering everything from Nazi collaboration trials in France to Spanish Presidential elections to Olympics in Lillehammer and Barcelona to the election of an African-born mayor in Brittany to the Corsican independence movement to a road race through Niger and Mali."

When Roosevelt returned to the U.S. in 1994 as Time's national correspondent, she asked to be based in Los Angeles. "Southern California is a place of many cultures," she says. "It is the state where so much happens first, and the beat gave me the opportunity to roam the Western U.S."

In 2007, as Time was closing many of its national bureaus, Roosevelt joined the Los Angeles Times. "I was delighted to move to the L.A. Times to launch a new beat covering climate policy and science," she says. "California was embarking on an unprecedented effort to cut its carbon footprint through legislation that would affect every industry in the state. I had covered environmental issues at the Post and Time, so it was a good fit."

Even though her stint there ended unhappily she was on assignment in Alaska 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle when she received an e-mail with news about her layoff Roosevelt says she has no regrets. "There were no drawbacks to working at the L.A. Times. I loved it."

As for her new gig, Roosevelt says, "In changing jobs, I look for the opportunity to keep learning, which is what makes journalism such a great profession. And I look for a happy workplace."

And she feels the Register is the right opportunity.

For a newspaper whose former parent company filed for bankruptcy three years ago, the outlook has changed dramatically. Not only is Kushner hiring while others are slashing, he's concentrating heavily on print while others are adopting digital-first strategies.

"We bought Freedom and the Register because we believe deeply in the importance of major metro newspapers and journalism," he says. "And we're a little bit crazy to think we can buck the trends, at least in this particular market."

For her part, Roosevelt is glad to be part of the bold venture.

"The owners are willing to invest in [the paper's] future," she says, "and, given the attraction of Southern California, I am optimistic the region and the paper will continue to grow."