When Cathy Taylor left her job as opinion and commentary editor at the Orange County Register in December 2011, she had no idea she'd be rejoining the paper in less than a year and a half.
Taylor, 57, who worked at the Register from 1983 to 2011, has reopened the paper's shuttered Washington bureau, which closed in 2010. For Taylor, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
"I had been in touch and remained in touch with my friends at the Register, and I talked with [Editor] Ken Brusic a little earlier this year about things on the Human Events end and how I wasn't quite sure how it was going to work out," Taylor says. "Fortunately, they had been thinking of reopening the Washington bureau, so the timing was good."
Taylor was working in D.C. as editor of Human Events, a conservative national weekly, while talks of reviving the bureau were going on in Orange County. When Human Events shut down its print edition in February, Register editors' thoughts immediately turned to Taylor as the person to relaunch the bureau.
"We were going to wait for a while, but as I talked to Cathy, she became more interested and more available, and so we sealed the deal," Brusic says. "It's really great for us. First of all, she's a wonderful person, great character, very smart and she represents the Register really well."
The Register's move is unusual for newspapers in today's difficult financial climate. While digital outlets such as BuzzFeed and Talking Points Memo have opened new Washington outposts in recent years, newspapers have been much more apt to close them than open them.
The bureau, which opened on April 2, is just one of the many new initiatives at the Southern California daily. Since Publisher Aaron Kushner and his investment company, 2100 Trust, bought its parent company, Freedom Newspapers, last June, the paper has "hired more than 150 people in the newsroom since August, and we've expanded space in our newspaper by more than 60 percent," Brusic says.
Bureau Chief Taylor is encouraged that the Register is growing at a time when many newspapers are cutting back. "I look at national publications that have made big investments in what they serve readers, such as the Wall Street Journal, and I can see that people recognize and value the improvement in content," Taylor says. "On a regional level, that's what the Orange County Register is doing... I think that the things that Kushner and Brusic are doing are big and bold, and I applaud them for it."
Taylor will be responsible in her new role for tailoring Washington-based political news for residents of Orange County.
"Covering what our..representatives and senators are doing will be the biggest priority," she says. "We'll examine California issues, Orange County issues and focus on making the connection between what's happening locally in OC and how relevant policies are being considered in Washington." The bureau will focus on the economy and jobs, immigration, technology, health care and explanatory pieces that detail the processes and procedures of public policy.
Martin Wisckol, a politics reporter at the Register, had "kept the flame burning," says Taylor, by focusing on local angles in Washington in the absence of a D.C. correspondent. With the reopening of the bureau, Wisckol will have more time to focus on other aspects of California politics.
"There's no question," he says, "that if you are physically close to the people that you cover, and if you're around them on a regular basis, you hear more, you have more off-the-record conversations and you're more immersed in the minutiae than you can be remotely like I am."
He adds, "The real story, obviously, is that the Orange County Register is doing something no other newspaper is doing, and it's growing its newsroom. What other daily paper is reopening its Washington bureau? When was the last time a paper did that?... I hope we're successful. I hope everyone follows our lead, and I'm sure glad to have some help in Washington."
The number of papers with Washington bureaus has declined sharply over the years. According to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, 551 newspapers had a Washington presence in the mid-1980s. By 2008, that number had plummeted to 262. In a 2009 article in AJR, Jennifer Dorroh reported that more than 40 regional reporter positions in D.C. had been scrapped in the three previous years.
Jodi Enda, a senior writer and editor at the Project for Excellence in Journalism who has studied Washington coverage for AJR, says that the bureau will give the Register a boost that could be valuable to readers. "You can't cover Washington from California," she says. "You have to be on the Hill. You have to really be in Washington to know what's going on in Washington." She adds, "I think that for the readers, this should make a big difference."
Taylor sure hopes so, adding that her goal is to produce copy that the audience finds irresistible. "I think that the news coverage from this reporting hopefully will be things that our readers find addictive," she says.
Having spent time on the D.C. scene, Taylor knows that political reporting can be an all-consuming "full immersion sport and job." To totally get away from it all, Taylor spends her free time fixing up an early 1700s farmhouse near West Chester, Pennsylvania, with a friend.
"While we're scrubbing and bringing that old house to life, I think about, metaphorically, keeping the nation on track and thinking about everything that happened before and all the sacrifices that people made to get us here today," she says. "That clears my mind and gives me the energy to come back here and say, 'Wow, this is really important. And we do have to pay attention.' Hopefully, I can find a way to find the relevant stories. It's a serious job, and I hope to do my best."