Santa Cruz’s 161-year-old daily newspaper will have a new editor starting tomorrow, Friday, Dec. 1.
Don Miller, the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s editor for the last ten years, is leaving, as he announced in a Thanksgiving column. Kara Meyberg Guzman—currently the paper’s digital editor—will be taking over his responsibilities, and she sounds surprisingly optimistic, even saying that she’s excited about the possibilities.
“This is turning over a new leaf for the newspaper,” says Guzman, a former contributor to GT. “I am not only the first woman, but also the first person of color taking on this role. On top of that, I’m under 35. I’m young. I’d like to focus on attracting younger readers who look like me.”
Although casual observers may not see younger Americans as big news readers, a recent Nielsen Scarborough survey found that readership among millennials has been growing.
Guzman’s official title will be managing editor, and she’ll work only for the Sentinel, whereas Miller also served as editor for the Monterey Herald in recent years. The two papers are owned by the same group, Digital First Media, which is turn owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital.
The change follows the news that the Sentinel’s arts and entertainment editor Wallace Baine will also be leaving, as we reported earlier this month. But Miller says he will stay on for a few hours per week—through a few months, at least—to write “occasional” editorials.
Tom Honig—the paper’s former editor, prior to Miller—says that it’s a blow for the newspaper to lose someone with Miller’s years of experience.
“There aren’t any older people in the room now, with Don leaving,” Honig says. “There was a lot of wisdom handed down from the older people in the room, and that layer has just been lopped off.”
Miller says he picked Guzman as his successor because of her integrity, curiosity, perseverance and sense of community. “She’s going to need that spirit to survive the headwinds that are rocking the newspaper industry,” he says.
Guzman had been a reporter for the Sentinel before leaving in 2015. She returned as a digital editor in March of 2017, after longtime city editor Julie Copeland, who could not be reached for comment, left due to reasons that the paper’s human resources declined to discuss on the record.
The Sentinel has shed considerable staff in recent years, even as its parent company Alden Global Capital rakes in handsome profits from Digital First Media. A September story in The Nation detailed how the hedge fund’s cruel cost-cutting at Digital First—America’s second biggest newspaper group—is making an already tough journalism market much worse. The article details how Alden’s founder and chief of investments went on a 2013 spending spree, buying up $52 million worth of Palm Beach mansions, while his company gutted newsrooms—downsizing venerable papers like the San Jose Mercury News and the Oakland Tribune, which has been combined with the Contra Costa Times into a conglomeration called the East Bay Times.
Guzman is reluctant to share her long-term strategy, as she hasn’t had time get into depth with her reporters about what’s next, but she hopes to help reporters take on more investigative pieces and “deep dives”—something she believes journalists can do with a little time management guidance. And she wants to drive more readers toward the website. “It involves having a print product that’s different from our online product,” Guzman says.
Honig remembers when the Sentinel had 42 people in the newsroom, although that included positions that many papers no longer hire, like newsroom clerks and even copy editors. The Sentinel website’s “Contact Us” page lists 24 employees, including in advertising and marketing.
Honig—who retired amid an earlier era of financial strain in 2007—says there’s no way to compare the paper back then to the current Sentinel, although he says he admires the work the reporters crank out with limited resources.
““I could see the handwriting on the wall,” Honig says, “but I didn’t expect this many cuts.”
Guzman know it’s “no secret” that the local daily has shed its share of jobs, especially in the past three years.
“That’s what happens when you’re owned by a hedge fund,” she says. “But I’m worried that people see this change, with both Wallace and Don Miller leaving at the same time, as a sign of turmoil. But I also see this as an opportunity.”