Virginia F. “Ginger” Moorhouse of The Bakersfield Californian has been named Editor & Publisher magazine’s Publisher of the Year for 2003.
Previous winners include Arthur Sulzberger Jr. of The New York Times, William Dean Singleton of The Denver Post, and Orage Quarles III of The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.
The 71,495-circulation Californian is a family-owned paper, and Moorhouse is from the fourth generation of her family to run the property.
Mark Fitzgerald, in his cover story in E&P this week — also available today to registered subscribers online — cites several reasons for the honor. Newspaper industry insiders, he notes, “a few years ago began to take note of the transformation Moorhouse and her team were working on a paper that had long had a poor reputation among its peers.” These days, he notes, the Californian “is operated like a paper several times its size,” aided by innovations in advertising, circulation, and customer relations and new capital projects.
Just as importantly, she has directed dramatic editorial improvements. “She wants aggressive journalism and is willing to take the heat when it comes,” says the paper’s Executive Editor Mike Jenner.
Perhaps the most stunning example of this was an eight-page package running this past Jan. 19 which exposed the so-called “Lords of Bakersfield”: a shadowy cabal of powerful local leaders with secret (and often evil, even deadly) lives. “Even more extraordinary,” writes Fitzgerald, “was the story the family-owned paper told on itself. A long-ago general manager was revealed as a suspected child molester. The Californian‘s past practice of burying or killing embarrassing stories was documented.” And former Publisher Ted Fritts — brother of current Publisher Ginger Moorhouse — was linked to an underage gay prostitute.”
“I think it was kind of a defining piece for our paper,” Moorhouse says.
Asked about keeping the paper in the family, Moorhouse replies: “I would never sell the newspaper. There is no price that is high enough.” Her two daughters currently work at the Californian.
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