Katherine Long is prolific.
In her 29 years at The Seattle Times, she’s racked up over 2,050 bylines. She’s reported on police, schools, city politics, higher education, the city of Bellevue and Snohomish County.
She once ran the paper’s news library because of her expertise with data, getting information that many reporters didn’t know how to find alone.
But now the veteran reporter is ready for a new adventure: freelancing. After covering education for nearly a decade, Long will explore other subjects with her reporting, such as science, the environment and climate change. First, she plans to do a lot of camping and relaxing.
Before she says goodbye to The Times, Katherine Long sat down for one last interview. This time, she was on the other side of the notebook.
This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
You’ve worked in newspapers for 35 years, and at The Times for 29 of those. The news industry has changed a lot in that time. How did you first get interested in the field?
My mother went into journalism at a time when women were writing features but weren’t doing a lot of hard news. One of the really formative things for me was in the early 1970s, when I was 11 or 12 years old, we moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and my mother became the legislative reporter for the afternoon newspaper there. She was a woman in a place that was notoriously a “good old boys” club. She had a hard deadline to file a story from the Capitol in the early afternoon nearly every day, and it was pretty amazing. After that my parents owned a small weekly paper in Florida, so I grew up with journalism.
What are the most significant changes you’ve seen? How have you stayed so adaptable to them?
The biggest change, honestly, is that newsrooms are much smaller. There was much more scrutiny of government back when I started. Computers and the internet are big ones too, obviously. It used to be if you were out reporting, you had to call the newsroom library to check every single fact. As far as staying adaptable, don’t discount any technology that comes around. Keeping your mind flexible is a good thing.
Did you always want to cover education? What kept you on the beat over the years? Has the beat itself changed at all?
When I was originally covering K-12 in my early years, I was interested in how my own kids were learning in schools here. And when I started covering higher education, my kids were going into college themselves, so it was fun to be covering it at a time when my own children were experiencing it. Higher education is a different beast. Colleges have their own police force, land-use issues, all these things you don’t have to consider covering K-12. Also you can actually talk to kids in their college years because they’re over 18! (Reporters don’t talk to kids below that age without asking their parents first.)
What are some of your biggest takeaways from covering higher education for so long?
I started on the beat after the recession started, and since then universities have found better ways to get money to the students who need it. If you’re a kid who is given the resources to get a head start on college in any way, you can do well in this state. The challenge is getting the info to kids who most need it.
You’re interested in covering the environment and climate change as you move to freelancing. Why is that?
I’ve had that interest for a long time — I actually met my husband while covering a sewage bond public hearing. I also snuck some environmental stories into the higher-education beat when I could. I wrote about a climate grief class at the UW, and the university’s divestment from coal. But last year there was a Washington Post column by Margaret Sullivan about how journalists need to cover climate change like it’s the biggest story of our lives, because it is. That resonated with me, and I’m going to try to learn a lot moving forward — about farming, plastics, forests and the wildfires that we’re seeing here every summer.
What will you miss most about The Times?
The people. They are so funny, irreverent, smart and willing to question everything. I say to friends of mine, democracy can’t work without the press, but people don’t know what they’re losing when newsrooms shrink. I’m happy to continue doing journalism; now I’m just going to be doing it in a different way.
NOTABLE STORIES BY KATHERINE LONG
Washington’s major new higher-education bill will greatly expand the amount of money available for low- and moderate-income families to help pay college tuition.
With fewer juvenile offenders locked up, an unexpected consequence arises for schools that teach them
The trend away from locking juveniles up for crime has had an unexpected consequence, as institutions that teach them are running out of money. Higher teacher salaries and changes in the way public schools are funded have had an impact, too.
A pilot program at the University of Washington is finding ways to better support black and brown male students, who often find the campus isolating and unsupportive, and who graduate at lower rates.
The number of students studying the humanities at the University of Washington is shrinking, with some majors down as much as 50 percent in a decade. It’s having a financial impact, and also affecting the breadth of the university’s expertise.
Find previous Behind the Byline interviews on our Inside the Times page. Want to learn more about your favorite Seattle Times journalist? Send a message to assistant metro editor Gina Cole.
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