By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
EXETER – After three decades in the newspaper business, Katie Byrne is ready to publish the next story of her life – retirement. Byrne announced earlier this year that she will retire on Aug. 31, 2017 ending a 24-year career with Mineral King Publishing, Inc. and its print and digital products. The Foothills Sun-Gazette is inviting the community to come celebrate the career of longtime publisher Katie Byrne at a retirement party from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 24 at the newspaper’s offices, 120 N. E St. in downtown Exeter.
“I am excited to see the changes in the industry and I hope this community will continue to embrace the new era of newspapers,” said the 65-year-old Byrne. “We have a podcast studio now which is a brilliant example of the changes in the industry going on across the nation.”
Katie’s own era of newspaper business began all the way across the country near the center of the marketing and news industries. After a career in New York’s esteemed garment industry, Byrne made the switch to newspapers working for two dailies and a weekly in New York. She moved to the Valley in 1990 and worked two years for the Visalia Times-Delta. During that span, Byrne quickly made a name for herself in the Gannett Network, the nation’s (and one of the world’s) largest newspaper chains, and in other industry-leading companies. As the retail sales supervisor for Visalia Times-Delta, Byrne built a successful Church Page that immediately boosted the paper’s revenue. That same year, Byrne was recognized by the Los Angeles Times’ new business development manager for her efforts to build marketing campaigns for local retailers using co-op money from their national parent companies.
“I’ve always enjoyed the creativity of fostering an account to success, like being their own personal marketing company,” Byrne said. “That part of the job was very rewarding.”
Looking to get out of the corporate world to a more familial atmosphere at a small business, Byrne found a long-term home and success with The Exeter Sun. The Sun was a booming weekly newspaper in Tulare County’s most sought-after community and part of her sales territory during her time with the Times-Delta.
“I didn’t want to work for a large company any longer,” she said. “In Exeter I felt more a part of the community than I did at larger papers in larger cities.”
She joined the weekly newspaper as a sales representative in 1993 and moved up quickly within the business and the company, Mineral King Publishing, Inc. (MKP) She was promoted to General Manager in 1996, then publisher in 1997 and purchased half of the company in 1998.
“I liked being part of the conversation in the community, good, bad or indifferent,” she said. “I have always felt that the newspaper is one of the most vital businesses in town.”
Byrne weathered many storms in the industry, including the age of consolidation. While daily newspapers were being swallowed up by media conglomerates, weekly newspaper chains were consolidating brands to sustain profitability as the cost of print began to skyrocket. At one time, MKP owned five community newspapers including The Sun, Lindsay Gazette, Woodlake Echo, Farmersville Herald and Three Rivers Current. By 1998, MKP had discontinued all but The Sun and the Gazette.
“I learned over the years that the town claimed ownership of the content and that you have to be part of the town to understand what they want to read in their paper,” she said. “It was never about what the newspaper wanted, it was about what the community expected.”
In 2005, Byrne became sole owner of MKP and combined its remaining newspapers into The Foothills Sun-Gazette. Later that year, Byrne sold half of the company to Reggie Ellis. With Byrne serving as president and CEO and Ellis as vice president and publisher, the Sun-Gazette was able to overcome the housing collapse and the ensuing Great Recession by diversifying with high-quality magazines and online subscriptions.
“I truly enjoyed sharing the day-to-day operations with Reggie,” she said.
Ellis added, “Katie was a great mentor for more after moving up in the company at such a young age. She taught me the business side of the industry and I like to think I helped her understand more of the journalism side of the industry.”
Byrne was also a key player in the community as well. She served on the board of directors of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, Exeter Boys & Girls Club and Exeter Community Health Fund, charged with distributing the assets of the former Memorial Hospital District back into the community. As a member of the Church of God of Exeter, Byrne accompanied two mission groups to Honduras and was the Mission’s Ministry Chair when the church sent missionaries to Africa.
But her most enduring legacy might be breaking down barriers in local service clubs. Byrne was only the second female member of the Exeter Kiwanis Club in 1992 and in 2000 became its first ever female president.
“It was an honor to be respected enough by the gentlemen of Kiwanis to be awarded such a prestigious position,” she said.
Byrne said she is looking forward to spending more time with her family in retirement. She and husband Wes Byrne have been married for 28 years and Wes retired from Cal Trans earlier this year. Their son Dillon, 26, recently graduated from Sacramento State University in marketing and communications, and their daughter Emily, 9, is attending Sequoia Union Elementary in Lemon Cove. Katie will also continue her quilting business, KT’z Kwilt Kompany, out of her home. Anyone in need of a quilt can contact her at 559-280-3447.
“I will miss the people and being part of the face of tomorrow’s newspaper, but I am looking forward to continuing my home business during the day and having nights and weekends free to be a wife, a mother and a grandmother.”