Adapting in a Dying Field: Kaytlyn Leslie’s Mission to Serve SLO County

By Claire Wilson 

February 17, 2024

During her junior year of high school, Kaytlyn Leslie’s mother signed her up for the school newspaper. “She was like ‘this’ll be great, this’ll be a great way for you to learn how to talk to people,’” recalls Leslie. This sparked a life-long love for journalism and a commitment to serving her community. “I just really ended up falling in love with the entire thing about it. I had always liked English and writing, but I’m also nosey,” she says, laughing, “so it combined some interests for me.”

At Cal Poly, Leslie majored in journalism and during her first year became the news editor of Mustang News. This experience gave her valuable leadership experience which would eventually lead to an internship at The Tribune, where she has now been working for over a decade. Editor Joe Tarcia speaks to her enthusiasm as an intern, saying, “anything we asked, she was like, ‘yeah let me do that’, ‘yeah I’ll do it’, can you do this story here? “Yeah I’ll do it. And then we had this opening and we’re like, why are we looking anywhere when we have this person who is eager to jump at it?”

Leslie’s eagerness to serve her community is a large part of what drives her to excel in her job. “I think that’s a really important tool for young journalists,” she says, “to always have that internal dialogue where you’re asking are we doing this in the most responsible manner, how are we serving our community. You need to be constantly asking yourself that because sometimes even small stories will explode out into things you didn’t necessarily expect, and it’s really important to be reporting on things sensitively. We’re in service to our community and I try to always remember that.” 

Today, American journalism is facing a myriad of challenges. For decades, newsrooms have steadily been shrinking, 26% since 2008, according to the Pew Research Center. As a result of smaller staffs,  journalists are tasked with more and more. Now, in addition to writing stories, they are responsible for being copy editors, photographers, videographers, and social media marketers. Journalists get burnt out a lot more these days, a main reason for the high turnover of reporters in the field. Leslie explains, “you end up losing a lot of that legacy knowledge that you used to have. Even when I first started we had people who had been working for the Tribune for decades and they had a lot of institutional knowledge. Slowly over the years they’ve left for various reasons, retirements, things like that. You just lose that depth that used to be there and so that becomes a situation where you have to constantly be training new people and they have to be learning the information again and again and again.”

In the eleven years Leslie has worked for The Tribune, she has seen many of these challenges firsthand. She explains, “as we get smaller we can’t cover the volume of things we used to, or can’t cover them in the same way, or even aren’t physically present as much as we used to be. We used to be very present. We used to have a huge building on South Higuera, people knew to come in there, we had the paper boxes out everywhere. We were very present.” Just this week, The Tribune announced that later this year, the publication will transition to two days of print per week. “This is another key move for us within the digital transition of the news industry,” writes Tarcia, “and a vital step toward the sustainability of The Tribune.” 

Kaytlyn Leslie in the Tribune's new office space

According to Josh Friedman of Cal Coast News, “in 2019, The Tribune slashed one day a week of print, eliminating its Saturday edition after its parent company McClatchy reported a net loss of $42 million in the first quarter of the year.” In 2020, the company filed for bankruptcy before being auctioned off to a hedge fund. 

As audiences shift away from print, papers around the country are going digital. At some point, Leslie predicts, The Tribune too will be fully online. “As sad as that will be, at some point that is definitely going to be the situation,” says Leslie. “When you look at finances specifically, some of the biggest costs that print media has is paper and ink. That’s not a cost online.” Although this is difficult for those in favor of traditional print journalism, these changes are helping the Tribune adapt to the ever-changing climate of digital media in the modern world. 

As the world of journalism becomes more demanding and unstable, many young journalists find themselves discouraged. But journalism can be incredibly rewarding, says Leslie, if you “at your core believe in your news organization’s mission. You have to want to be doing a service.” It’s clear that at her core, Leslie is deeply community service oriented and passionate about her work, and it is these qualities that have kept her afloat through the tumultuous world of modern journalism.