Two of The State Journal’s top editors have announced their resignations, with Editor Dan Liebman stepping down days after News Editor Katheran Wasson announced she was leaving the paper.
State Journal Publisher Ann Dix Maenza announced Liebman’s departure and his successor — Phil Case, editor of the newspaper’s sports and Spectrum sections — in a staff meeting Wednesday.
Liebman, 55, is scheduled to remain on The State Journal’s staff until July 1, Maenza said, noting she intends to fill the vacant editorships in the paper’s news, sports and Spectrum divisions.
Liebman, owner of Staxx BBQ, said he plans to open a new restaurant after buying the vacant property next to his barbecue eatery, though he declined to specify what type of restaurant would fill the former Capitol Pizza Co.
He had debated resigning his position in recent months, he said, and Wasson’s decision to leave the newspaper for a marketing writer’s job with Big Ass Fans in Lexington cemented his thinking. Liebman said he would have likely stepped down later this summer had Wasson, 30, elected to stay with The State Journal. She announced her resignation Friday, and Liebman filed his notice Sunday.
“When Katheran made her decision, I really thought in fairness to Ann it’s best for me to go ahead and decide now so she could deal with it all at once,” Liebman said in his office Wednesday. “… I really had kind of in my mind, I think, made the decision.”
‘A great career’
Liebman, a Frankfort native who had previously worked as editor of The Blood-Horse magazine until his departure in 2010, said he appreciated the opportunity to serve as editor at the newspaper where he began his journalism career.
Among his accomplishments during his 18-month tenure with The State Journal, Liebman listed redesigning the newspaper and hiring “good people” to its staff, although he was “a little surprised at the amount of hiring I had to do in the time I was here.” He also dealt with a press failure that caused the newspaper to print off-site at Gannett in Louisville since late November.
He plans to continue freelancing as a guest columnist for the Thoroughbred Daily News, for which he has authored four opinion pieces since March 27, as his schedule with the restaurants allows.
“Hopefully I’ll still find the time to do a little bit of that, but it’s possible,” Liebman said when asked if July 1 could mark the end of his journalism career. “If the restaurants do well and I need to focus there, then yeah, it wouldn’t leave a lot of time to do anything in journalism. If it is, it’s been a great career.”
Maenza said she respected Liebman’s decision to dedicate his time to two family-owned businesses. He offered to help with the transition, and she said the outgoing editor is leaving on good terms with the newspaper.
“I believe what happened is that his business grew,” Maenza said. “He didn’t expect the degree of growth, and the growth of his business continued to take more of his time, so it reached the point where he saw he couldn’t do both jobs justice. One would start to suffer, and he doesn’t want to see either suffer.”
Familiar face, new role
In Case, Maenza found a longtime staffer who worked his way up since joining The State Journal as a sports writer in 1977 under her father, the late Albert Dix. Case developed the newspaper’s Spectrum section, once known as the society section, in 1978 and took the reins of the paper’s sports section in 1981.
Case, 66, has lived in Frankfort since 1969, giving him an intimate knowledge of the community, she said. Case and his wife — Susan, a pharmacist at Frankfort Regional Medical Center — raised their two children, Lexington attorney and Buster’s Billiards and Backroom owner Clark Case and Franklin County deputy court clerk Megan Curnutte, in Frankfort.
“Phil’s going to do a good job,” Maenza said. “Phil knows the staff. Phil knows Frankfort. Phil and Dan and Carl (West, The State Journal’s former editor who maintains an office at the paper) know each other, get along, communicate. That transition will be very smooth.”
Case complimented both Maenza and Liebman, whom he called a long-time friend and appreciated his leadership as the newspaper’s editor. He said he looks forward to engaging the newspaper’s readers, welcoming emails to email@example.com for suggestions and highlighting The State Journal’s role as “Your Hometown Newspaper.”
Followers of his popular “Planting by the Signs” column in Sunday’s Spectrum needn’t fret, as Case said he plans to continue writing the weekly piece as well as other features in the newspaper.
“I’m gratified,” Case said when asked about his promotion to the top editorial position at the paper. “I’m honored that Ann Maenza has the trust in me to do this.”
A new chapter
Wasson, who began as The State Journal’s education reporter in 2009 before being named news editor in 2012, will leave the paper to start a new chapter in her life. A steadier schedule will allow her time to explore other interests, such as working on her newly purchased home, and spending time with her family, which includes her boyfriend, Lee Burkett, and his 4-year-old son, Carter.
While she will soon start promoting Lexington’s Big Ass Fans as a marketing writer, she said there’s a certain adrenaline rush that comes with producing a daily newspaper.
“I’m going to miss when we get a really good scoop on something,” Wasson said, noting she hopes to continue freelance writing assignments. “I’m going to miss when we have breaking news and you kind of have to think on the fly and figure out a plan. I’m going to miss all of the inner workings of what’s going on with the coverage and that sort of thing.”
While the names of the newspaper’s top editors will change, Maenza said State Journal readers should not expect a shift from the paper’s dedication to covering the daily happenings of Kentucky’s capital city.
“I think we continue on course,” she said. “The goal is to continue covering local news. That’s our primary concern, local news, and that won’t change.”