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Bruce Kyse, a lifelong journalist who steered The Press Democrat into the digital world first as the newspaper's top editor and later as its publisher, will step down to pursue other opportunities, he said Tuesday.

Kyse, 63, who worked for four Press Democrat owners, said his last day will be Oct. 31. He leaves almost exactly a year after a local investor group bought the newspaper, an occasion that, at the time, he described to employees in a choked voice as "a historic moment."

Asked Tuesday if the new ownership had anything to do with his decision to leave, he said yes.

"It really gives me the opportunity to step aside. It's local ownership .<TH>.<TH>. they're focused on the community," Kyse said. "It's the perfect situation: it's a calm sea; it allows me to step away. The paper's in great hands. It's a perfect time for me to try something else."

Press Democrat Executive Editor Catherine Barnett said: "As publisher, Bruce was a strategic thinker who relentlessly pushed to keep us at the edge of the change transforming newspapers. He created the media lab and insisted on a robust digital news report while adjusting to an emerging business model."

Barnett, who succeeded Kyse in 1999, said: "Through it all, he protected traditional journalistic values and took seriously the newspaper's larger role in building community."

A Santa Rosa resident with a daughter still in high school, Kyse said he has no specific plans for what to do next, other than to relax for a few months.

Kyse will not be replaced, said Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat. Falk said he will assume Kyse's job responsibilities.

Kyse climbed the newspaper's ranks rapidly. He joined The Press Democrat as a copy editor in 1977, when it was owned by Evert Person, who sold it to the New York Times in 1985. Kyse was promoted to city editor in 1982, to managing editor in 1988 and to executive editor in 1990.

"My favorite job at the newspaper without question was as city editor. You're right in the middle of it," Kyse said. "You're directing traffic, you're talking to reporters, making decisions that have an impact on the community: what to run, how they're written; you're just in the middle of it."

Under his leadership, the newspaper in 1997 won journalism's top honor, the Pulitzer Prize, for spot photography, as well as numerous other awards.

Kyse left in 1999 to run WineToday.com, a website he launched in 1998 that was later absorbed by NYTimes.com. He became vice president for news and new media for the Times' regional media group in Tampa, Fla., before returning to The Press Democrat as publisher, a job he stepped into in January 2006.

"The strongest thing he brought to the table was the integrity of his community focus," said Teejay Lowe, CEO of G&G Supermarkets in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

"At every turn his decision making at the paper has always revolved around what is best for the community," Lowe said. "In terms of community service, but even more importantly, in terms of local news reporting, which is tremendous"

In his eight-year tenure, Kyse confronted the devastating impact on the newspaper industry of online free classified ad services, particularly Craigslist.com, and helmed The Press Democrat through one of the nation's most severe economic downturns, presiding over repeated layoffs that touched every aspect of the business.

"That was incredibly painful to do that," he said Tuesday of the cutbacks.

He also experienced two more ownership changes. The New York Times sold the newspaper to Florida-based Halifax Media in January 2012. Then, that November, Halifax sold it to Sonoma Media Investments.

"Bruce has guided this paper through some very difficult times," said Falk, a principal in the new ownership group. "And he got the paper into the digital age, not only with digital versions of our products but with updated versions of our products this year."

The Press Democrat launched a redesigned website this year and also started a paywall plan under which, after a certain point, customers pay for access to news articles.

Kyse also was responsible for the launch of PD Media Lab, a digital marketing agency owned by The Press Democrat, said Falk, "which is recognized nationally as a digital age service for our businesses and clients."

Throughout his career Kyse displayed a bent for being willing to stand up for hard-headed journalism, and for more open government processes.

As executive editor, in a lengthy opinion column in 1998, he termed as "specious" criticism that The Press Democrat's news coverage of a controversial transportation tax measure had been biased.

While he was the top editor, the paper challenged the Sonoma-Marin Fair board, the city of Petaluma and the West Sonoma County Union High School District over how they selected public officials.

And in 2010, he backed the newspaper's lawsuit against the Sonoma County Employees' Retirement Association in an ultimately successful effort to to force the disclosure of public pension records.

"Bruce Kyse is one of the few publishers of community and local newspapers who really understands the importance of an independent press," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. "He has given backbone to the Press Democrat's efforts to make local government more transparent."

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.