Most powerful women in Chicago journalism? Here’s one man’s list
Toward the end of my conversation the other day with former Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski, we had an interesting exchange about what defines “power” in the world of journalism.
During her seven years atop the mast of the World’s Greatest Newspaper, Lipinski often was considered the most powerful journalist in Chicago. For her part, Lipinski maintained that she wasn’t nearly as powerful as the late Eppie Lederer, the syndicated advice columnist known to millions as Ann Landers.
But when I asked who’d head a list of the most powerful women in Chicago journalism today, Lipinski hesitated. I suggested Emily Barr, president and general manager of ABC 7, the top-rated television station and the No. 1 broadcast news organization in Chicago. Acknowledging the logic of my choice, Lipinski then offered the name of Tribune star columnist Mary Schmich, and proceeded to reflect on whether power lies in control over a particular institution or in the personal influence of a “strong, singular voice.”
After the interview ran, I heard from several colleagues who shared their own thoughts on the question of journalistic power, too.
Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg wrote in part: “Speaking for myself, I couldn’t make a case that all newspaper columnists in the city, of both genders, aggregated together are ‘powerful,’ not in the sense that, oh, Ed Burke is powerful. I don’t think that, raising our voices in one coordinated chorus, we could get a pothole filled. . . . I try to be ‘interesting’ and don’t always do that. But ‘powerful’? Sheesh.”
Another prominent writer, who asked not be identified, observed: “Power isn’t just politics. It isn’t just public. There are journalists — more often women than men, I think — whose work makes people think private thoughts, whose words are hung on refrigerators and spoken at weddings and funerals and birthday parties and Sunday sermons. I think that’s often overlooked or viewed as something lesser when, in truth, it’s just influence of a different shade and tone.”
The list below represents my own subjective ranking of Chicago’s most powerful women in journalism. In some cases, their power derives from the control they have over their respective news organizations. In other cases, it’s based on the influence they exert over readers, viewers or listeners. But in one way or another, they’re all agenda setters.
You won’t find any newsreaders on my list. Any number of anchors may be more famous in this town than some of the people I’ve included, but prominence should not be confused with power.
The Ten Most Powerful Women in Chicago Journalism:
- Emily Barr, president and general manager, ABC 7
- Carol Marin, columnist, Chicago Sun-Times, political editor, NBC 5, correspondent, WTTW
- Jane Hirt, managing editor, Chicago Tribune
- Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief and blogger, Chicago Sun-Times
- Mary Schmich, columnist, Chicago Tribune
- Mary Field, executive producer, WTTW
- Sally Eisele, managing editor of public affairs, WBEZ
- Linda Johnson Rice, chairman, Johnson Publishing Co.
- Madeleine Doubek, assistant vice president and executive editor, Daily Herald
- Mara Shalhoup, editor, Chicago Reader
The Next Ten:
- Jennifer Graves, vice president and news director, ABC 7
- Fran Spielman, City Hall reporter, Chicago Sun-Times
- Shia Kapos, columnist and blogger, Crain’s Chicago Business
- Mary Mitchell, columnist and editorial board member, Chicago Sun-Times
- Melody Spann Cooper, president and general manager, WVON
- Amy Carr, executive editor, Time Out Chicago
- Michael Sneed, columnist, Chicago Sun-Times
- Elizabeth Brackett, correspondent, WTTW
- Sherren Leigh, president and editor-in-chief, Today’s Chicago Woman
- Pam Zekman, investigative reporter, CBS 2
On the bubble:
- Carol Fowler, vice president and news director, Fox Chicago