It’s 30 and out: Hayner leaves ‘second family’ at Sun-Times
No one I ever worked with at the Chicago Sun-Times revered the paper more than Don Hayner. Even in its darkest days, when crooks and scoundrels ran the place or bankruptcy threatened to stop the presses, Hayner was always the optimist, the cheerleader, the true believer.
Knowing Hayner as a colleague and admirer as long as I have, I've got to think his retirement Thursday as editor-in-chief was the toughest decision of his distinguished career in Chicago journalism. It couldn’t have been easy for him to see what the Sun-Times’ new owner was doing to trash it up and dumb it down, nor could it have been easy for him to walk away from a job and a paper he truly loved.
“The Sun-Times has been, and always will be, like a second family to me,” Hayner, 60, said in his announcement. “I will miss everyone here and wish the Sun-Times continued success.”
At the same time, he left no doubt that it was his choice to leave. “This is all me. This is my decision. I made it a couple of weeks ago,” he said in an emotional farewell to his staff. “A boss is only as good as the people around him — and the people who actually do the work. In the case of everybody here, you’ve made me look better than I am.”
Tim Knight, CEO of parent company Wrapports LLC, called Hayner “the consummate newspaperman,” telling employees in a memo: “Don has done an amazing job building a world-class editorial department. . . . I have developed a deep and abiding respect for him, and I appreciate his leadership at the Sun-Times.”
His leadership included managing to sustain morale despite wave after wave of layoffs and cutbacks, while guiding the Sun-Times to its greatest triumph in decades, winning the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting — its first such honor since 1989.
Former Sun-Times editor-in-chief John Barron, who has been publisher since 2009, returns to the newsroom as executive editor with responsibility for the daily operations of the paper. CEO Knight will double as publisher. No other appointments were announced, but I would be surprised if there weren’t more changes in the near future.
Whatever Hayner’s immediate plans may be, there has to be a place for someone who’s been one of the steadiest, smartest, most reliable professionals in the business for more than 30 years — and always, always, a South Side Chicago guy through and through.
First as a reporter, then as city editor, metro editor and managing editor, and since 2009 as editor-in-chief, Hayner consistently could be counted on to shoot straight and do what was right. He combined the analytical mind of a lawyer (which he was) with the competitive instincts of a City News Bureau alumnus (which he also was).
If Hayner’s name wasn’t as familiar to Sun-Times readers as some of his predecessors, it’s no accident. Rather than bask in the limelight, he always preferred to let his work and that of his staff speak for itself. In a business of egos, he was an exception. Whenever I’d mention his stint as a radio personality during the five years he and Tom McNamee hosted a terrific Saturday morning talk show on WLS-AM (890) back in the ’90s, Don would dismiss my praise with a modest chuckle.
Come to think of it, he’d still make a heck of a talk show host.