Sun-Times entrusts enterprise to news veteran Kirk
Since Kirk had just been promoted days earlier to advertising/marketing columnist at the Sun-Times, editor-in-chief Nigel Wade was livid at what he perceived as the young reporter’s disloyalty. From then on, mere mention of Kirk’s name brought scowls all around.
That was 15 years ago.
On Monday, Kirk, 46, was named senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Sun-Times Media, overseeing content for all 40 of the company’s publications and its digital properties. In the newly created position, he will report to Tim Knight, CEO of Sun-Times Media and publisher of the Sun-Times.
"I'm thrilled to join the Sun-Times team during such a time of transformation in the newspaper industry,'' Kirk said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to working with one of the best, award-winning news organizations in the country and attracting new audiences to our products through new content models.''
Kirk, a native of south suburban Dolton and graduate of Illinois State University, most recently was chief of editorial operations at Crain’s Chicago Business (another position created specifically for him), where he restructured news management and significantly improved the company’s online product. He’s not expected to be replaced there.
By my count, this marks Kirk’s fifth job in three and a half years. Since December 2008, when he left the Tribune as associate managing editor for business, Kirk has held top editorial positions with Bloomberg News, the Chicago News Cooperative, Crain’s Chicago Business, and now the Sun-Times. What he lacks in loyalty he makes up for in hard work and cool competence under pressure. Co-workers describe him as a consummate journalist and an ideal editor.
He’ll need those qualities — and a good deal of luck — as he confronts his new challenges. Foremost among them may be reining in the excesses of Michael Ferro, chairman of Wrapports LLC, the new parent company of Sun-Times Media. Despite a lack of experience in journalism, publishing or media, Ferro has taken an aggressive, hands-on approach to remaking the Sun-Times as a down-market tabloid similar to the New York Post. (Joe Mansueto, owner of Time Out Chicago, has an ownership stake in Wrapports.)
Although Kirk is said to be on very good terms with Ferro, it remains to be seen whether he can restore luster and integrity to the Sun-Times brand and fulfill his mandate to create new digital applications while implementing Ferro’s peculiar vision for the product. “Jim knows what is required to create and deliver news and information valued by our readers and our communities,” Knight said in a statement. “He understands how we can compete effectively in the digital marketplace.”
The announcement of Kirk’s hiring came as a morale boost to Sun-Times staffers, who were jolted by the abrupt retirement April 12 of editor-in-chief Don Hayner, a 30-year veteran of the paper and a highly respected newsroom leader. Hayner’s immediate and emotional departure raised doubts about whether it was truly voluntary, as he insisted. Hayner did not return calls or grant interviews.
Former Sun-Times editor-in-chief John Barron, who had been publisher since 2009, returned to the newsroom as executive editor with responsibility for the daily operations of the paper. Barron will report to Kirk, whose new role encompasses all seven of the company’s daily newspapers, the Pioneer Press chain of suburban weeklies and all of their related websites.
“The Sun-Times is still a huge, great brand in Chicago with an enormous reach,” Kirk told Sun-Times business reporter David Roeder. He said his main task would be to improve the sharing of content across the publications.