Pallasch coup: A chance to ‘walk through the looking glass’
When a great newsman like Abdon Pallasch leaves the business, we’re all the poorer for it. But at least in this case, we just may benefit in a different way from the intelligence and insight he's always brought to his work in print and online.
After 13 years as ace political reporter at the Sun-Times — and 25 years in journalism altogether — Pallasch, 46, is crossing over to work for Governor Pat Quinn as assistant budget director for the state. After taking a month off, he’ll start August 27.
Although he’d been approached many times before about working for public officials as a spokesman, what made Quinn’s offer appealing was the challenge of putting his budget expertise into practice. “In addition to being spokesman for the office, I hope to be able to have a positive impact on coming up with solutions for the state's budget problems,” Pallasch told me. “At the very least I'm confident it will be a learning experience for me to walk through the looking glass and see the process I've been covering from the other side.”
With a growing family to support, the salary boost won’t hurt, either. His new job pays $110,000 a year. And he’ll still be able to live in Chicago.
Steeped in local news and politics, Pallasch grew up on the Northwest Side and graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. After stints at Chicago’s City News Bureau, UPI and the Chicago Lawyer (along with a four-year detour at the Tampa Tribune), he joined the Chicago Tribune in 1998 and jumped to the Sun-Times the following year.
“Few reporters have the kind of heart and determination that he brought to the job every day,” Sun-Times editor-in-chief Jim Kirk said of Pallasch. “And even fewer have the Rolodex of sources he carries. He was the reporter who was never satisfied, always making sure to make the extra call to try and get the story. That passion will be sorely missed in our newsroom. We wish him the best going forward."
Of his many scoops and blockbusters, Pallasch considers the most memorable his early reporting on the political phenomenon of Barack Obama: “I was in the right place at the right time to ride that Obama bus through Iowa and see all those Iowa people become believers, then follow him on to New Hampshire and a dozen other states,” he recalled. “Back when I was at Chicago Lawyer magazine in the '90s and needed a constitutional law expert, he was on my speed dial.”
With another presidential election cycle under way, how in the world can Pallasch step away now? “It may kill me,” he said. “I'm going to go into withdrawal, especially during the conventions and when I see stories that aren't being covered that I think ought to be covered.”
Pallasch called leaving the Sun-Times “a very tough choice,” adding: “I really like my job. I worked hard to get here. I think it's very important work we do, especially at election time to give readers the information they need to make informed choices.
“I think the new leadership has made some smart choices. They are putting resources into new technology, and I hope they are able to stay at the forefront of the new apps and the new ways people get news. I also hope they invest just as much in keeping and augmenting their experienced and talented reporters who make the paper what it is. I'm talking about my colleagues who are staying — not me. I have to admit I don't want Chicago to become a one-paper town, so I hope the Trib survives too.”
Any final analysis?
“Like most Americans who don't work for political action committees, I really lament the Balkanizing, fracturing, dismissive attitudes partisans increasingly take toward each other. I tried very hard in my reporting to do a balanced job reporting elections on policy disputes between the parties and to maintain a good rapport with Democrats and Republicans. I hope to do the same looking for budget solutions at the state,” he said.
“Also I want to encourage people to subscribe to newspapers and pay the nominal fees they want for the privilege of reading them online. If newspapers fade away — and I don't believe they will — but if they fade away to be replaced by self-trained bloggers, we won't be able to make informed decisions anymore.”