Tribune names new business editor

Mary Ellen Podmolik

Mary Ellen Podmolik

Veteran Chicago business journalist Mary Ellen Podmolik has been promoted to associate managing editor/business at the Chicago Tribune, effective immediately.

Podmolik, who held the No. 2 job in the department, succeeds Mike Kellams, who surprised his staff by announcing he had accepted a voluntary buyout after 17 years at the Tribune, and that Thursday was his last day.

“Mary Ellen has always impressed us all with her deliberate nature, her thoughtfulness and her candor,” Peter Kendall, managing editor of the Tribune, said in an email to employees. “These are the traits of a natural leader and make Mary Ellen uniquely well-suited to assume this critical role in the newsroom.”

Podmolik joined the Tribune in 2008 as a business reporter and columnist specializing in housing and real estate, and was promoted earlier this year to deputy business editor. A graduate of Marquette University, she previously worked for the Sun-Times, Daily Southtown and the Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune.

Mike Kellams

Mike Kellams

Kellams was among the highest ranking editorial employees at the paper to accept a buyout under Tribune Publishing’s voluntary separation program. Starting as an art director in 1998, he moved up through a variety of jobs, including associate design director, sports editor of RedEye at its inception, and sports editor of the Tribune. He was promoted to associate managing editor/sports in 2009 and shifted to associate managing editor/business in 2014.

“I will be forever grateful to the Chicago Tribune,” Kellams said Thursday. “It’s been my home, sometimes literally, for 17 years. It’s hard to imagine a newsroom where someone could reinvent themselves more often. I’ve been the beneficiary of that fact more times than I can count. I’ve had the chance to work with so many supremely talented people doing great things in every stop I’ve made around the fourth and fifth floors. I was part of a newspaper startup — I mean really, who gets to do that in this world? — and I was part of one of the nation’s best sports departments, bar none.

“As I leave, I’m a proud member of a reinvigorated business report that has taught me so much after arriving a year-and-a-half ago as a stranger in a strange land. This assignment has been a blessing in that it has given me the confidence to venture out of the sanctuary of the Tower to see what the rest of the world is up to. I wouldn’t trade a day here for anything, but it’s time to try something new.”

Kellams said he had no specific target but was eager to explore other opportunities. A graduate of Ball State University, he previously worked for the Detroit News and the Seattle Times.

Here is the full text of Kendall’s note to staff:

Colleagues,

This afternoon the business department met to hear about a change in leadership there.

I am happy to share with you that Mary Ellen Podmolik has been promoted to Associate Managing Editor for Business and will lead the department as it continues its bold reinvention in 2016.

Mary Ellen succeeds Mike Kellams, who, after an extraordinarily successful run in several departments here, decided in October that he would like to move on to something new.

That lead time gave Mary Ellen, Mike and me time to work out the transition we are announcing today.

Mary Ellen and Mike have worked closely together over the past year to set a new course for Tribune business coverage. They crumpled up the newsprint culture and tossed it aside, then plunged headlong into a world that is not only digital first, but reader first.

Beats were re-imagined. Expectations got dialed up. And most every measure of audience engagement surged in the right direction. Mary Ellen and the department will not lose a single step as they continue on that course.

This is not the first time Mary Ellen has taken a new title this year. With each promotion and new challenge she has excelled and earned the admiration and respect of her colleagues. She’s a reporter’s reporter, driven by a competitiveness that makes her want to be first to break a story and to tell it better than anyone else. She knows good journalism and is restless to improve our ability to get quality stories before more readers.

Mary Ellen began covering Chicago’s business world in 1989. She worked business beats for the Sun-Times and the Daily Southtown, and she also wrote for Crain’s Chicago Business, Advertising Age and CNBC.com. She came to the Tribune in 2008 to cover a housing market in decline and then chronicled the story of that market’s subsequent freefall and recession.

Mary Ellen has always impressed us all with her deliberate nature, her thoughtfulness and her candor. These are the traits of a natural leader and make Mary Ellen uniquely well-suited to assume this critical role in the newsroom.

Please join me, Gerry and Colin in congratulating Mary Ellen on this promotion.

Now, a few words about Mike:

Back in 2002, Mike was plucked from the design desk to join that elite group of newsroom insider-outsiders who invented RedEye, serving as its first sports editor and its design director.

When he went to sports and then became the AME in 2009, he gave the section a sharper focus and helped it become arguably the most creative section in the newspaper and online. Our readers noticed, and so did the industry: Nearly every national award was delivered to the department to be hung on the wall. In a real sense, he built the motor that you still hear rumbling inside today’s high-performance sports department.

In business, he brought a new sense of urgency to the department and developed a Name Brand Business strategy that tells readers about the companies they interact with every day and care about most. He set high expectations for himself and his department since taking over in May 2014, and together they met them.

And, as we all know, without Mike Kellams, we would have far fewer wall-mounted TVs in the newsroom.

That adds up to a pretty special 17-year career as an accomplished journalist here. Thanks, Mike. Appreciate it all.

Peter