Dave Hoekstra, a respected journalist and celebrated storyteller who brings the heart of a newspaperman and the soul of a poet to everything he writes, exited the Chicago Sun-Times Friday in the latest round of staff cutbacks.
A 29-year veteran of the paper, Hoekstra, 58, negotiated a buyout after Sun-Times Media disclosed plans last week to eliminate five editorial positions covered by the Chicago Newspaper Guild, including one columnist/critic whose name was not disclosed. Hoekstra was one of 10 Sun-Times staffers in that classification.
“Dave is a gifted writer and has had a wonderful career at the Sun-Times,” said Jim Kirk, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Sun-Times. “We wish him nothing but the best.”
Hoekstra, a Chicago area native and the pride of Naperville Central High School, covered a wide range of interests in his three decades at the Sun-Times — from music, travel and food to sports, pop culture and history — all with great sensitivity and style. In 2013, he won two Peter Lisagor Awards from the Chicago Headline Club and a Studs Terkel Community Media Award from the Community Media Workshop. His latest book was a celebration of classic supper clubs throughout the Midwest.
On his 25th anniversary at the Sun-Times in 2010, Hoekstra told me: “Basically what keeps me going is the ability to make the unknown known. I love the sense of adventure and discovery that comes in our jobs. Always tell students about the Jimmy Breslin at JFK gravesite story — to paraphrase — how everyone flocked around the gravesite; Breslin wandered off in the distance to interview the gravedigger. That’s kind of how I approach my job. Don’t know how much of that remains in fashion, but I try to fight the good fight.”
Coinciding with Hoekstra’s departure, the company also laid off two Sun-Times editorial assistants, Jenny Fleishman and Dale McCullough; two SouthtownStar editors, production editor Bill Padjen and arts and entertainment editor Jessi Virtusio; Andrew Steele, community editor at the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana; and Mike Solley, a weekend editor/designer at the company’s west suburban newspaper group.
Earlier in the week, a former Sun-Times reporter, Tina Akouris, was cut from the staff of the Joliet Herald-News. Her departure was connected to the recent sale of the paper to Shaw Media and was not related to the latest round of layoffs, according to company sources.
The news wasn’t all bad at the Sun-Times this week: Under terms of a settlement with the Guild, the company hired back four of the photographers it had fired last spring when it eliminated its photography department. Reinstated as multimedia journalists were Rich Chapman, Brian Jackson, Al Podgorski and Michael Schmidt.