Tribune in no rush to replace ‘one of a kind’ Jane Hirt

Jane Hirt

Jane Hirt

Replacing the most powerful woman in Chicago journalism may not be easy. It definitely won’t be quick.

No deadline has been set to name a successor to Jane Hirt, who announced her resignation Wednesday as managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, effective November 21.

“I told our newsroom leaders today I wanted to take some time to talk to them, hear what is on their minds and how they see the future,” Chicago Tribune editor Gerry Kern said. “We have an incredibly talented, close knit team here, and I think it is the best in the industry. We will support each other as we always have.”

Although by all accounts voluntary, Hirt’s resignation caught staffers by surprise. A 25-year veteran of the company, Hirt, 47, began as an intern straight out of the University of Nebraska and moved up the ranks, including a six-year run as founding editor of RedEye. She’s been managing editor/vice president of the Chicago Tribune since 2008.

“Being the Chicago Tribune’s managing editor has been a privilege of a lifetime,” Hirt wrote on Facebook. “But it’s time for me to move on to my next adventure. I’m so grateful for the many opportunities I found at the Tribune; all things I never could have imagined when I started as a wee intern on the sports desk in 1990. Along the way I’ve worked with the smartest, most dedicated and caring journalists around. I love this place and all of the people in it.”

Hirt told colleagues she has no immediate plans other than to take a break. She and her husband, musician Michael Lenzi, will continue to live in Chicago at least for the time being.

Media blogger Jim Romenesko scoffed at the Tribune’s official account of Hirt’s resignation, which was “to pursue personal interests.” Under a post headlined: “AT LEAST SHE DIDN’T SAY SHE WANTS TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH HER FAMILY,” Romenesko wrote: “My bullshit detector blew a fuse reading this.”

In response, an unnamed veteran Tribune staffer wrote: “This isn’t a move engineered by somebody else, or a money-driven downsizing, or an unhappy editor who’s had enough. This is a wonderful person who, after 25 years in a succession of high-pressure jobs, wants to do something different while she’s still young and able.”

In May, Hirt topped my list of the most powerful women in Chicago journalism. (My blog is published independently under a licensing agreement with Chicago Tribune Media Group.)

Here is the text of Kern’s note to Tribune staffers:

Colleagues:
 
I won’t bury the lead.
 
Our friend and colleague Jane Hirt will leave the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 21, concluding a magnificent 25-year career here.
 
Since August 2008, she has been my managing editor and, I believe, one of the best in the history of this newspaper.
 
Jane is taking a break before beginning the next chapter of her life, but I will let her tell you about that over the next few days.
 
For 167 years, legions of journalists have passed through our doors and left their marks on the Chicago Tribune, our city and our readers.
 
Each inherited a proud legacy and—if good enough and lucky enough—added something unique and passed it on.
 
Jane Hirt’s contributions to our legacy are unmistakable.
 
She joined the Tribune fresh out of the University of Nebraska in January 1990 as an intern on the sports copy desk. Then she spent 12 years as a mainstay of the national and foreign desk, where she edited the reports of our correspondents covering everything from the fall of the Soviet Union to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
 
In 2002, she helped conceive and launch RedEye, the Tribune’s pioneering free newspaper for young urban professionals. For six years, her original and irreverent editing style turned RedEye into an industry phenomenon.
 
When I became editor in 2008, I asked Jane to take on the job of managing editor and bring some of RedEye’s innovative spirit over to the blue paper. I am grateful she did.
 
She was a pillar of the leadership team that still is largely intact nearly seven years later. That team, working together with you, re-imagined, built and rebuilt our news operation and changed our culture for the digital age. We stood up for the community by putting watchdog reporting at the heart of our mission. We grew our digital media and expanded our print edition. We launched new ventures and reached out beyond our pages to engage our readers directly. I am proud beyond words of what we all accomplished during this time.
 
Jane stood strong during our darkest days. Her rare combination of creativity, optimism, good humor and impeccable news judgment lifted us up. She was a mentor to many in the newsroom and shaped their careers. With a sharp eye for talent, Jane helped populate the newsroom with a new generation of journalists who will carry forward our mission. 
 
For all of this, Jane played a decisive role in our turnaround and earned the respect of everyone at the Chicago Tribune.
 
We love Jane and will miss her. She is one of a kind.
 
But like the multitudes of journalists who came before us, we will carry on, inspired by the convictions embodied in our mission. The arc of our story is ascending, and now opportunities will appear for new leaders to rise to greatness just as Jane did.
 
We wish Jane all the best.
 
Gerry