Throughout eight tumultuous years as editor of the Chicago Tribune, Gerry Kern championed investigative reporting and opinion leadership as hallmarks of the newspaper.
Both are assured of continuing under Bruce Dold, who was named Wednesday to succeed Kern, 66, who announced his retirement effective immediately. A Pulitzer Prize-winning 38-year veteran of the Tribune, Dold, 60, has been editorial page editor since 2000.
“The Chicago Tribune is vital to the communities we serve,” Dold said in a statement. “We speak to that community and for that community. We’re going to be relentless in our coverage of the region and in creating new, innovative solutions for our customers.”
Dold’s appointment by Tony Hunter, publisher and CEO of Chicago Tribune Media Group, is seen as a smart, safe and conservative choice that will go far to ease anxieties over the recent arrival of technology entrepreneur Michael Ferro as non-executive board chairman of Tribune Publishing (and 16.6 percent shareholder). Ferro is a controversial figure whose views on journalism have been unsettling to many at the Sun-Times, where he continues to be a leading investor.
Sources close to Kern insisted that Ferro’s appointment was not a factor in his decision to retire at this time. More relevant, they say, was the effect of carrying out a major downsizing of the news operation, including overseeing the voluntary buyouts of more than 40 editorial employees at the end of 2015.
Kern led the Tribune during a time of unprecedented upheaval, including the recession, a protracted bankruptcy and a shift from print to digital primacy. Diminished newsgathering resources coincided with a strategy to steer the Tribune away from its emphasis on regional, national and global affairs to focus on local news coverage.
Unlike Dold, whose promotion was as predictable as it was seamless, Kern was by no means seen as an inevitable successor when he replaced Ann Marie Lipinski in 2008. Lipinski made it known that her departure after seven years in the top job was related to unease with the direction of Tribune Co. under then-owner Sam Zell. At the time, Kern had held several editing positions at the Tribune before spending five years in a corporate position overseeing all of the company’s newspaper newsrooms.
While Kern was credited with maintaining the integrity and spirit of the newsroom, critics questioned whether he was too timid in dealing with Zell and his hand-picked CEO, Randy Michaels. Only after a damaging front-page story in The New York Times exposed a “bankrupt culture” of sexism, profanity and cronyism that led to the ouster of Michaels and his associates did Kern marshal the newspaper’s resources to report on the turmoil inside Tribune Tower.
(This blog is published independently under a licensing agreement with Chicago Tribune Media Group.)
Here is the text of Hunter’s memo to employees:
After courageously leading the newsroom through years of change and evolution, Gerry Kern is retiring from his post as Editor of the Chicago Tribune. Bruce Dold will succeed Gerry as the new Editor, effective immediately.
Gerry, as you know, was a champion of change. His leadership of the editorial department included many important milestones including creating a digital-first newsroom, assembling a highly talented management team and establishing our key content strategies. These accomplishments, along with our deep bench of talent within the newsroom, make for a seamless transition from Gerry to Bruce.
Gerry’s legacy at the Chicago Tribune is exceptional.
- As Editor, Gerry fearlessly guided the brand through a period of unprecedented conditions, creating a flexible and digital-first news organization.
- Gerry worked tirelessly to ensure the Chicago Tribune remained vital to the community, through expanded local investigative reporting, extensive news coverage and thought-leading commentary.
- Gerry launched innovative content strategies and increased efficiency within the newsroom, resulting in the creation of richer, expanded content and growth in digital audience. Just last month, Chicago Tribune had a record-setting January with 18 million unique visitors.
- He directed the expansion of the printed edition in 2011, adding 44 full pages of news coverage to the Tribune each week. As a result, the Chicago Tribune publishes more news in its print edition today than it did in 2007, before the Great Recession.
- Under Gerry’s leadership, our content has been recognized in the industry for its journalistic quality. In 2012, the Tribune won the Pulitzer for Commentary and was named a finalist nine times, including four out of the past five years in investigative reporting.
- Gerry was instrumental in diversifying our content portfolio. Gerry oversaw the launch of several of our content verticals, including Blue Sky Innovation, Printers Row, and Theater Loop.
- Gerry helped us successfully integrate the 32 weekly and 6 daily Suburban assets Tribune Publishing acquired in October of 2014 to expand our content portfolio.
Today, the Chicago Tribune engages more people than ever in its history and Bruce will continue to accelerate our digital progress and lead our talented team.
Bruce comes to the role with significant news and opinion experience. His leadership capabilities and extensive management experience, coupled with his passion for our mission, make him an ideal editor.
- Bruce joined us in 1978 as a reporter and gained extensive experience covering politics and government. He was appointed to the editorial board in 1990 and served for five years as a weekly columnist. He was promoted to lead the board in 2000.
- Under his leadership, the editorial board has conducted numerous campaigns to better serve Chicago, including pushing government reform in the city and state.
- Bruce worked closely with Gerry to launch the New Plan of Chicago project, which prompted more than 1,000 Chicago Tribune readers to contribute ideas to build a more economically vibrant city.
- As Editorial Page Editor, Bruce has a unique perspective on the state, city and suburbs. Our opinion and commentary offerings are among the most-read pieces of content on all of our platforms and have driven increased engagement from consumers.
- In April of last year, Bruce led the work to expand our Opinion and Commentary coverage to provide our readers with greater insight into the news events that impact their lives. The Tribune expanded its opinion and commentary offerings to four printed pages each weekday day, five on Sunday and additional digital-only content throughout the week.
Please join me in thanking Gerry for his significant contributions to our company and in congratulating Bruce on his well-deserved promotion.