Chicago Editor Quits as Tribune Cuts Deeper

Ann Marie Lipinski has served as the Chicago Tribune's editor since 2001.
Ann Marie Lipinski has served as the Chicago Tribune's editor since 2001. (By Craig Timberg -- The Washington Post)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The editor of the Chicago Tribune resigned yesterday, six days after its parent company ordered the paper to cut 14 percent of its newsroom staff and slash the number of news pages it publishes by the same percentage.

Ann Marie Lipinski, a widely admired figure in the newsroom who has run the paper since 2001, did not cast her decision as a protest against the Tribune Co.'s continuing cutbacks, which are shrinking the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and eight other papers. But Tribune staffers say the timing and abruptness of her resignation -- it takes effect Thursday -- made clear that Lipinski wanted no part of the fourth round of cutbacks in three years, which will eliminate 80 of the paper's 578 editorial jobs.

"It's the hardest decision I've ever made," Lipinski, 52, said in an interview. "I helped build this newsroom. I have a fierce affection for the staff and their work and believe in this newspaper. I've grown up here. I came in through the mailroom. . . . It's been a glorious run."

Lipinski only alluded to the cutbacks in a memo to the staff, saying that "this position is not the fit it once was."

While "no one enjoys" downsizing, she said last night, her decision was not driven by the budget cuts and she delayed the announcement from last week to separate it from the staff reductions. "For the most part, the difficult days were overwhelmed by the good and the great days," Lipinski said.

But others suggested the continued reductions were an obvious factor.

"There is no question there is a cumulative effect of the pressures of the business," said Michael Tackett, the Tribune's Washington bureau chief, who has known Lipinski since shortly after she joined the paper as a summer intern in 1978. "People were definitely put back on their heels by the timing of this."

Yesterday's news that the publisher of the Los Angeles Times has been forced out underscored the turmoil at Tribune Co., which has become perhaps the most visible symbol of an industry in financial distress. With declining revenues yielding a near-daily drumbeat of layoffs and buyouts at hundreds of papers, including the New York Times and Washington Post, executives have been leading a traumatic downsizing. And some are choosing -- or being forced -- to leave.

Gerould Kern, 58, Tribune Publishing's vice president for editorial, was named Lipinski's successor. He has run the paper's metro staff and served as deputy managing editor for features and associate editor. Kern was unavailable for interview yesterday.

Journalists who have dealt with Kern call him a solid but unremarkable editor who was shuffled to the corporate side after losing internal competitions and spearheaded the idea of measuring the productivity of Tribune papers and their staffs.

Real estate financier Sam Zell, who took on considerable debt in buying the company for $8.2 billion in December, is selling off such iconic assets as the Tribune and Times headquarters and the Chicago Cubs, vowing that there will be "no sacred cows." Zell also hired an innovation chief, Lee Abrams, who has unsettled staffers with a series of colorful memos that lend themselves to mockery.

In the latest missive, Abrams, who came from XM Satellite Radio, wrote that he had been looking at old newspapers, and "the big headline . . . editorial cartoons on the front page and other enticing visuals seemed more prevalent. There seemed to be more aggressive eye adventure (at least relative to that era) than there is now. . . .

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