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Sun-Times's No-Nonsense New Editors/Intelligent Life in Gary?/News Bites

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Sun-Times's No-Nonsense New Editors

Lincoln kept changing generals until he found one who could lead an army. Perhaps the latest group of editors at the Sun-Times can run a troubled newspaper.

Rumor had it--and for that matter, so did Hot Type--that Hollinger International would appoint a publisher around the end of the year, and that this publisher would at least nominally participate in the search for an editor. But last week David Radler, chairman of Hollinger International, gave himself the top job. The same day Larry Green was named executive editor--just a month and a half after he'd been named director of classified advertising. This Monday Radler announced Nigel Wade's appointment as editor. Hollinger was moving quickly.

Radler will continue to be a part-time Chicagoan. His office is in Vancouver; he keeps a condo here. But his appointment to a post that had remained formally unoccupied for 16 months settles the question of who's running the paper: he or Larry Perrotto, president of American Publishing Company. Last September a corporate reorganization by the parent Hollinger Inc. created Hollinger International, based in Chicago, while marginalizing APC, the West Frankfort-based subsidiary that ran the Sun-Times and a string of small daily and weekly papers. "The people of the corn," as the APC bosses were known inside the building, have given way to big-timers and global thinkers.

Consider the paper's two new editors--chosen by Radler and Barbara Amiel, the London-based wife of Hollinger Inc. chairman Conrad Black and the Hollinger papers' editorial troubleshooter. Wade, 49, has been foreign-affairs editor of Hollinger's Daily Telegraph in London since 1986. An Australian, he's been stationed in Washington, and he's run the Telegraph's Beijing and Moscow bureaus. Green, 54, covered wars in Vietnam and the Middle East for the old Chicago Daily News, and before joining the Sun-Times in 1990 he managed the midwest bureau of the Los Angeles Times.

Of the two appointments Green's is the more intriguing. Apparently it's no longer a disqualification for high office at the Sun-Times to know something about Chicago. Wade's predecessor, Dennis Britton, was brought in from Los Angeles, Green's predecessor, Mark Nadler, from Minnesota. Sentimentalists will also recall Charles Wilson from London, Matt Storin from Boston, and Frank Devine from New Zealand.

Britton hired Green away from the LA Times in 1990 and put him in charge of investigations and other special news projects. A few months later he took over the Sunday paper. But in '93 Green disappeared from the newsroom, having been shifted to the advertising department to produce advertorial sections. "I always viewed it as a grooming experience," he told me the other day. "And I think as management changed"--that is, after Hollinger bought the paper in '94--"it very clearly became a grooming experience."

Many reporters weren't so sure. If Green was being broadened, he was being broadened in Coventry. ("I think that's true, but I wasn't around when it happened," says Radler, who's heard stories that Green was banished.) His temper had undermined his leadership. Three reporters separately described him to me as "mercurial." Another remembered "shit fits," "explosions," "foaming rage."

"My guess is," Green responded, "that they're going to find a very different Larry Green. I think three years of managing under some very enlightened bosses"--he singled out Joe Sherman, vice president of advertising--"have taught me a great deal."

The newsroom hopes so. By and large, reporters reacted to Green's appointment as good news. It got them out from under managing editor Julia Wallace, who took over the shop when Britton quit last month. For all her virtues as a newswoman, Wallace, 38, was considered too callow by her staff to remain boss of bosses. She was held responsible for certain front pages--a recent Princess Di number is constantly cited--that embarrassed not only reporters but, I'm told, Radler and Amiel. Wallace and Green never got along, and now that he outranks her the staff wonders if she'll even stay at the paper.

Radler said he hopes so. "One goes with the candidates who have paid more dues," he said. But "Julia Wallace can be editor of this paper. There's no question about it."

Nigel Wade first visited the Sun-Times a year and a half ago to study the operation for Radler and Black and offer his views on how it could be run better. Unsurprisingly, Britton, Wallace, and executive editor Mark Nadler weren't keenly interested in his views, and they didn't feign a comradery they didn't feel.

But he got along well with Green.

"He had a very strong intellect that some people were put off by," said a Sun-Times manager who got to know him. "I suppose he could come across as aloof and arrogant. I did find him to be intense, to have opinions--strong ones, but well thought out."

Wade made several trips to Chicago and eventually presented his conclusions to the paper's administrators gathered in the executive conference room. He faulted the paper's front page and its graphics. He faulted its lack of suburban coverage--colliding with Britton and Nadler, who'd fashioned a Sun-Times that focused on Chicago, and colliding with financial realities. He faulted its coverage of women's issues. He faulted the paper's tone, which he judged too dry and unexciting.

He admired the sports section.

"It was a difficult thing, an uncomfortable thing," said the manager quoted above, who sat in. "He's a little more formal, a little less sensitive to any emotion. He's direct, straight on. Polite, though. Very civil. He

didn't do anything to try to inflame things. I walked in wondering if it would turn into some ugly thing."

Is that report the paper's future? I asked Radler. "It's one thing to make a report," he said. "It's another thing to actually have the job. From my view that report is not a blueprint."

"The paper's bursting with talent," Wade said from London. (He'll be taking over in January.) "They're waiting for a new course to be set." Which is? But he had no intention of telling me until he could tell his staff.

Radler asked what I thought of his new brace of editors. They look pretty good, I replied. I've known Green somewhat for more than 20 years. As for Wade, I always hold a grudging respect for anyone who can say pleasantly something's none of my business. But editors come and go. Radler shouldn't expect reporters to be dancing with enthusiasm.

Radler thought about that. "These people have the advantage of being our choices" (he was comparing Wade and Green to Britton and Nadler) "without the disadvantage of our being temporary owners" (he was comparing Hollinger to Rupert Murdoch and Murdoch's evanescent successors). "We're in this forever. This paper will not be sold. That's pluses, right? It's got to give the incumbents more confidence, right?"

Intelligent Life in Gary?

Gary! You have to laugh. Stinking cesspool. Nothing there but steel mills.

Not like Chicago. We closed our mills years ago.

That city couldn't be more backward. I mean, Northwest Indiana! Is it a place or a teachers' college? Haw haw haw.

And this Planet Park they want to build there. Sounds like some sort of drive-in burger palace. Haw haw haw.

Some cowboy businessmen over there inhaled a little too much of the local swamp gas. Government hasn't promised them a dime.

You need government to get anything done. Government and business working hand in hand. Something Chicago's always understood. With the world's fair, that was the arrangement from the get-go.

Not to mention the Lake Calumet airport.

And the downtown circulator.

And the casino-entertainment complex.

Magnificent projects all. Beyond the capacity of Hoosiers to even imagine.

Chicago's forgotten more about progress than Northwest Indiana will ever know.

Did you see what the mayor's man, Ed Bedore, had to say? "They call it Planet Park, but to me it's more like Jellystone Park." You can't beat ridicule for cutting to the bone of a complex public-policy issue.

The dailies have contributed significantly to the general enlightenment. "Gary might take Bear fans' breath away--literally," said the headline to a Bob Verdi column bubbling with snappy one-liners on the stadium pipe dream: "Build it, and they will cough....This isn't about money, it's about hang time....When we kick on fourth down now, it will take forever for the ball to come down out of that wonderful pollution layer, if it comes down at all."

Haw haw haw. And what about the Jack Higgins cartoon in the Sun-Times on "how to get to Scary, Indiana." Seems you cross the "death toll bridge" and look for signs to the "mold coast."

Haw haw haw. Or Jay Mariotti placing the new stadium "in the bloody, tortured bosom of blight, crime and gloom."

Always the light touch with Jay.

But just when the press was on a roll, the good-natured badinage vanished.

Someone may have pointed out that a significant swath of the northwest Indiana population is literate. Apparently some of those people buy newspapers and were not amused.

Sounds like the bean counters stepped in. As they are so wont to do these days. Nipping much fine journalism in the bud.

Since Gary is unthinkable, where will the Bears play football?

There are various scenarios. One involves building the McDome adjacent to McCormick Place. If inadequately caulked and the thermostat set low, the manly traditions of the Monsters of the Midway would be nominally respected. Another possibility is the Midway itself, where seating amply accommodates current projections of future fan interest.

What about Soldier Field?

Very much alive. At the moment the city is balking at the Bears' request to rotate the field 90 degrees, on grounds this would add $70 million in costs and three years of labor to the renovation. But it's been pointed out--maybe by Burt Natarus--that Chicago could go the Bears one better by rotating the field a full 180 degrees.

And then there's Wrigley Field.

No, the Lakeview-Lincoln Park industrial corridor is definitely out. Do you realize Finkl steel is only two miles away?

News Bites

Young Chicago filmmaker Rebecca Michelman has sent us a copy of her fine hour-long documentary Eugene, which airs Sunday morning at 11:30 on Channel Seven and other ABC stations. The program tells the story of a 13-year-old Philadelphia boy who becomes a bar mitzvah though he's a quadriplegic victim of cerebral palsy and can't speak.

Michelman and her collaborator, Rebecca Schorsch, spent $15,000 "hard cash" on Eugene. "It would have been a $60,000 film," Michelman told me. "Everything else was bartered. I'm a freelance editor, and I'd edit things in exchange for editing time."

Michelman was told about Eugene only three days prior to his bar mitzvah. She had to commit herself to the documentary virtually overnight, before she'd raised a penny. Largely because of the finances, Eugene took three years to finish.

Worth a try, anyway. Headline to an "exclusive" article by state's attorney Jack O'Malley in last week's River North News: "My Approach to Fighting Crime: Good Over Evil."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Armando Villa.

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