Yesterday’s bombshell (sort of) of the resignation of Tribune editor Ann Marie Lapinski … if you really, really, look at it … is not much of a surprise. Lipinski represents the old Tribune Company. While her journalist values and ethics were undoubtedly outstanding, her management style was too wed to the old way of doing things. That meant having people and resources wherever and whenever it was needed, and that the only people who could tell the story were Chicago Tribune people. Being able to justify a 500+ person newsroom has become harder under the leadership of Sam Zell. That’s where the job lost its fit.
Her replacement, Gerry Kern, was a surprise to many, but then again, not so. Those many thought were in line for the job … folks such as AME James Warren … were Lipinski’s people who would bring the same newsroom conflict to Zell’s vision for the paper. Kern, who has spent the past several years in the corporate world, has a better handle on the Zell vision. Just like in baseball, if the owner and manager don’t see eye-to-eye, the owner goes out and finds one who does.
And although Kern represents the old-world Tribune Company, he has a track record of leading change in the company.
I worked for Kern when he was executive editor at the Daily Herald, and he struck me as good idea person, who could build consensus in a group and lead with a soft touch. His style was low-key and affable, which may be a shock in the Tribune newsroom culture. But, he was always friendly and loyal to his staff.
I ran into him at a party several years ago. At that time he was given the charge to create “synergies” between Tribune papers and the newly-acquired Times-Mirror papers. They way he described it, it sounded as if he was assigned to tear down the Great Wall of China using a dull icepick, but he was very upbeat and eager to take on his new role. And, several hard, bitter years later, he has made significant headway, although parts of the wall are still standing.
Can Gerry lead the Tribune into the new era? It’ll be tough, considering one of his first roles will be to let 80 or so staffers go and introduce a smaller, less news-heavy product. I also expect he’ll deal with an exodus of FOAMs (friends of Ann Marie) who have held significant positions in the newsroom under her leadership.
But I have faith that Gerry will show everyone he wasn’t named editor to be Sam Zell’s hatchet man. The Kern era will likely start in tumult, but … as a good friend would say … he’s got ganas to make it work.