Brain Drain

Is the Sun-Times Going Down the Tubes?

Ohen writers and editors start leaving the Sun-Times en masse something’s up, and it’s not employee morale. The exodus technically began in 1994, when the paper was bought by Hollinger International, but the bloodletting really picked up last December, when five staffers packed their bags. Since then 22 more editorial employees, or approximately 10 percent of the staff, have been fired or given good reason to quit. That includes 35-year veteran Basil Talbott, laid off three years before he could collect a full pension, editorial board member Cindy Richards, and columnist Carl Rowan, who resigned. Editor Nigel Wade said Rowan “retired,” but he seems to find the energy for his nationally syndicated column, no longer running in the Sun-Times. The contradiction in terms is in the hands of lawyers.

Daniel J. Lehmann, Newspaper Guild unit chair at the Sun-Times, says he understands that Hollinger has “expectations of profit” for the paper and that “the newsroom must do its part.” But he worries about staff reductions. The newsroom “has been allowed to shrink,” he says. “The Sun-Times has become so small that stories that once were routine are no longer covered. That’s not only because of the size of the staff–the space allocated for news under Hollinger is less that it has ever been under any prior ownership. Crime is a classic example. We’ve cut those stories way back because it takes people to do them.”

One person who left says he was upset by management memos during last year’s contract negotiations: “I’d be scared to death to work for that company without a union.” Then there’s the notorious comment Wade made to some high school students during a Loyola University panel discussion in October: “If you’re not a star somewhere by age 30, you’re probably not going to be one.” His encouraging words were distributed not just by word-of-mouth, but in the Chicago Headline Club’s newsletter Chicago Journalist.

Copy editor Mark Baldwin tendered his resignation letter a few weeks later. He wrote, “The company’s proposal to kill the pension plan, the lack of professional development opportunities, the editor-in-chief’s recent comments concerning the potential of us over-30 journalists–these and other actions suggest to me a barely concealed hostility to the legitimate aspirations of employees here. I’ve had enough.”


Mark Baldwin, copy editor

Ray Bendig, copy editor

Tami Bickley, secretary

Dale Bowman, editorial assistant

Jim Casey, general assignment reporter

Jennifer Cassell, editorial assistant

Rita Cook, secretary

Ginger DeShaney, copy editor

Steve Duke, business editor

Ellen Garner, pagination department

Ed Gilbreth, editorial writer

Ken Kozak, copy desk chief

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, photographer

Leon Pitt, housing reporter

Cindy Richards, editorial board member

Michelle Roberts, police reporter

Carl Rowan, columnist

Susy Schultz, reporter

Basil Talbott, political columnist

Laura Wagner, copy editor

Ed Wiederer, graphic artist

Olivia Wu, reporter, columnist

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Mike Werner.