? Paper's vets applaud internal hire. Barron says he's committed to pursuing investigative projects.
The Chicago Sun-Times promoted Oak Parker John Barron to editor-in-chief on March 4, breaking a 16-year tradition of bringing in outside editors to run the city's second largest daily newspaper.
Barron, 46, rose from executive managing editor to the position, replacing Michael Cooke, who left to edit the New York Daily News. Barron served as executive managing editor for 14 months, and before that as a business reporter and features editor.
Sun-Times veterans praised the internal hire and said Barron represents the first Chicagoan to hold the post since Ken Towers stepped down in 1989.
"I was relieved," said Don Hayner, who was promoted in the same move to managing editor. Not only was Hayner promoted, but "we've got two Chicago guys running the news shop," he said.
"Most of all, we're glad to see the company wanted to go in-house, which seems to be confirmation of the approach we've been taking," said Mark Brown, Sun-Times columnist and also an Oak Parker.
In the past, bringing in someone new has often caused "a lot of upset," which at times may have been needed, Brown said. "This isn't one of those times. We seem to be hitting our stride right now in terms of the kind of newspaper we're putting out," Brown said.
That means local investigation packages, such as "Clout on Wheels," the paper's award-winning series dealing with the city's Hired Truck Program; "Taken for a Ride," which exposed Chicago's towing practices; and "Wounded Warriors," which shed light on the way Illinois veterans are treated when they return from war.
Readers looking for a shakeup or new direction from Barron taking over won't find either, Barron said. He's pleased to keep the emphasis on local news, breaking news and investigative coverage and is committed to redeploying resources for investigative projects.
The reported possibility of the Chicago Tribune adopting a tabloid format wouldn't change the Sun-Times' approach either. "At this point we're content to say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Barron said.
But as chief, Barron is not just an editor, he's a manager?#34;something Brown said Barron is particularly skilled at.
"He's very smooth and good with people," Brown said. "He just seems to know how to manage people and get people to perform."
"When we moved, he was very much involved in planning this really complicated, logistical nightmare move, and it came off very smoothly," said Jim Ritter, Sun-Times reporter and another Oak Parker.
Ritter knows Barron best from sitting across the negotiating table from him while hammering out the reporters' contract in 2001. Contract negotiations are always adversarial, Ritter said, but "the things [Barron] said were always respectful."
At that time, Hollinger International Inc., the company that owns the Sun-Times, was run by Lord Conrad Black and David Radler, whom Ritter described as "venal, selfish, distrustful crooks."
"That was not John Barron," Ritter said. "He's a person of ethics and principles, unlike Conrad Black and David Radler. ... We all realized that. People weren't angry at him."
But Ritter has something in common with Barron in that they are both "bookworms," Ritter said, describing Barron as "extraordinarily well-read." Barron keeps three or four books going at a time to fit different moods.
"You never want a reading moment to go unfulfilled," Barron said.
Green Line riders might recognize Barron with his nose in a book during his morning or evening commute.
Barron had a time-consuming job before the promotion, but said the new post won't cut into his reading time.
"I would have to be very, very, very busy to scale back on the reading," he said.
Barron became acquainted with Oak Park while attending Fenwick High School in the 1970s. He took a chartered bus 15 miles each day to and from Western Springs, where his family lived.
Oak Park made an impression on him: the architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright houses he saw, the stories of famous ex-villagers such as Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a downtown that beat the pants off of Western Springs' downtown.
"It was exciting to go from middle suburbia to inner suburbia," Barron said. "It was fun to be that much closer to Chicago, and a place much older than the place I grew up."
And after looking at other suburbs, he was attracted to Oak Park for the "cliché reasons"?#34;proximity to Chicago, diversity and the village's urban/suburban mix.
"I like the idea that there's sidewalks. I like that the CTA runs through town," Barron said. "I like the fact that my kids can walk to and from school."
He and his wife, Maureen, have two daughters, the elder of which is a freshman at Fenwick.
Barron pays attention to Oak Park issues, and weighed in on a few:
? Marion Street mall: Open it. "I think a vibrant downtown relies on a vibrant flow of traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular." When he is on the mall during nights and weekends, "traffic is nowhere what it should be."
? Development: "I'm concerned about historic preservation, but there's plenty of room for progress in Oak Park." He's excited about the improvements in Downtown Oak Park in past decade and the village's restaurant scene, especially the area of Lake Street just east of Oak Park Avenue.
"That's pretty hard to beat, in terms of variety and quality," Barron said.