Thomas named Sun editorial page editor Sterne retiring after 43-year career

April 16, 1997|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

Jacqueline Thomas, the 44-year-old Washington bureau chief of the Detroit News, was named yesterday as editor of The Sun's editorial page.

Thomas, who starts work May 19, will succeed Joseph R. L. Sterne, 68, who has been editorial page editor -- the person responsible for expressing the newspaper's opinion on issues -- since 1972.

Sterne, who has served longer in the job than anyone in The Sun's history, said he would retire in June after a transition period.

Publisher Mary E. Junck introduced Thomas to the newspaper's top managers yesterday morning as having an "almost ideal background" for the job.

Thomas, who has headed the Detroit newspaper's Washington bureau since 1994, said: "I am thrilled to be here and look forward to getting to know all of you, and I can't wait to start."

She will be the first woman and the first African-American to become editorial page editor at The Sun, which marks its 160th anniversary next month.

Thomas said that in directing the editorial page she didn't expect to deviate from some of Sterne's signature positions: support of free trade, abortion rights, efforts to cut the federal government deficit and a regional approach to Baltimore's needs.

She said she has a "strong commitment to cities, which I think are wonderful places."

But she said she was also concerned with the problems of Baltimore's older suburbs.

Thomas described herself in an interview as "fundamentally somebody who's a pragmatist more than anything else."

"Politically, I'm probably slightly left of center," she said, "but I don't think ideological labels will probably be useful in describing me."

She said readers should not expect immediate changes in The Sun's editorial or op-ed pages.

"Editorial pages are the place you least want to jar your readers," she said.

"I can't overemphasize how much I am likely to spend a good bit of time getting to know the staff and the community. I will be listening and learning even as I begin to shape the page."

Thomas said she expects to write frequent editorials and occasional signed columns.

"One of the appeals of this job was to get back into writing," she said. "I have opinions. It'll be nice to have a place to write them again."

Thomas, who lives in Rosslyn, Va., said she had visited Baltimore a weekend tourist and expects to settle in the city.

She said she would take advantage of Sterne's "incredible knowledge of this community built on 43 years working for this newspaper."

"It does take a concerted effort, learning your job and the community at the same time," she said. "It's an incredible challenge, but it can be done. I will be working hard at it."

After a national search, Thomas was selected from a dozen candidates, including several Sun staff members, who were interviewed by Junck, Sterne, Editor John S. Carroll and Managing Editor William K. Marimow. She will report to Junck.

"I was looking for someone who could take the terrific pages Joe [Sterne] has presided over and take them to yet another level, in terms of high quality, impact on the community and general excellence," Junck said.

"I'm real enthusiastic about Jackie. I think she will be able to do that."

Carroll said Thomas was a veteran reporter and editorial writer, had Washington experience and management background, was personable and a team player.

"She'll have much to learn about Maryland public affairs, but we also have a staff that is very seasoned in those subjects. I think the staff can help her a lot," he said.

Marimow said Thomas fit his three main criteria for the job: broad journalistic background, "bedrock integrity" and leadership ability.

Born in Nashville, Tenn., Thomas moved to Chicago with her family as a toddler. Her father was an urban planner and her mother a homemaker and active volunteer. At the age of 15, she graduated from University of Chicago High School in 1968.

She enrolled at Briarcliff (N.Y.) College, a women's school that no longer exists, and graduated cum laude in 1972.

She received a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University in 1974.

Thomas began her newspaper career as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. She worked there from 1974 until 1985, the first five years as a business reporter covering banking, retail and the steel industry.

In 1979 she moved to the urban affairs beat. Her most noteworthy reporting was on financial mismanagement at the Chicago Housing Authority.

In 1983-1984, she studied American history as a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

Thomas broke into editorial writing at the Louisville Times and the Courier-Journal in 1985. She moved to the Detroit Free Press the following year as associate editor, with responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the editorial and op-ed pages.

In 1992, Thomas switched to the Detroit News as news editor, assembling the front page. She was assigned to the paper's Washington bureau the next year, soon becoming deputy bureau chief.

In 1994, she was made bureau chief, supervising a seven-member staff.

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