Franklin brings zest for news, competition

Aggressive coverage of shuttle, NASCAR marked Fla. tenure

January 07, 2004|By Robert Litttle | Robert Litttle,SUN STAFF

Timothy A. Franklin, the new editor and vice president of The Sun, is a veteran journalist who rose from a reporting position at the newspaper's parent corporation, the Tribune Co., to become one of the company's most aggressive and respected newsroom managers, according to several of his former colleagues.

Hired out of a college internship program by the Chicago Tribune in 1982, Franklin covered state, local and national politics as a reporter for the Tribune Co. flagship before taking on editing roles in the suburban news and sports departments. Franklin's job with The Sun is his third in the top editorial position at a metropolitan newspaper, after stints in Indianapolis and Orlando, Fla.

Colleagues say Franklin's encounters with major, breaking news stories during his two tours as a top editor reveal a commitment to thorough, even saturating, news coverage when opportunity strikes, and a willingness to spend money to make his papers unique.

"I'm one of the old school - I've been in this business since 1956 - and I've never worked with anyone as exciting and energetic as Tim Franklin," said Ann Hellmuth, assistant managing editor for national and foreign news at the Orlando Sentinel, where Franklin spent three years as editor before yesterday's appointment to The Sun. "Before, we were lucky if we went up the road to the nearest town. But with Franklin we had people embedded in Iraq, following the space program to Russia, we probably had 20 people in Houston after the shuttle disaster - he just threw money at good stories."

Franklin became editor of the Sentinel, a Tribune Co. newspaper, in December of 2000, after less than a year at the helm of the Indianapolis Star. Former associates at the Indiana newspaper, which is near Franklin's hometown, say the 43-year-old journalist is most remembered for shaking up the news operation, hiring new employees at well over the average pay rate and otherwise pumping life into the organization. He left the position not long after the newspaper was sold to Gannett Co., though he says, "I wasn't running from something, I was running to something."

"When he first came in, it was like he wanted to see how high we could jump, and pretty soon we were jumping in ways we never thought we could," said Marc Allan, a copy editor at the Star and president of the paper's newsroom union. "But Indianapolis and Orlando were both, if not reclamation projects, at least papers that needed some pretty good renovations. The Sun is already pretty impressive. It'll be interesting to see what he does with it."

Soon after his arrival in Orlando, Franklin inherited a story about deficient safety measures for NASCAR drivers that would become one of his defining professional moments, colleagues say. Within days of the paper's report in February 2001, driver Dale Earnhardt died in a crash, and the Sentinel went to court to gain access to his autopsy photographs, saying it wanted them reviewed by an independent medical expert. A doctor later determined from the photographs that Earnhardt died from a type of injury that might have been prevented if he used a safety device the newspaper had described in its earlier stories.

"Did those stories have a direct effect on saving lives? I don't know. But I can probably name 10 or 12 drivers who would be dead right now if they weren't wearing one of those devices, and I don't think they'd be wearing them if not for Tim Franklin's aggressiveness in exposing what was wrong," said Ed Hinton, the Sentinel's auto racing writer and one of the project's primary reporters. "He was just fabulous under fire, and the fire didn't just last for days or weeks but for months."

"Public records are one of his main interests, not just as a matter of the paper's editorial policy but with our lawyers as well," said Jane Healy, editorial page editor of the Sentinel and a former managing editor of the paper. "But he's also very good at putting out a daily paper. He wanted a very urgent paper - he didn't want to wait on things - but at the same time he wanted everything in context and perspective. It's a good combination."

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