Tribune editor Blau is named managing editor of The Sun

Prize-winning journalist to fill No. 2 newsroom post

October 13, 2004|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Robert Blau, a top projects and investigations editor at the Chicago Tribune, was named yesterday as the Sun's managing editor, the No. 2 position in the newsroom.

Blau, 45, is a prize-winning editor and reporter with varied newsroom experience, including a stint early in his career as a movie reviewer.

He comes to The Sun as part of a new management team put together by Editor Timothy A. Franklin, who began work in Baltimore in January. Blau replaces Anthony F. Barbieri, who took early retirement about three months ago, and will be responsible for much of the daily operations and the direction of the newspaper.

"I've gotten the opportunity to study the paper, and I have come to admire it as one of the truly distinguished American newspapers," Blau said in a phone interview from his office at the Chicago Tribune, the flagship newspaper for the Tribune Co., which also owns The Sun. "The opportunity to build on the great journalistic legacies was too good to pass up."

The appointment of Blau, who will start work at The Sun after the November election, comes at a time when budget cuts have taken a toll on the newsroom staff, which numbers about 368.

36 have left

About three dozen reporters, editors and other newsroom staff took buyouts or left voluntarily in the past year. At the same time, The Sun has rolled out or is planning several new features for readers, including sections on professional football, health and science and the workplace.

Blau said he can "lift spirits" by promoting distinctive journalism in every department of the newspaper.

Franklin said in a memo and again during a staff meeting yesterday that he chose Blau from among four finalists based on his past performance.

"Bob is an editor with a proven record for conceiving and executing some of the most creative and important newspaper projects in the nation in recent years," he said. "Bob is an editor who thinks big and has big aspirations for The Sun, and he embodies the journalistic values and standards that make this one of the best newspapers in America."

Also yesterday, Franklin promoted metropolitan editor Sandra A. Banisky, a long-time Sun journalist, to deputy managing editor for news, overseeing metro, national, foreign and Washington news. Franklin said she will be responsible for "elevating the quality and creativity of our daily and Sunday Page One reports."

Franklin also said he plans to hire a new metropolitan editor and another editor or two, as well as another nine or 10 journalists to fill existing vacancies. He already has hired 15 journalists.

Blau will be his top assistant, and comes to The Sun with a reputation for top-tier work.

In his six years as associate managing editor for projects and investigations in Chicago, he was the editor of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series and five others that were finalists for the prestigious award. The Pulitzer winner, in 2001, was "Gateway to Gridlock," which detailed the frustrations of air travel. He also edited an investigation of Illinois' troubled death penalty system, which helped lead to a moratorium on executions in the state.

Pulitzer finalist

As a reporter, Blau was a Pulitzer finalist in 1997 with "Gambling with Life," a look at why people around the world have children they can't afford. He also has served as the Tribune's Perspective section editor, projects reporter and police reporter. The latter beat was the basis for a book called The Cop Shop.

He said he began his career at the Tribune reviewing movies that the paper's well-known film critic, Gene Siskel, did not want to see.

Blau's wife, Leah Eskin, is a food columnist for the Chicago Tribune Magazine. They have two children, Hannah, 7, and Noah, 4.

Those who work for him and compete with him praise his work.

Sam Roe, an investigative reporter at the Tribune who has worked for Blau for four years, called him "inspirational for reporters and editors alike." He added that Blau can be demanding and attentive to every detail.

`Artistic side'

Jeff Leen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning assistant managing editor for investigations at The Washington Post, said he has "an artistic side, which is sort of rare in this business."

Leen also said, "There are only a handful of editors in the country who consistently, year after year, produce outstanding work."

Blau's resume also impressed some at The Sun who have expressed concerns about the quality and spirit of the newspaper.

"I think any objective observer would question if decisions by our Tribune ownership have had a positive impact on that quality," said Mike Hill, unit chair for the newsroom's union. "So it has to be of some concern when we learn that our new managing editor is from Chicago. That said, his resume looks great.

" ... So we look forward to meeting him and working with him to maintain and improve the quality of the paper our subscribers get every day."

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