A Change in Opinion at the Sun-Times

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(Photo: Controversial Sun-Times opinion page editor Cheryl Reed has left the building. Credit: PostPunkKitchen.)

In December, the former editor of the Sun-Times Opinion page, Cheryl Reed, and I threw down here on the pages of CHICAGO CARLESS. I called Reed out on a series of shallow comments she made at a December 5th forum sponsored by the Publicity Club of Chicago to discuss how the city’s major dailies vet the views to publish on their opinion pages.

That day, my entire table was left scratching our heads and discussing amongst ourselves why Reed would openly say (multiple times) that in order to drum up sales, she tried to make sure the Sun-Times only published opinions she thought the paper’s readers would want to hear.

The import of Reed’s comments were hard to miss, coming as they did after the Chicago Tribune’s opinion editor, Bruce Dold, spent ten minutes speaking fiercely about the Trib’s desire to help make beneficial change happen in the world by using its editorial pulpit for the highest good and giving voice to the most influential opinion leaders.

Three days after I blogged about the seeming journalistic vapidity of her comments, Reed commented on my blog, telling me I must have been “too busy chewing my chicken” to have been truly paying attention to what she had said. Unfortunately, her recollection just didn’t jibe with what I and my colleagues heard actually come out of her mouth.

I wasn’t a bit surprised. During her less-than-year-long reign as Empress of Sun-Times Opinion, Reed was a flashpoint of controversy for print traditionalists over her management of the paper’s opinion pages with an eye more towards social networking than social justice.

But all things must come to an end, and so has Cheryl Reed’s job at the Sun-Times. Enraged that Sun-Times editor Michael Cooke and publisher Cyrus Freidheim rewrote the 2008 presidential endorsements originally penned by Reed and her self-chosen editorial board, last week Reed walked away from the paper.

As she was leaving, she spat over her shoulder with a note to her former staff saying the rewrite “severely damages the integrity of the board and makes a mockery of the editorial process,” and calling the paper’s actions “absolutely antithetical to the vision and purpose of my hiring.”

Oddly enough, I agree with Reed. It’s not acceptable for a paper’s publisher to step in and jigger with decisions and content originating from its editorial board, and it’s certainly a vote of no-confidence for Reed and her editorial board.

And a propos of that no-confidence vote, um, hello? Would anyone else bet money that that was probably the point of the rewrite? The blunt message Cooke and Freidheim may have been trying to send to Reed in the first place?

For a year, now, the Sun-Times has been positioning itself as the city’s progressive, socially forward daily. Maybe, just maybe, the paper’s head honchos felt hobbled in that effort by an opinion page that was quickly turning into the shallowest such page in Chicagoland?

As I said in my response to Reed’s rant on my blog, an inconsistent stance on the pressing issues of the day is neither a hallmark of journalistic integrity nor of the fight for socially progressive change. I fail to see how a newspaper with a deliberately inconsistent editorial voice can be taken seriously on either playing field.

So, good luck to Reed in her future endeavors, better luck to Tom McNamee as the Sun-Times’ new, er, opinion leader, and best of luck to the Sun-Times, itself. Because it really is the best source for news from the neighborhood trenches or our city, and it deserves to a have a powerhouse, truly progressive, social-justice based opinion page to match.

This time around, I hope the paper actually gets one.

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