Is new media model just another old boy network?

May 5, 2010

Jim Kirk

For an enterprise that's supposed to be all about taking a "fresh, innovative approach" and creating a brand new model for journalism, the Chicago News Cooperative continues to look a lot more like a job haven for former Chicago Tribune editors and writers.

Although it's a charge that's plagued the CNC since its startup last fall, the addition this week of Jim Kirk as managing editor adds yet another Tribune alum to a staff that includes Jim O'Shea, David Greising, James Warren, Dan McGrath, Marshall Froker, Tony Majeri, Dan Mihalopoulos, José Moré, Bill Parker, Jessica Reaves and Don Terry, among other expatriates from the regime of former editor Ann Marie Lipinski (who also happens to be a member of the CNC's advisory board.)

Kirk, 44, whose 11 years at the Tribune included runs as media columnist (during which we were spirited but friendly competitors), marketing columnist and business editor, is savvy enough to know how lopsided the CNC's staffing might appear to others. "That's an issue that's going to have to be addressed," he said. "I could see from the outside where it looks like [they're] trying to get the Tribune back together. Everybody is very aware of that. But I don't view it that way. I just view it as the people I'm working with."

After leaving the Tribune at the end of 2008, Kirk spent the last 16 months in Washington, D.C., directing a team of 40 reporters and editors covering the federal government for Bloomberg News. It was, in many ways, a dream job that Kirk chose to cut short in order to come back home to his wife and three children, who were unable to make the move to Washington with him. In joining the CNC, the nonprofit news organization providing content for local editions of the New York Times and operating its own website, Kirk acknowledges the career gamble he's taking:

"This thing is obviously risky and a challenge. But I'm going into this eyes wide open. Working for Bloomberg and running a big team like that was a great job. It was a very difficult decision on my part. I think I've learned a lot in this past year, and the hope is maybe there's another model [for journalism] out there. . . . I feel like I've added to my knowledge base, and now I'm coming back with that knowledge to apply what I've learned."

Kirk leaves Bloomberg with glowing reviews from his colleagues, including his boss, Washington bureau chief (and fellow Tribune alum) Michael Tackett. "To say that Jim was spectacular would be to understate his contribution," Tackett wrote in a memo announcing Kirk's departure. "He drove us all to better performance with relentless competitiveness and professionalism. And somehow he also did it with personal grace and compassion."

At the same time, Tackett announced the hiring of Kirk's replacement at Bloomberg. He's Mark Silva, a Washington reporter and political blogger for -- you guessed it -- the Tribune. That's the old boy network for you.

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