January 18, 2018

You might at least envy Jim Kirk's frequent flier miles.

In recent months, he's dutifully served Tronc as interim editor at the Los Angeles Times after it dispatched Davan Maharaj, while it looked for both a new full-time editor and publisher.

Now his Chicago-Los Angeles commute becomes a shorter Chicago-New York trek as he'll fill a void at the most recent addition to the Tronc universe, America's most venerable tabloid, the New York Daily News. He was appointed interim editor-in-chief Thursday and simultaneously arrived in the newsroom to meet the staff.

If there was a vague sense of deja vu, it's understood. The paper has seen three editors in recent years: Colin Myler, Jim Rich and Arthur Browne. When Browne, a longtime stalwart at the paper as both a reporter and editorial page editor, decided to exit in December, that left a large vacancy to be filled by a new owner.

Longtime News owner Mort Zuckerman last year unloaded the money-losing daily to Michael Ferro, a Chicago tech entrepreneur who's morphed into an unlikely and idiosyncratic media mini-baron. The Times is his largest asset and appears to have superseded the Chicago Tribune, long the flagship of what was known as Tribune Co., in his interests and expenditure of resources.

Kirk was a longtime reporter and section editor at the Tribune before exiting for Bloomberg News (yes, commuting to Washington from Chicago for several years), then returned home for what proved a succession of jobs: helping to run the nonprofit Chicago News Cooperative, overseeing Crain's Chicago Business and running the newsroom at the Chicago Sun-Times. (I've worked with him at both the Tribune and the CNC.)

At the Sun-Times, then run by Ferro, he became both editor and publisher at the same time. That combo was a personnel gambit Ferro took to Tribune when he took over the major newspaper company. It did not work well in Los Angeles, prompting Maharaj's departure and the subsequent hiring of two people and a return to an older model. There have been a flurry of recent personnel moves in Los Angeles.

Justin Dearborn, an attorney who served Ferro in a health care business and is now Tronc's chief executive officer, said, "Jim will oversee day-to-day editorial operations and work closely with other Tronc departments as the Daily News transitions to ARC, the company’s new content management system. In addition, he will work with Tronc leadership on the search for a permanent Editor-in-Chief. All Daily News newsroom leadership will report to Jim."

The News has seen several decades of decline and tumult, including a raft of buyouts, and ultimately Zuckerman's struggle to find a buyer. (I served several years as the paper's Washington bureau chief.) He essentially threw up his hands in cutting a deal with Ferro. At heart, its business model has long been broken, especially with the accelerating disappearance of advertising and its rolling the dice on becoming a national digital presence.

Still, the paper has survived, maintains a distinct persona and the ability to capture attention both through superior work — last year it partnered with ProPublica to win a Pulitzer Prize for work on how a little known law had booted shop owners from businesses and residents from their homes — and its capacity to capture visceral public opinion with provocative front pages.

The most recent involved a spat tailor-made for the tabloid, namely the outrage over President Trump's remark on "s—hole countries."

"S*** For Brains" was the cover line underneath a caricature of Trump.

Its other strengths include a very sharp op-ed page, though the challenges in monetizing content are obvious and formidable for Kirk and whomever is picked to run the paper on a long-term basis.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
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