Sun-Times travel editor lands as new TV critic

Chicago Sun-Times travel editor Lori Rackl is about to trade her passport and suitcase for a remote control and a La-Z-Boy. Just in time for the fall season, she’s been named TV critic.

In announcing the appointment Wednesday, Sun-Times managing editor Andrew Herrmann said Rackl has excelled in a variety of roles since she joined the newspaper in 2004. Before being named travel editor in 2007, she covered the health beat and worked as features writer and general assignment reporter.

“She’s never been a TV critic, but she’s a very fine writer, she has a sense of humor, and she has a smart way of thinking,” Herrmann told me. “She’s won awards at every beat we’ve ever given her. I think she’s ready for the challenge.”

In becoming the Sun-Times’ fourth TV critic in six years, Rackl succeeds Paige Wiser, who was fired last June after it was discovered she had fabricated parts of a Glee concert review. Wiser now writes Planet Paige, a blog on television and pop culture.

More surprising than Rackl’s appointment was the decision to fill the position altogether. At a time of layoffs and cutbacks, TV critics have become an endangered species at newspapers across the country. That’s especially true in Chicago where both the Tribune and the Daily Herald have eliminated the job in recent years and opted to rely on wire copy instead.

But at the Sun-Times (where Ron Powers was the first TV critic to win a Pulitzer Prize nearly 40 years ago), editors still consider it a priority to have someone on staff to guide readers through the multitude of choices on television. “I think that’s what people are looking for,” Herrmann said. “They’re looking for a Sherpa of sorts. There’s this blizzard of television and they’re saying: ‘Just show me the way!’”

Reached in Ireland, where she was on a travel assignment, Rackl acknowledged that she never imagined becoming a TV critic (“I thought liking Jersey Shore would have automatically ruled me out,” she joked), but said she was excited to take on the beat.

“I can’t think of many subjects that resonate with people more than television,” she said. “Nearly 97 percent of Americans own TV sets. Even people who say they don’t watch TV watch TV. It’s going to be a lot of fun to be part of the discourse on such a key part of our culture. I also think there’s some karmic justice at work here. Growing up, I was the only kid in my neighborhood who didn’t have cable. Be careful what you wish for.”

While editorial oversight of the travel section will be handled by Sun-Times features editor Amanda Barrett, Rackl still plans to contribute a monthly column on travel. “Travel writing has always been my passion, and I’m thrilled that the paper will let me continue to do that to some degree,” she said.

A graduate of west suburban Addison Trail High School and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Rackl is married to Sun-Times reporter Chris Fusco.

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