With Barron out, Kirk kicks in to high gear at Sun-Times

For 17 years at the Sun-Times, John Barron was the consummate team player who thrived in every position he held. With seemingly effortless ease, he shifted between the editorial and business sides of the company, rising from reporter to editor to publisher during the most turbulent times in the paper’s history.

But with the latest change in ownership and top management, Barron, 53, knew it was time to go. In a move he’d been telegraphing for weeks, he stepped down Tuesday as executive editor.

“I was fortunate that I had the chance to do it all at the Sun-Times — as reporter, department head, editor-in-chief and publisher,” he told me shortly after receiving a warm sendoff from the newsroom. “I got the rare opportunity to do both journalism and the business of journalism. We faced huge challenges over the years, and I’m especially proud that we always made it through . . . and won lots of awards along the way. All credit goes to the hardest-working staff in the Western Hemisphere.”

Barron could have stayed with the company had he accepted an offer to become publisher of the Reader, which was acquired last week by Sun-Times parent Wrapports LLC. Instead he chose to leave with no specific destination, marking a rare career break for the Chicago native and pride of Fenwick High School and Marquette University.

“I’ve been casting a fairly large net for opportunities both inside and outside media,” he said of his future plans.

Jim Kirk, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Sun-Times Media, had nothing but praise for Barron: “John is a gifted journalist who has a wonderful ability to see a story where others don’t — we will miss that,” he said in a statement. “He has a great wit and calm demeanor that went a long way to help the staff during some difficult times over the years. We wish him all the best.”

Now with Barron out the door (preceded by former editor-in-chief Don Hayner and former features editor Amanda Barrett), Kirk is free to reshape the editorial management structure of the Sun-Times and implement his vision for a digital news operation encompassing all of the company’s properties. Apparently, he’s wasting no time doing so.

In a move that could be announced this week, sources said, Linda Bergstrom, a key editor from the Chicago Tribune, is expected to defect to the Sun-Times. Bergstrom, who became a section editor at the Tribune in 1994, has been overseeing food, travel, consumer, family, home, health and related areas as lifestyle editor since 2006. She also was instrumental in Printers Row, Chicago Homes and other Tribune feature products. At the Sun-Times, she’s expected to take on a new role overseeing features companywide under Kirk.

Sources said Kirk also is expected to announce the reassignment of several insiders to new positions.

If he’s lucky, it may be enough to overcome the embarrassment of the paper’s inaugural Daily Splash columns, a pet project of Wrapports chairman Michael Ferro, overseen by Susanna Negovan, former editor of Michigan Avenue magazine.

Following Monday’s tepid opener by Gary Sinise, the paper suffered a black eye Tuesday with a column by Jim Belushi in which the actor plugged the brand of medication he takes for gout without disclosing that he is a paid spokesman for Savient Pharmaceuticals, maker of the drug. When confronted with the information, the paper acknowledged its lapse. A Sun-Times spokeswoman attributed it to the “growing pains of launching a new section.”

By late Tuesday, the following “editor’s note” was appended to Belushi’s column: “A reference in this column to the gout treatment drug Allopurionol should have noted that Belushi is in an awareness campaign sponsored by the drug’s maker, Savient Pharmaceuticals.”

Wednesday morning followup: A representative for Savient Pharmaceuticals sent the following clarification: "Savient does work very closely with Jim on the Check Out Your Gout campaign, but the medication Jim takes for gout which was referenced in his Sun-Times piece (Allopurinol) is not made by Savient. His work with the company is in an unbranded capacity — aimed at encouraging dialogue around the condition. Savient does make a medication called Krystexxa for an advanced form of gout (refractory chronic gout), though Jim does not suffer from RCG nor does he take Krystexxa."

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)