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Meet the Tribune editorial board

December 28, 2003

Each day the Tribune's Editorial and Commentary pages present range of opinions, observations and prisms through which readers can shape how they choose to think about their world. These are the 11 Tribune journalists who write and edit these pages, plus a user's guide to the breadth of expressions that appear here.

Editorials

Each day's Chicago Tribune gives readers an abundance of news reports and objective analysis about their communities, their nation, their world. Here on the Editorial space intentionally set apart, the Tribune speaks its own mind about the many issues explored in other sections of the newspaper.

Tribune editorials project the opinions of this institution--to provoke debate, to pointed perspectives on the news, to set agendas in the greater Chicago community, crusade for change, to persuade readers and, often, to encourage them to react.

How do these Tribune opinions come to be? Three times each week, the editors writers whose photos appear today on these pages meet to determine what topics to be addressed in editorials and what the Tribune ought to say about each. Because members of the editorial board come from a wide range of backgrounds and political persuasions, disagreements among board members are frequent (and sufficiently civil to keep everyone coming back for more). That is the nature of the work.

Five core principles guide many of the board's debates. These principles-- equality, freedom of expression, individual liberty and individual responsibility, free markets and a limited role for government in the lives of citizens--have evolved over the Tribune's 156-year history.

These principles are guides, not reflexive dogmas. The specifics of each topic, and not a forged set of ideological templates, dictate where the discussion leads and what the resulting editorial will say. The board does not operate as a democracy: Decisions rest with the editor of the Editorial and Commentary pages. After these meetings, he assigns individual writers to craft the editorials that will reflect the Tribune's opinions.

Those opinions can change as new developments occur. Earlier this year, for example, the Tribune gave a limited endorsement to Israel's construction of a tall fence as a last-ditch effort to keep Palestinian suicide bombers from attacking Israeli civilians. More recently the Tribune has grown skeptical as the fence has extended farther and farther into West Bank lands where Palestinians live. One question has driven the board's discussion on this issue, which, like other disputes in the Middle East, is of great interest to many Tribune readers: What is the best path to a peaceful settlement of this chronic conflict?

Editorial writers spend more time reporting on and researching such topics than writing about them. At their best, the resulting editorials offer new facts, new insights, new interpretations of supposedly known commodities. Attempting to give readers rich contexts with which to interpret news events is the coin of the realm; conventional wisdom, the natural foe.

This is, in short, the place where the Tribune as an institution bares its soul. It may appear that, unlike most articles in the newspaper, editorials don't have bylines to identify whose voice is speaking to readers. Not so. Each day one byline appears in big, Gothic type on the top left corner of this page. Just as it has for 156 years.

Masthead

The masthead identifies the Tribune's publisher and top editors. They are responsible for the news operations and financial health of this newspaper. They are the current stewards of a tradition that dates back to 1847.

Cartoon

Colonial newspapers in America printed cartoons to convey their revolutionary messages to citizens who couldn't read. The art form evolved as a perfect way to communicate almost any opinion or emotion in a trenchant, poignant or humorous way. The Tribune prints the work of 16 cartoonists from across the U.S. They are free to take positions that disagree with those of the Editorial page.

Letters

The Tribune has printed the robust, touching and sometimes fierce opinions of tens of thousands of readers since the 1860s. This section of the Editorial pages is called Voice of the people, rather than Letters to the editor, to stress that the bond between this newspaper and its readers is a twoway relationship. This is the place for letter writers who disagree with Tribune editorials or who challenge the conclusions of the newspaper's news articles. Letters that are succinct rather than rambling, and that are factually accurate, stand the best chance of being selected for publication.

Commentary

The Commentary page is a daily forum for ideas and opinions offered by an ideologically diverse array of journalists and other members of the community. Unlike editorials, which reflect the thoughts of the editorial board, the pieces that appear on this page represent the views of the respective authors.

Staff columnists

Members of the Tribune editorial board who write columns are free to disagree with the newspaper's editorial opinions on any subjects they choose. Because they're accustomed to writing about issues of special interest to Tribune readers, staff columnists based in Chicago and Washington often benefit from a personal awareness of this newspaper and its audience.

Syndicated columnists

To give readers widely divergent views on policy issues, the Tribune purchases the right to print the columns of writers from outside the newspaper. Their work is marketed to many newspapers by companies called press syndicates--hence the term "syndicated columnist." If gathered in one place, they wouldn't agree on whether Earth is round or flat, let alone how to resolve the many topics and problems on which they hope to sway readers' opinions.

Guest writers

Much of the strongest writing that appears on the Commentary page comes from guest writers who submit articles for publication. Some 100 of these arrive each day from around the world, addressing all manner of sober and not-so-serious topics from a variety of political viewpoints. Choosing submissions that have the clearest writing, most solid reasoning and interesting content is the job of the commentary editor.


Bruce Dold

Editorial page editor

If an editor was permitted to have a version of Grandma's brag book, this would be the time to yank it out and show you the pictures.

Earlier this year Cornelia Grumman won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing for her brilliant work on death penalty reform. It was the fourth time in 17 years the Tribune has won the Pulitzer for editorials. No other newspaper has come close to that run.

Also this year, John McCormick won the Scripps Howard Foundation's Walker Stone award for editorials on Chicago's notoriously high murder rate. Alfredo Lanier won the opinion writing award from the Inter-American Press Association for his lively work on Latin America.

We recently ran an editorial series by Steve Chapman on the clash of civil liberties and national security. People on both the left and the right argued with it because it didn't fall into the settled camps on this issue. But it did what we should do: cause a lot of debate. If you read it, I'll bet you learned something.

It was a good year. I'm very proud of them. Now I'll put the brag book away.

I grew up in New Jersey and came to Chicago in 1973 as a freshman at Northwestern University. I became a Cubs fan four years before that, when Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Randy Hundley signed my copy of the June 30, 1969, Sports Illustrated with Santo on the cover. They lost to the Mets that day in Shea Stadium. The Cubs were jinxed; I was hooked.

I was a reporter for 12 years before I joined the editorial board in 1990. I became deputy editor and starting writing a column in 1995. I fired myself as columnist in 2000 when I became Editorial page editor and, yes, I miss the column. My wife, Eileen, is a health-care writer and we have two daughters, a college freshman and a high school junior.

A good day is any day I can find time to read Graham Greene, Nelson Algren or Larry McMurtry; listen to Miles Davis, Duke Ellington or Bruce Springsteen; play 18 holes at Cantigny; or read a good newspaper.


Steve Chapman

Columnist, editorial writer

When he was a boy attending Sam Houston Elementary School in Midland, Texas, George W. Bush probably never expected he would grow up to be president of the United States. When I enrolled in that same school a few years later, I certainly never imagined I would someday be writing commentary for a paper in faraway Chicago--much less about a fellow West Texan residing in the White House. But here we are.

I took a roundabout course to where I am. Bush apparently didn't develop a deep interest in politics and government until later in life, but I was set on a political career before I reached high school, and I stuck to that plan well into my college years. But one evening, I was in the basement of my dorm sharing a late-night snack with a friend who was on the staff of the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. When I began needling her about its far-left ideology--in those days, I was a conservative Republican, not yet having arrived at libertarianism--she brought me up short. "If you don't like it," she demanded, "why don't you come out for the Crimson and try to change it?"

I scoffed, but before long, she had baited me into taking the dare. I assumed the editors would tell me to get lost, but they didn't. Before long, I was a full-fledged student journalist. In time, I realized journalism might be a more fulfilling way of pursuing my interests than politics would be.

So after graduating in 1976, I moved to Washington, started freelancing for various political magazines, and eventually landed a job writing for The New Republic magazine. One day the Tribune called. A few months later, I found myself on the editorial board, where I've been ever since, writing editorials and a twice-weekly column on national and international affairs, which often include the policies of President Bush.

He and I parted ways geographically a long time ago, and we often end up in very different places on important issues. And if you want to know the truth, I think I got the better job.


Cornelia Grumman

Editorial writer

In 1994, after completing a master's degree in public policy, I spent six weeks helping my Aunt Julia campaign for secretary of state in Rhode Island. In my objective view, she was the superior candidate. Thoughtful, articulate, honest, effective and innovative, she had political experience, too, but wasn't an entrenched hack. Her opponents were colorful, in a California recall kind of way, but didn't know what a secretary of state did all day. Instead they stole her ideas for their platforms and filled out their campaigns with calorie-free platitudes.

The local newspapers didn't give her the time of day. On election day, her chief opponent sailed by on star power and big bucks. The cream--Aunt Julia--sank to the bottom.

Since joining the editorial board in 2000 and taking charge of political endorsements, I've had the opportunity to avenge Aunt Julia's failed campaign. The Tribune, I'm proud to say, commits considerable time and resources toward taking every candidate seriously, whether she's running for county clerk or the U.S. Senate. We invite contenders to fill out challenging questionnaires about topical issues. We interview hundreds of candidates, research their backgrounds and study their campaign finances before making our endorsement decisions.

Sometimes, happily, it's the long-shot novice with a few good ideas and the energy to get them done who gets the nod. Other times, we discover candidates who can't speak in full sentences, never gave a moment's thought to issues such as the state's budget woes, try to impress us with their "connections" or espouse ideas from outer space.

When I'm not coordinating endorsements, I write about social policy issues, the death penalty, education, child welfare and juvenile justice. Until April, however, I'm on maternity with my newborn son, Blair, who will be at home with me, luckily avoiding next spring's political campaigns. He'll learn all about that world soon enough.


Dodie Hofstetter

Voice of the people editor

This has been a year of sadness, tension, worry and some relief. Conflicts around the world continue to loom large. Relentless threats promise that the war on terror is here to stay. The war in Iraq brings sad news daily. The economy shows signs of recovery, but many still struggle to find good jobs and get out of debt. The cost of college tuition is beyond reach for many. Contract disputes involving teachers and garbage haulers resulted in some tense days across the metropolitan area. An unexpectedly exciting Cubs season made for a fun autumn. The 2004 presidential campaign is already providing material for many debates. Meigs Field virtually disappeared one night. The Bears returned to the lakefront with the opening of the team's controversial digs.

These were all issues of concern to Tribune readers this year, so, consequently, these issues filled many of my days in my job as editor of Voice of the people. Readers who take the time to write letters about such issues are talented, thoughtful and passionate. I have been moved to tears by letters, entertained by letters and learned from letters.

On top of a world filled with changes, there were changes in my household as well. My twins turned 18 and left for college. Although we miss them terribly and worry about the world they are inheriting, it has brought much joy to my husband and me to watch them explore new opportunities. We became instant empty-nesters and have now downsized and moved back into the city.

The most frustrating part of my job is the volume of letters we can't print. I receive nearly 2,000 letters each week; of those, I can run only between 50 and 70. Competition for publication is fierce, and I realize how frustrating this can be for our readers. Perfectly fine letters aren't used simply because we don't have enough space to run all of them. Letters are not selected because of any hidden agenda on the part of Tribune management, the editorial board or myself.


Alfredo Lanier

Editorial writer

At its most basic, the editorial board is a debating club of sorts. We meet three times a week to talk about world events, large and small. War in Iraq and the shooting of a wolf at the Brookfield Zoo. Argentina's wobbly economy and the latest sprinkling of city taxes. Huge public projects like the new Soldier Field and the preservation of the tiny but immensely important Farnsworth House in suburban Plano.

Each editorial board member is assigned to cover a portion of reality but, happily, we often stray from the cubbyholes. Latin America is normally my bailiwick, but last year I spent 10 days in Israel and the West Bank. I've covered energy and environmental policy but in the past few months have written about gay marriage, architectural preservation and municipal budgets. If pressed I'll tell you that foreign affairs is my favorite area. I try to go at it not as an ideologue but as an observer--of how people sustain daily survival. In a small place such as Israel, you can hear vastly different stories of survival, depending which side of the Green Line you are on. Sometimes making sense of it--are these people talking about the same reality?--can be exhausting.

It also can be a richly rewarding, as you share other people's wisdom and selflessness. For me these include a French-Canadian woman who runs a shelter for children with AIDS in Haiti, and human rights activists who spend their days campaigning against stubborn governments and long odds.

Part of my interest in things foreign comes from having been born in Cuba and coming to the U.S. at age 14. The rest is related to studying political science and international affairs at Manhattan College in New York and then at Indiana University in Bloomington. My training in journalism came later, at Northwestern University.

Chicago has been home for me and my partner for more than 31 years. Our mixed-breed dog and three cats are locals too.


Marcia Lythcott

Commentary editor

This month, my sister, Pam, and I finally sold our family home in Madison, Wis. We held onto it for many years because we didn't want to let go. Ours was a prolonged (albeit financially dumb) tribute to outstanding parents. It was my politically astute parents, William and Florence, who unwittingly steered me to a career in journalism. They were avid readers and passed their passion for politics on to me. We were a two-newspaper family. Before I could read, I'd sprawl on the floor, open the comics, try to figure out story lines and beg my mother to read the strips to me.

I read everything and thus was late for everything: I'd be off reading the ingredients on cereal boxes, The Bobbsey Twins series, fairy tales, True Confessions magazine (which I definitely wasn't supposed to read), Ebony, the encyclopedia.

My parents used newspapers to introduce Pam and me to politics. When we were "budding [middle-class] revolutionaries" in the late '60s and early '70s, we'd lollygag around the dinner table and debate the legitimacy of the Black Panthers, Lyndon Johnson's handling of Vietnam, whether to call ourselves "Negroes" or "black," student protests at the University of Wisconsin and the size of the beach-ball afros Pam and I wore.

Dad was a gentle man; Mom was a firecracker. I recall her crying only four times: when John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, and when Richard Nixon twice won the presidency.

Nixon. That brings me to my job as editor of the Commentary page. My mom, who read everything about Nixon, was in a rampage whenever she encountered a proliferation of pro-Nixon pieces. It's an affliction many Commentary readers share. Those who hate Molly Ivins' politics the most never skip her columns. Get rid of her, they say. But the point of the page is to offer diverse opinions. You don't have to agree with columnists. As William and Florence would tell you, columns are food for thought.


John McCormick

Deputy editorial page editor

Nine years ago, I spent several overnights watching medical workers save lives in the Trauma Unit of Cook County Hospital. Early one morning an unconscious man on a gurney came crashing through the unit's twin doors. He had four gunshot wounds in his body and a Chicago Fire Department paramedic bouncing up and down on his chest. Trauma Unit workers didn't waste time trying to learn their most imperiled patients' names. They nicknamed them alphabetically, like hurricanes. This guy arrived right after Unknown Trauma, Gerald, and Unknown Trauma, Harold. He became Igor.

For 12 minutes, I watched 12 doctors and nurses take extraordinary, even violent medical steps to try to save Igor's life. They couldn't. They walked away, still not knowing Igor's real name, as a medical student stitched up his wounds for practice. His pallor was so gray from blood loss that I couldn't even be sure of his race.

It turned out Igor was a taxi driver. He left a young widow who wouldn't stop wailing when his friends told her the awful news, and a beautiful, 3-year-old daughter who just couldn't understand.

I feel a lot like Igor's daughter. I can't understand the waste of his life, or the waste of resources spent treating him, burying him, pursuing the robber who killed him. I grew up in Manchester, Iowa, a town so peaceful that the police chief, who's been on the force 29 years, doesn't know how many decades have passed since the last homicide there. I remember, and envy, the overarching sense of safety that as a child I took for granted.

In Chicago, by contrast, we've had more than 600 murders every year since 1967. That totals more than 27,000 killings. Since late 2002, I've been writing occasional editorials about Chicago's stratospheric murder rate and attempts to drive it down. Often, though, when I'm reporting on this city's chronic bloodbath, I think of Igor, and of a little girl who just couldn't understand.


Clarence Page

Columnist, editorial writer

Time flies. Forty years have passed since I first committed journalism.

It was 1963, the year Martin Luther King led thousands in a civil rights march on Washington. Four little girls were killed by a bomb in a Birmingham, Ala., church. A sniper killed President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. American military "advisers" streamed into Vietnam. The Beatles were about to visit America. Things would never be the same after 1963.

I was an 11th grader at Middletown High School in Ohio, writing about these things for the school paper and wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

I was restless. History was rushing ahead and I wanted to be a part of it. I had a short attention span. I was the class clown.

Daily journalism looked like a good fit.

Flash forward a few years. The Tribune's editors are not quite 100 percent sure that they want to hire me. I have big hair, combat boots, a belt buckle shaped like a peace sign and a lot of attitude. Perhaps, the editors wonder, I might be a little too "militant" for the Tribune.

Fortunately, I am told, a reporter and former Chicago cop named Joe Boyce has spoken up on my behalf. It might do this newsroom some good to have a few militants around here, he said.

The editors, in their great wisdom, offered me a job the next day. I reciprocated by getting a haircut. Might as well meet them halfway, I figured.

A young man from the newspaper's Human Resources staff recently called to congratulate me on 30 years of Tribune employment. He wanted to know what I would like to have engraved on my anniversary wristwatch.

I laughed. I told him how I, as young reporter, never thought I would stick around long enough to earn one.

"Yeah," he mused. "That's what they all say."

Right. Time flies.


Paul Weingarten

Editorial writer

There was a sketch on "Saturday Night Live" several years back, in which comedian Jon Lovitz's signature line was "Get to know me!" The idea of the joke was that once you did, your luck in love and work would miraculously improve.

On these pages many days you'll find an invitation to get to know me, in a way. But I certainly won't be able to make any promises like Lovitz's.

Leaving aside fame and fortune, what will you gain if you get to know me? Well, you'll get to know what I (and my colleagues) think about Iraq and the Middle East, hydrogen cars and America's never-ending obsession with dieting. It's not all that serious--thankfully. I've explained to anxious Cub fans why watching, or not watching, the tense moments of the game doesn't actually affect the outcome. I suggested that we should all wear business suits, walk faster on sidewalks and spend less time on the cell phone.

People often wonder what it's like to be on the editorial board. They want to know who tells me what to write, and isn't it hard to write without a byline? The answers: Most of the time, I tell me what to write--generally it's what I'm interested in--and no, it isn't hard not to get a byline.

I spent many bylined years as a national correspondent in Texas and the Southwest. Then I was an editor at the Tribune for a decade, spending the last seven years before I joined the editorial board as the associate managing editor for metropolitan news.

Now I'm back on the writing side, and I still remember the advice delivered by one of my earliest mentors, Mary Knoblauch, a veteran editor and writing coach who retired from the Tribune earlier this year. She often reminded me that we're not writing to show how clever or obscure we can be, or to please the sources from whom we often gain insights. We are writing for the reader, to illuminate and sometimes to entertain.

Get to know me? If you read the Editorial page, you already do.


Patricia Widder

Editorial writer

My younger sister and I shared a room when I was growing up in Oshkosh, Wis., so when I wanted to read later than she did, I'd put a towel over the lamp to shield the light. Then I'd read on into the night.

I always kept a dictionary next to my bed, so I could look up words I didn't know. And sometimes I'd just lose myself in the dictionary, discovering the meaning of words I hadn't known existed. Occasionally what cut short my nighttime word journeys was the smell of scorched towel. It's pretty distinctive. All these years later, I still remember it.

I bring this up because these annual essays are supposed to tell you something about each of us. And my love of language tells you something fundamental about me. From the moment I learned to read, I fell in love with words, poems, stories, books. I love the way words can tell a tale or evoke an emotion, persuade or explain. I love figuring out where they came from. I love finding just the right word to complete a sentence.

I wrote my first story when I was not quite 6 years old. It was about my then-new baby brother. Some of my letters were backward; you know how kids do that. But the story is coherent--well, at least from a 6-year-old's perspective.

Growing up, I had no idea I'd wind up working for a newspaper, but I always knew somehow I would work with words. And that's what I do. I feel privileged to have a job that allows me to indulge a lifelong passion.

At this newspaper, I've spent most of my career specializing in business and economics as a reporter and editor, as a correspondent covering Wall Street in New York, as associate managing editor for business and then as chief economics correspondent in Washington. This is my second stint on the editorial board; I was briefly a member in 1986 and jumped at the chance to return in 1998. It's the best gig in the world.


Don Wycliff

Public editor, columnist

I was born in 1946, the year after the end of World War II and the best of all possible years for a black American child to be born--except for every year since. I turned 57 a few days ago and, as is so often the case nowadays, found myself at one moment that day with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

What a long way I've come! What a long way we African-Americans have come! What a long way we Americans have come! I like to think that I've not only benefitted from all the changes over the last 57 years but also have helped to make them.

I've been at the Tribune now for more than 13 years. For nine of those years, I was Editorial page editor. For the last three years, I've been public editor, a job I'm still learning to define and to do.

The defining was made both easier and harder by the blockbuster event in American journalism this year: the Jayson Blair scandal at The New York Times. The Blair affair certified and underscored the wisdom of a number of things we had been doing for several years already at the Tribune: an aggressive program of error-tracking and corrections, a policy of annually evaluating each staff member's performance, and an effort to explain to the public how newsroom decisions are made.

It is this last item--explaining the newspaper to the public--that preoccupies me. I do it in a number of ways--by talking to individual readers over the phone, responding to them via e-mail or traditional "snail mail," and writing a column that appears every Thursday on the Commentary page.

Every once in a while, I get a response that seems to validate my efforts, like this one that came a few weeks ago from Kerry Kleiber of Lafayette, Ind.: "You're candid and, as far as I can tell, never self-defensive. . . . I always understand your argument and I have confidence that when you know you or the Tribune is wrong, that it will be admitted and, if possible, corrected."

I couldn't ask for more.

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