Times’ new editor is viewed as adept newspaper leader
About the only person who advised Chicago Tribune Managing Editor James E. O’Shea to take the job of editor of The Times was his friend Dean Baquet, the person he’s replacing.
“Almost everybody else told me I’d be crazy to do it because Dean’s such a popular editor and there’d be resentment of anybody else, particularly somebody from Chicago,” O’Shea said Tuesday. “But, honestly, I think I can help.”
O’Shea, 63, who joins The Times on Monday, comes to the job with more than 30 years of experience in business, national and foreign news with the Tribune, the Des Moines Register and the Army, where he got his start in journalism reporting on U.S. troops in South Korea for the military newspaper Stars & Stripes and other publications.
O’Shea “is a journalist’s journalist,” Times Publisher David D. Hiller said in a statement. Hiller described the new editor as being a “tough-minded but fair independent thinker” with “rock-hard news values and integrity,” both professionally and personally.
Hiller said O’Shea “understands the imperatives of sustaining readership.” O’Shea has led efforts at the Chicago Tribune “to reinvent how the newsroom operates in the new 24/7 multichannel environment, and he will not miss a beat” in leading similar efforts at The Times, Hiller said.
After an internal memo Monday in which Hiller called on the Times staff to “focus relentlessly” on building the paper’s local audience, many in the newsroom were bracing for cutbacks in national and foreign coverage.
“I’m not dismantling anything,” O’Shea said. “My background is national, foreign and Washington, so obviously that’s important to me. But we have to dominate our local market or we’re dead.”
O’Shea said he had urged Baquet to try to settle his differences with Hiller and stay on the job.
“I’m as disappointed as a lot of people on the staff of the L.A. Times that he’s leaving,” O’Shea said. “The biggest challenge I face is getting the staff to focus on the task ahead of us and put the resentment and anger aside.”
In announcing his elevation to managing editor in 2001, Tribune Editor Ann Marie Lipinski called O’Shea “a connoisseur of the toughest reporting and the finest writing, a journalist who can produce both and knows how to encourage it in others.”
On Tuesday, she said that O’Shea was “a hell of an editor, and I’m sorry to lose him.”
O’Shea joined the Tribune in 1979 from the Des Moines Register, where he had been a reporter, editor and Washington correspondent. While in the Tribune’s Washington bureau, O’Shea covered national budget policy, national security and the Pentagon and was the newspaper’s senior economics correspondent.
From 1995 until he became managing editor in 2001, O’Shea was deputy managing editor for news, and before that was associate managing editor for foreign and national news.
O’Shea helped Tribune develop RedEye, a quick-read newspaper distributed free around Chicago. Its mix of news, sports, entertainment and gossip is aimed at the hard-to-capture 18-to-34-year-old market.
RedEye recently increased its distribution by 50%, to 150,000 copies. Tribune doesn’t break out financial statistics for RedEye, but last year O’Shea said the paper’s advertising revenue had grown 35% a year from its founding in 2002.
In addition to a long newspaper career, O’Shea wrote “The Daisy Chain,” a book about Texas savings and loan entrepreneur Don Dixon and the S&L; crisis of the 1980s. He also was co-author with Tribune staffer Charles Madigan of “Dangerous Company,” an investigative look at the role of management consultants in corporate decision making.
O’Shea twice won the Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award for Washington Correspondence. His S&L; coverage at the Tribune won the Associated Press Managing Editors Award for Public Service in 1989 and the Tribune’s William Jones Award for investigative reporting.
He holds an undergraduate degree in English and philosophy and a master’s degree in journalism, both from the University of Missouri.
O’Shea, who was born in East St. Louis, Ill., grew up in St. Louis. He and his wife, Nancy, have a grown son and daughter.
Former Tribune Editor Howard Tyner said that O’Shea was affable but possessed of “a good Irish temper. You don’t push him around.”
He called O’Shea “very quick on his feet and articulate” and predicted that he would adapt well to the public side of his role as editor of The Times.
O’Shea said he looked forward to hearing the views of “people outside the newsroom” as well as those of his new staff.
A cigar smoker like Baquet, O’Shea also is an avid bicyclist. Former colleagues and rivals in Chicago recall him as a slick-fielding center fielder for the softball team that represented the Tribune’s business news section in the early 1980s.
In moving to Los Angeles, O’Shea will be leaving an enviable apartment with spectacular views of Chicago, Tyner said.