Tribune moving John Kass column ‘to maintain credibility of news coverage’

Colin McMahon

After 23 years as the Chicago Tribune’s white male conservative standard-bearer, John Kass is about to lose his coveted spot on Page 2 and his status as the newspaper’s “lead columnist.”

Colin McMahon, editor-in-chief of the Tribune, today announced plans to reorganize the paper’s columnists and separate their work from the news section.

Within the next few days the changes will be unveiled in print and online to help readers differentiate between news and opinions, he said. One effect will be to relegate Kass and other columnists farther back in the print edition and label them more clearly as opinion writers.

“Those changes speak to our need and desire to be transparent with readers about what we do,” McMahon said. “And, I believe, they will help us maintain the credibility of our news coverage with our online audience, our print readers and our communities amid what is by all accounts a raw and hyper-partisan political environment.”

Besides, as insiders pointed out, the days of the “lead columnist” ended at most major newspapers years ago. Now it’s about a range of voices.

Kass, 64, a 37-year veteran of the Tribune, inherited the high-profile position after the death of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mike Royko in 1997.

John Kass

The moves have been in the works since early March when McMahon replaced Bruce Dold as editor-in-chief of the Tribune. But they’re being implemented just days after the Chicago Tribune Guild called out Kass for a column in which he invoked an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and drew the wrath of his co-workers.

Kass did not respond to requests for comment.

McMahon declined to address the union’s complaint against Kass, but said: “The Chicago Tribune, like other quality U.S. newspapers, has long prided itself on being home to a robust marketplace of ideas. Readers engage deeply with the Tribune’s editorials, columns, Op-Eds and letters to the editor, and the Tribune has long accepted that people taking issue with or even offense at the opinions expressed goes with the territory.

“That said, the Tribune, like a lot of news media, doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the difference between news coverage and opinion writing. That is something we’ve been working to address.

“We’ve gathered opinion writing in one place on, for example. We’ve added explanatory language to editorials by the Editorial Board. We’ve developed a standard for headlines to call out what are opinion columns. And we’ve got more changes coming shortly to our online presentation.”