The good, gray Dallas Morning News has ended its search for a new managing editor by elevating a veteran of 16 years at the paper, and--though he and the News are loath to admit it--a stint chasing UFOs at the National Enquirer.
The elevation of Deputy Managing Editor Stuart Wilk, 49, was part of a massive Morning News response--shuffling 11 editors in all--to two key newsroom vacancies.
The moves resulted from the departure of Managing Editor Bob Mong and assistant managing editor for state coverage Donnis Baggett, who assumed publisher positions, respectively, at newly acquired Belo papers in Owensboro, Ky., and Bryan-College Station, Texas.
The top prize was Mong's job--though after Mong's departure was announced, News Executive Editor Ralph Langer made a point of declaring the new managing editor couldn't expect to lead a "revolution." Translation: The paper wanted a company man. And it found one in Wilk.
Earlier in his editing career in Dallas, Wilk had a reputation as a tough, profane, and often-insensitive boss.
In recent years, Wilk, who did much dirty work for his own bosses, has mellowed considerably, taking on a more corporate demeanor and even shaving off his long-worn mustache. Those committed to serious journalism at the News are pleased with the selection of someone from the hard-news side of the paper, with a reputation for good news judgment and paying his dues.
But Wilk's selection is certainly a signal that the paper's hard-edged management style, instituted by testy publisher-editor Burl Osborne, will remain in place--as will the control by a white male hierarchy.
Two kinder and gentler rivals for the job, assistant managing editor for local news Gilbert Bailon and assistant managing editor for lifestyles Sue Smith, received consolation prizes: promotion to deputy managing editor positions, with expanded duties. Bailon will take charge of state, business, and local coverage. Smith, according to a News story on the changes, will go from overseeing "several lifestyle departments" to overseeing "all lifestyle departments." Those moves mark the highest a non-Anglo and a woman have climbed in the paper's hierarchy.
Wilk's selection does mark one "first": he is the first News managing editor to have worked at a supermarket tabloid.
While the February 10 News business-section story about the promotions generally listed the various papers where the editors on the rise had worked, the four paragraphs devoted to Wilk went back no further than his arrival at the News as a night city editor.
Wilk was not quoted. But Executive Editor Ralph Langer did comment about the new managing editor, saying, "He is a highly experienced news person and has excellent news judgment."
The story did not mention that Wilk gained some of that experience and judgment during a late-1970s stint at The National Enquirer.
Staffers at the screaming Florida-based tabloid--a very far cry from Dallas' Dull Only Daily--confirmed that Wilk had worked there for more than a year. "He was a reporter originally, then promoted to [articles] editor," recalls John South, senior reporter at the Enquirer. "There would have been about a dozen articles editors. They were each responsible for running their own team [of reporters], finding stories for the Enquirer--show biz, human interest, UFOs, psychic phenomena. He would have run the gamut of everything the Enquirer runs.
"Certainly when he was a reporter, he would have been skulking down back alleys to get into places like the rest of us. He did his share." Told that the News neglected to mention anything about Wilk's Enquirer experience in its story about his promotion, South chuckled. "Don't tell me he's ashamed of us now?" Added South: "If he's gone respectable, good luck to him."
Before landing a job at the Enquirer--known for paying staffers extremely well--Wilk worked as an arts critic and reporter at the Milwaukee Sentinel from 1971 until 1977. That would place his tenure at the Enquirer somewhere between 1977 and 1980.
Embracing the hypocritical approach of his predecessors ("we'll ask questions of everyone else, but won't answer questions ourselves"), Wilk declined to discuss his promotion, his days editing stories about space aliens, or anything else with BeloWatch.
Among the other changes announced earlier this month at the News, the most noteworthy involved one editor eased out of the line of fire, and another who leapfrogged several others into it. Assistant managing editor for features Mark Weinberg, according to the News story, "takes a newly created position as assistant managing editor/development. He will work on a project to put The Dallas Morning News on-line, as well as other new products." Translation: Weinberg was exiled from day-to-day management of writers.
In the most dramatic promotion, Lisa Thatcher Kresl, the paper's assistant travel editor, was named features editor. Thatcher, a former assistant Today editor, received high marks from writers who worked with her.
What else in all of this deck-shuffling should BeloWatchers care about?
Executive Business Editor Gary Jacobson has been "detached to work on a special project for Belo Corp. that will be announced later." That certainly leaves some room for speculation about what Belo's up to.
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What's certain is that Jacobson's departure leaves the section firmly in the hands of Business Editor Mindy Fetterman, a lightly regarded USA Today alumna. Expect the section to become cheerier, but less enterprising and less substantial.
Finally, there's the sole published comment on it all from the paper's editorial pooh-bah. Osborne, recently handed the added title as president of Belo's acquisitive new publishing division, said a major reason for all the moves is "to make sure people are getting more and better experience so we can have the pool of people to run a business that perhaps will get even bigger."
Strangely enough, Osborne is justifying the changes at the News by explaining what it will do for the company elsewhere.
Translation: With daily journalism in Dallas totally under Belo control, other newspaper acquisitions in other cities lie ahead--and that, not covering Dallas, has become the focus of the top News brass' attentions.