By: Joe Strupp
Updated at 4:10 p.m. ET
Publisher Denise Palmer of The Sun in Baltimore had apparently been looking for a new editor as far back as early November, when she first spoke to Tim Franklin of the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel about the job. Franklin, who is flying to Baltimore today to replace fired Sun Editor William Marimow, said the initial talks were just conversation, with a more specific meeting held early last month. Both papers are owned by Chicago’s Tribune Co.
“I wasn’t out looking,” Franklin, 43, told E&P during a cell phone conversation Tuesday as he waited for a plane at the Orlando airport holding a one-way ticket. “The publisher in Baltimore made the call. I think she initially wanted to gauge my interest and we talked about the paper.”
Palmer, a longtime Tribune Co. veteran who took over as publisher in 2002, met with Marimow on Monday and told him then that he would be let go, according to sources at the paper. The abrupt firing of Marimow, 56, surprised almost everyone at the Sun, according to staffers. The editor, who has been with the paper since 1993, took the top editing post in 2000, leading the paper to a Pulitzer Prize last year for beat reporting, as well as two finalists.
“It’s clear he didn’t want to go,” Liz Bowie, a 16-year Sun reporter, said about Marimow. “There were no rumors, we had gotten no information that he was being considered for replacement.” Howard Libit, an environmental reporter who has been at the paper for 10 years, echoed those views. “I think everyone is very surprised and very shocked,” he said. “We had no idea that this was coming.”
Candus Thomson, a 15-year employee and Sun sportswriter, speculated that Marimow might have been forced out because he refused to lay off editorial staffers. She said 12 non-newsroom workers were let go last month, setting the stage for a likely effort to reduce newsroom costs this year. “Bill would not go along with layoffs, he said they would be over his dead body,” Thomson said. “They got their dead body.”
At one point last year, Marimow offered to take a pay cut to help avoid layoffs, but the paper declined, according to sources at the Sun.
Palmer did not return calls seeking comment, but in a memo to staff she said only that Marimow would be leaving and said his “leadership of The Sun’s newsroom has been key to maintaining our excellent journalism and our role in serving the community through strong investigative reporting. I thank him for his contributions.”
When asked why Palmer sought to make such an abrupt change at this time, a Sun spokeswoman said, “Denise has been actively building her own leadership team.”
Marimow could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Several newsroom employees said he told them he did not know that Palmer had been looking for a replacement.
Franklin has been editor at the Orlando Sentinel for three years, having also served as editor of The Indianapolis Star and in several posts at the Chicago Tribune. During his Orlando stint, the paper received praise for a drawn-out battle seeking access to the autopsy report of auto racer Dale Earnhardt following his tragic death and for publishing a recent series critical of local home construction practices, which led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising by a home builders association. At the Sentinel, Franklin reorganized the newsroom, redesigned the paper, expanded its bureaus in Washington and Puerto Rico and established a new investigative reporting team. He also led the introduction of El Sentinel, a bilingual weekly.
“I know that Tim will bring great passion for producing excellent journalism and serving the readers of The Sun,” Palmer said in a statement Tuesday. “We are confident that Tim is the right person to lead our editoral staff.”
Marimow’s firing comes less than a year after a fierce labor battle between management and the local chapter of The Newspaper Guild, which ended with a new contract but left a bitter taste in the mouths of many rank-and-file. Palmer took heat for recruiting potential replacement workers to take over if a threatened Guild strike occurred as negotiations broke down. Although the paper avoided a strike with a new four-year agreement, many union members said the contract was less than they’d hoped for.