‘Tribune’ Names Landers Successor

By: Dave Astor

Ann Landers’ just-named successor at the Chicago Tribune will also follow Landers into syndication.

Amy Dickinson is launching her advice column July 20 in the Tribune. Then, on Sept. 1, Tribune Media Services will start distributing “Ask Amy” to other newspapers. A TMS spokesperson said the syndicate was just starting to sell the seven-day-a-week feature, and thus had no client numbers yet.

Landers, who died in June 2002 at age 83, appeared in 1,200 newspapers via Creators Syndicate.

In an introductory piece in Wednesday’s Tribune, Dickinson wrote: “I’ll tell you right now that I won’t always know what to say. When your problems land on my desk, I’m going to do some serious thinking, make some calls, consult the experts and do my best to get you an answer. In years of reporting on the human condition, I’ve developed a Rolodex of sources and a file cabinet of ideas…. Really tough questions may necessitate a call to my mother, who always seems to know what to do.”

Like Landers, Dickinson will take a general-advice approach. But there will be differences. Tribune Communications Manager Patty Wetli said, for instance, that Dickinson — a single mother — may focus more on parenting issues than Landers did. And Wetli noted that Dickinson, as a 43 year old, has a different perspective than someone of Landers’ generation.

Why did it take nearly 13 months to find a successor? “Those were enormous shoes to fill, and we wanted to be thoughtful about the process,” said Wetli. After hundreds of people expressed interested in the job, the Tribune narrowed the list to a few candidates and gave each of them sample questions to answer. “Amy bubbled up to the top immediately. The editors liked her sense of humor and the way she approached the issues,” said Wetli, who added that focus groups were also involved.

Wetli didn’t know if the candidates included former Landers’ assistants Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, whose 2002-launched “Annie’s Mailbox” advice column is syndicated to more than 700 papers via Creators.

Dickinson has written columns for Time magazine and America Online, appeared regularly on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” freelanced for The Washington Post and other publications, and worked as a producer for NBC News, as a teacher, and as a singer since graduating with an English degree from Georgetown University. The upstate New York native — a distant relative of 19-century poet Emily Dickinson — recently moved to Chicago from the Washington, D.C., area to start her new job. Dickinson will be based at the Tribune, but not in Landers’ old office. Part of that space is now occupied by the staff of the paper’s “Good Eating” section.

The Tribune will continue to publish “Dear Abby” by Jeanne Phillips of Universal Press Syndicate, but will no longer run “Dear Prudence” by Landers’ daughter Margo Howard, according to an article by Rick Kogan in Wednesday’s Tribune.

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