Home > finals > Curiosity, open mind drive UNL alum’s career at Chicago Tribune

Curiosity, open mind drive UNL alum’s career at Chicago Tribune

Hailey Konnath
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

When Jane Hirt arrived at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she knew little about journalism. Now as managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, she’s responsible for everything published – in print or online – by one of the largest news operations in the country.

Hirt has been at the Tribune for her entire 21-year professional career. She was there for the Iraq War, the Gulf War, 9/11 and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It’s been amazing having this kind of front seat to history,” Hirt said in an interview in early March.

As managing editor, Hirt said she has her hands in both the business and editorial sides of the newspaper’s operations. Each day, from late morning to late evening, Hirt may be in a news meeting, working with a reporter, discussing legal business with attorneys or interviewing a job applicant. She must keep an eye on the newsroom budget, decide what projects to pursue and deal with personnel issues.

“Ultimately, I’m responsible for the content that comes out of the Chicago Tribune newsroom, whether it’s in print or online,” she said.

Hirt’s job differs on a day-to-day basis, she said. She said her responsibilities sometimes carry over after-hours, like when she represents the newspaper at events.

“I never know how long my day is going to be because news is 24 hours,” Hirt said.

Hirt said her husband is understanding and not having children eases the burden as well.

Hirt, a Lincoln Southeast High School graduate, learned the basics of editing at UNL in the 1980s. She took editing classes and climbed the ladder to managing editor at the Daily Nebraskan. She also interned at the Omaha World-Herald, the Orlando Sentinel and the Chicago Tribune. In Omaha, her internship was half editing, half reporting.

“That was great because that was when I learned I wanted to be an editor,” she said.

Hirt said her curiosity makes journalism a good fit. She likes knowing what’s going on and, being an editor, she’s able to get the scoop on everything.

Hirt got her first full-time position as a copy editor at the Tribune. She was a copy editor for about seven years, copy desk chief for about two and national/foreign news editor for two. From there, Hirt went on to co-found the RedEye, a daily Chicago Tribune publication aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds. Finally, Hirt became managing editor in 2008.

She acknowledged her relatively unusual position of being at one publication for the duration of her career.

“In general, I think it’s good to move around and not get stuck in one job,” she said.

Hirst said the economy and developments in technology have shaped the changing landscape of journalism since she entered the business, and that has created challenges. She’s had to develop a thick skin over the years, she said. She gets a slew of angry letters and emails daily.

“People get really passionate about things, and they’ll just let it rip in a letter,” Hirt said. “Sometimes I don’t think they even know there’s a human on the other end.”

But it’s important to take letters seriously and evaluate if something really needs to be fixed, she said.

Hirt said aspiring journalists should be open to new opportunities and be willing to take some risks.

“Don’t have such a single-minded goal that you have to have this one job,” she said. “I never set out to have this job, but because I kind of said yes to a series of opportunities, I’ve found myself in this job.”

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