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Don Hayner retires as Chicago Sun-Times editor

March 4 2005  Studio headshot DHayner. (Phoby Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times)

March 4, 2005 Studio headshot of Don Hayner. (Photo by Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times)

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Updated: May 14, 2012 8:16AM

Chicago Sun-Times Editor in Chief Don Hayner, who started at the newspaper as a general assignment reporter nearly 30 years ago, announced his retirement Thursday afternoon.

He will be succeeded by John Barron, who will return to the newsroom as executive editor after three years as publisher.

Hayner, 60, led the Sun-Times during one of its brightest moments: a 2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting — the newspaper’s first Pulitzer since 1989.

He said he approached his bosses last month about retiring.

“This is all me. This is my decision. I made it a couple of weeks ago,” a choked-up Hayner told his staff. “A boss is only as good as the people around him — and the people who actually do the work. In the case of everybody here, you’ve made me look better than I am.

“The Sun-Times has been, and always will be, like a second family to me. I will miss all of you, but it’s time to hand off the baton.”

Before being named editor in February 2009, Hayner served as city editor, metro editor and managing editor. A resident of the Beverly neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, he took years of shoe-leather reporting experience into those management-level jobs.

In the late 1970s, he shifted gears from being a lawyer who frequently represented criminal defendants at the Cook County courthouse and became a reporter for the City News Bureau.

He then worked for the Chicago Tribune’s Suburban Trib between 1979 and 1982, when he joined the Sun-Times.

At the Sun-Times, he worked a variety of beats — from neighborhoods to personal finance — and launched several projects with colleague Tom McNamee, now the Sun-Times editorial page editor.

For five years, Hayner and McNamee co-hosted a Saturday morning talk radio show on WLS-AM 890. They also co-authored three books: Streetwise Chicago, A History of Chicago Street Names; The Metro Chicago Almanac, and The Stadium: 1929-1994.

Among Hayner’s notable Sun-Times stories is a 2000 Father’s Day essay that has since been re-printed because of an overwhelming response from readers.

It details Hayner’s own father’s battle with Alzheimer’s and the strength his dad showed back when Hayner’s older brother committed suicide while Hayner was in high school.

“Grief hung on us like wet clothes,” Hayner wrote.

But, ultimately, his dad helped him and his mom heal. “Life is about now and not then. Full speed ahead, no matter what,” Hayner wrote. “That, ultimately, is my dad’s legacy to me.”

In a statement, Timothy P. Knight, CEO of Wrapports, owner of the Sun-Times, thanked Hayner “for his outstanding contribution to the paper over the past 30 years and for making the Chicago Sun-Times one of the best newspapers in America. Don has done an amazing job building a world-class editorial department and leaves behind him a very capable team to continue Don’s tradition of success going forward.”

Knight will become publisher of Sun-Times Media in addition to his role as Wrapports CEO. Barron will be responsible for the paper’s daily operations.

“John is uniquely suited to help us move the Sun-Times forward,” said Knight. “He joined the paper in 1995 and has had a variety of roles in both the newsroom and most recently on the business side of the paper. He intimately understands what we need in the paper each and every day to serve our readers and grow our audience.”

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