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Wycliff selected for post

Claire Heininger | Friday, February 10, 2006

Chicago Tribune public editor and Notre Dame graduate Don Wycliff has been appointed associate vice president for news and information at Notre Dame, becoming the second consecutive University spokesman to take the post following a high-profile journalism career.

Wycliff will succeed former Boston Globe editor Matt Storin, who left the administrative post in January to focus on teaching journalism at Notre Dame. Wycliff will serve as Notre Dame’s chief spokesman to the news media, act as a consultant to the University administration on issues of public image and work alongside Vice President for Public Affairs and Communication Hilary Crnkovich in shaping Notre Dame’s message, University officials said Thursday.

“Everything I’ve been able to do in my life is because 40 years ago, Notre Dame plucked me up and gave me an education and changed my life, and there’s a debt to be paid there,” said Wycliff, whose appointment takes effect March 13. “I had reached a point where as public editor, I had been doing it for almost five years here, and there really wasn’t much else I could do.

“… I guess you reach a point in your life when you feel you have something different to contribute … and I’ve always thought that if I went into academia, Notre Dame was the place I’d want to go to.”

Wycliff accepted the University’s offer Jan. 27 after a series of meetings last fall with Notre Dame officials – including University President Father John Jenkins – during which he emerged as “the clear front-runner” for the post, Crnkovich said.

“He [is] such an enlightened man, so passionate in his understanding and his love of this University and its mission, and so articulate in his ability to help capture and convey the story that we have to tell,” she said Thursday. “Once I had an opportunity to spend time with him in thoughtful discussion, he fit on so many different levels, I would say, that we then moved on to a discussion of where the University was headed, and what we wanted to achieve, and how he would add value to that equation.

“… It’s very important that our leadership is comfortable with his leadership.”

Wycliff informed Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski about these discussions in early December so the newspaper wouldn’t “be blindsided,” he said Thursday.

“She was very sympathetic and understood where my impulse is coming from,” Wycliff said, adding that while Lipinski indicated the Tribune will hire another public editor in his place, the timeframe for doing so and any potential candidates are unclear at this point.

“I hope someone is in place by the time I leave,” said Wycliff, who – unlike ombudsmen at several other top national newspapers, including the New York Times – did not have a contracted expiration date for his term as public editor. He has served in that post for the Tribune since 2000, after being editorial page editor from 1991 to 2000.

An October phone call from Storin first alerted Wycliff to the news and information position, Wycliff said, but Notre Dame was one step ahead of him.

“Don has been on the University’s radar as just an extraordinary fit as an individual and as a professional,” Crnkovich said. “I consulted with a number of different people as to who could fill Matt Storin’s shoes … and when I sought advice and counsel, [Wycliff’s] name was the one that was reiterated over and over again.”

Wycliff has remained engaged with Notre Dame throughout his journalism career, serving on advisory committees for both the College of Arts and Letters and the Gallivan Program for Journalism, Ethics and Democracy, as well as teaching a Gallivan “Media Criticism” course during the spring semester.

“He’s certainly been an active alum, so the time it will take to ramp up [to the Notre Dame position] will be fairly short,” Storin said Thursday. “I think in addition to being smarter, more congenial and handsomer than I am, he brings some of the same things to the office, including a knowledge of Notre Dame.

“… I joked to my staff, ‘I may be able to play a nice guy on TV, but he’s really a nice guy.'”

Staying congenial in the demanding role of public editor – the Tribune’s reader representative, responsible for responding to their inquiries and often fiery complaints – served as a kind of preparation for fielding questions as University spokesman, Wycliff said.

“People feel an investment in Notre Dame, and that’s very much the way it is with a newspaper – people feel entitled to have a say about it,” he said. “If I was going to send someone to a training school to be a university spokesman, I might tell them to be a public editor.”

Heading the news and information department with Wycliff will be Dennis Brown, whose promotion from associate director to assistant vice president was also announced Thursday.

“Dennis will run the newsroom,” Crnkovich said, by overseeing the department’s staff and operations and prioritizing its treatment of campus news on a daily basis, while Wycliff will “concentrate a bit more on the big picture,” Brown said.

“[Crnkovich] and I talked on several occasions about what models might work best [for structuring the department’s leadership] … and came to a place that seemed good for the University, from her perspective and also for the experiences and the skill sets that Don and I have, as well as the rest of our staff,” Brown said Thursday. “From our perspective, the transition from [associate vice president the late] Denny [Moore] to Matt and now on to Don couldn’t be any better, because we’re dealing with people who love the University, who are just genuinely good people and who are extremely talented.”

Brown joined the news and information staff in 1991 after a 15-year career as a writer and editor for newspapers including the Phoenix Gazette and San Diego Union-Tribune. Wycliff’s newspaper background is also extensive, including stints at the New York Times, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and others in addition to the Tribune. An active member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), Wycliff also has earned many professional honors, including winning the ASNE Distinguished Writing Award for Editorials in 1997, becoming a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing in 1996 and being inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 1996.

Having spent his entire professional career in journalism – aside from one year as a Notre Dame admissions counselor – Wycliff said many aspects of newsroom life will be hard for him to leave behind.

“I’m going to miss walking in the [Tribune] doors every morning and being greeted by the security guards, who are nice guys, and the little lady who cleans the offices,” said Wycliff, who has made arrangements to move to South Bend. “Sitting in on newsroom meetings, talking to people about stories, the feeling – even if it isn’t true – that you know something not everybody else knows. I’ll miss writing, too, I love to write.

“… [At Notre Dame] I think most of my energies will be directed into other things, trying to interest people in some of the really special things about that wonderful university.”