Imagine for a moment that it's 2005, and Dan Rather's just been canned as the CBS Evening News anchor.
The folks at the Tiffany network need a new face to replace a veteran journalist leaving a high-profile news position. And they wouldn't mind spicing up their ratings, too. One of the suits jumps out of his chair.
"I've got it!" he shouts. "Let's get that guy... he produces that television show... the one with the bird... my kids love it."
"Bingo!" says another suit.
And so the producer of Sesame Street becomes the new anchor of the CBS Evening News.
That's what just happened at the Chicago Tribune.
Yesterday, we broke the news that Trib ME James Warren was leaving the building.
Shortly thereafter, the Trib appointed RedEye editor Jane Hirt to its #2 news job.
Here's the thing: There's a lot of extraordinary journalists that could have filled Warren's shoes. Being second-in-command at the Trib is still a plum job. Previous ME's have had decades of reporting and editing experience, typically including Washington and foreign postings.
And then we have the RedEye editor, who has no such qualifications.
The Trib says Hirt was recently national/foreign editor.
What they're not saying: The post is on the copy desk and entails proofreading articles by Tribune correspondents and laying them out on the page.
It's a far cry from serving as foreign editor, which involves directing foreign coverage, or being the Assistant Managing Editor for national/foreign, which involves editing reporters in bureaus across the globe.
Hirt seems to be nice, dedicated and talented. But running a free tabloid that's vying for position as a down-market People magazine is no preparation for running a real newspaper.
And it sends the wrong message to the long-suffering readers of the Trib, who can now safely assume they're reading a newspaper that's not serious about news.