Sun-Times names Jennifer Kho executive editor
The former managing editor of HuffPost and Guardian US will be the first woman and first person of color to lead the paper’s newsroom in its 178-year history.
Owners of the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday named Jennifer Kho, former managing editor of HuffPost and Guardian US, the paper’s executive editor. She will be the first woman and the first person of color to lead its newsroom.
Leaders of Chicago Public Media, which owns the Sun-Times, described Kho as a strategic editorial leader and digital innovator with a record of engaging audiences. She will start her new position Wednesday and relocate from Los Angeles in September.
“I couldn’t be more excited to join the historic Chicago Sun-Times at this pivotal moment, with its new public media ownership, to create a strong sense of connection and community throughout Chicago,” Kho said in a news release. “I’m determined to build on the paper’s incomparable legacy and make the most of this huge opportunity to create a new model of community-supported journalism as an inclusive, trusted source of cohesion, empathy, and positive change.”
In an interview, Kho said she’s awed by the Sun-Times’ history of public service and its editorial prizes, including eight Pulitzer Prizes. Kho, who will be new to Chicago, said she looks forward to serving the city and helping the editorial staff do its best work.
She said she would prioritize data-based investigations and coverage of topics such as pollution, crime-reduction efforts, economics and social change.
Steve Warmbir, a 22-year veteran of the Sun-Times and its interim editor-in-chief, said he is leaving the paper. Warmbir, a longtime investigative reporter, was a candidate for the top editing role. The job has been open since the fall of 2020.
Management extended the executive search during the pandemic and to complete the Sun-Times’ transition to nonprofit ownership. The paper joined Chicago Public Media, the parent of public radio station WBEZ, in January to form one of the largest nonprofit news organizations. The noncash sale is an experiment in how philanthropy can support journalism, whose traditional base of ad sales has withered.
Kho currently is a digital media consultant. She is vice president of journalism and information equity for DoGoodery, which helps organizations reach their impact goals, and president of the Journalism and Women Symposium. She advises several news organizations and belongs to the Asian American Journalists Association among other professional groups.
“The Chicago Sun-Times is widely known as the hardest-working newsroom in the country, and Jennifer has that same tenacious spirit, as well as a transformative view of what local journalism means to the community,” said Nykia Wright, CEO of the Sun-Times. “She has a passion for local journalism, community engagement, deepening audience connections, and serving news audiences across digital platforms. I am thrilled to have her leadership and her vision to carry us into the Sun-Times’ next era.”
Kho emphasized her desire to forge deeper connections with readers throughout the Chicago area and to use local journalism to improve people’s lives. Her goals include deepening the paper’s news alliance with WBEZ. The organizations operate independently but have cooperated on several projects, with the Sun-Times running many stories by WBEZ staff.
The paper’s sale to Chicago Public Media brought with it a $61 million pledge of charitable support over five years.
“More than any other type of news, I believe local journalism can serve as a counterpoint to much of what people say they dislike and distrust about news today,” Kho said. “The Sun-Times has a unique and exciting opportunity to truly democratize news and to demonstrate what the future of local journalism looks like — innovative, deeply engaged in its communities, and making valuable contributions to its audiences’ lives every day.”
Warmbir said he wishes Kho well but looks forward to taking a break from the long hours that leading the paper entailed. His last day of work will be Friday. The Sun-Times collected numerous editorial awards under his leadership. Warmbir’s own honors as a reporter include a George Polk Award for his work with Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak detailing City Hall’s Hired Truck scandal.
“Growing up on the Northwest Side, I saw how the system could work against the working-class men and women of Chicago. I am so lucky over the last 22 years to have been able to work on some of the biggest stories in Chicago history, first as a reporter, then as an editor, that fought for those people and show they do matter,” Warmbir said. “It’s my profound privilege to have worked with some of the greatest journalists in the country on the print and digital fronts, and I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’re at a unique moment, the world of work has shifted, and it’s a great opportunity for me to recharge and then tackle the next exciting opportunity ahead.”
In an email to staff, Wright thanked Warmbir for his contributions. “[W]e are deeply grateful for his work and leadership throughout one of the most turbulent news cycles in Chicago history. We will miss him, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude,” she said.
The search firm Koya Partners conducted a national hunt to fill the executive editor slot.
“Jennifer’s appointment marks a major milestone as we look to strengthen local journalism in Chicago, foster civic engagement, build stronger communities, and provide coverage to underserved areas across the Chicagoland area,” said Matt Moog, CEO of Chicago Public Media. “With Jennifer joining the Sun-Times’ leadership team, she will help chart a bold path forward for the Chicago Sun-Times, and we look forward to welcoming her to Chicago.”
Kho’s appointment breaks new ground at the Sun-Times, which dates its history from the founding of the Chicago Evening Journal in 1844. The Journal was relaunched as the Daily Times, which Marshall Field III merged with his Chicago Sun in 1947.
The Field family owned the Sun-Times until the sale to Rupert Murdoch in 1984. The ensuing years brought several ownership changes, a 2009 bankruptcy filing and business setbacks from the growth of the internet. But the paper has battled through the hardships with aggressive, scoop-oriented coverage of local government, politics, civic affairs and sports.