Frank Devine, Sun-Times editor under Rupert Murdoch, dies

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Posted by on July 05, 2009 at 20:07:41:

Sun-Times editor under Murdoch dies

Credited with renewed focus on investigative reporting

July 5, 2009

BY MONIFA THOMAS | Sun-Times Staff Reporter

When Frank Devine became editor of the Chicago Sun-Times in 1985, newsroom staffers were still reeling from the paper's recent purchase by Rupert Murdoch.

Many, including columnist Mike Royko, left the paper, while those who stayed were unsure what the future would hold.

But Mr. Devine, with his big personality and fondness for investigative journalism, helped bring a renewed sense of purpose and energy to the newsroom, former colleagues said.

"He raised the morale when he came in," said Bernie Judge, who was an associate editor under Mr. Devine at the Sun-Times. "As a result, the editorial side of the paper was very quickly doing better work than before he arrived."

Mr. Devine, who left the Sun-Times in 1986, died of cancer Wednesday in Sydney, Australia. He was 77.

His most notable contribution at the Sun-Times was launching reporters Charles Nicodemus and Tom Brune on an investigation of the City of Chicago's plan to build a new central library in the old Goldblatt's store on State Street.

The reporters found that, among other problems, the floors at the proposed site were too weak to support the weight of books.

As a result, the city was forced to abandon its plan, ultimately leading to the construction of the Harold Washington Library at State and Van Buren.

Mr. Devine supported investigative projects like the library series because "he wanted the public to not only know the day's events, he also wanted them to think more broadly," Judge said.

Born in New Zealand, Mr. Devine started his journalism career at the Marlborough Express at age 17. He later moved to Australia, where he met his wife of 50 years, Jacqueline, who also was a reporter at the time.

Mr. Devine became a foreign correspondent shortly after his marriage, working in New York, London and Tokyo, according to the Australian, where Mr. Devine was a columnist and editor.

He also covered the American civil rights movement in the early 1960s.

"He thought that was the greatest assignment he ever had," Judge said.

A job as editor in chief of the Australian Reader's Digest led to a senior editor position at the American edition of Reader's Digest. Then, Mr. Devine accepted an offer from Murdoch to become editor of the Sun-Times in 1985.

After less than two years at the paper, Mr. Devine went to the New York Post and then the Australian, where he remained for the rest of his career.

Colleagues described Mr. Devine as a bon vivant known for his quick wit, deep religious faith and love of family.

"His laughter, often noisy, was always infectious," longtime friend Peter Coleman wrote on the Australian Web site.

"He was a sports fanatic [he had a bookcase full of dog-eared Wisdens], a film buff [his favorite film was 'The Godfather'] and a stylish writer with a love for words."

Mr. Devine's widow told the Australian: "We had a very exciting life together. He was never boring."

In addition to his wife, Mr. Devine is survived by his three daughters, Miranda, Rosalind and Alexandra, and six grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for Wednesday in Sydney.

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