Moyer's announcement comes at an already tumultuous time for the Star Tribune. The paper is weeks away from the change in ownership from McClatchy to Avista.
Just days ago, Moyer himself named a new top editor, Nancy Barnes, to replace Anders Gyllenhaal -- who left for the editor job at McClatchy's Miami Herald.
Incoming Star Tribune Chairman and Avista executive advisory board member Chris Harte characterized Moyer's departure as a personal decision. Harte says he tried unsuccessfully to change Moyer's mind. Harte says Moyer's decision is not business-related, and not because of any disagreement with the new owners.
"The plan we will execute after we own the paper in a few weeks will very much be the plan that Keith and his team developed," says Harte.
“With a new management combination that goes from executive editor on up to publisher, on up to owner, we're going to have people spending time trying to get their feet wet with the Star Tribune in a way that we wouldn't have, absent all that change.Star Tribune reporter Steve Brandt
Harte says he hopes to name a new publisher within a couple of months. He will fill the position in the interim.
"This is definitely a blow. We are definitely sorry to see Keith going," says Harte. "There will be great, great newspaper people inside this newspaper and all across this country emailing and calling, starting now. This will be a very easy job to fill with a very high quality candidate."
Moyer declined MPR's request for an interview. In a written statement, he says he was not fired or asked to step down, and is not leaving because of the ownership change.
After the sale to Avista was announced, Moyer declared his intention to stay with the paper. Now he says he's changed his mind and decided it's time to take what he calls a late mid-career break and devote more quality time to family, friends and other interests.
Reporter Steve Brandt says Moyer's announcement was a surprise in the Star Tribune newsroom. Brandt says the paper's employees know little more about Avista now than they did the day the surprise sale was announced.
Brandt says he expects the new publisher will have the necessary skills to sustain the paper's financial health. But he worries the recent tumult saps some momentum.
"I'm afraid that with a new management combination that goes from executive editor on up to publisher, on up to owner, we're going to have people spending time trying to get their feet wet with the Star Tribune in a way that we wouldn't have, absent all that change," says Brandt. "And that can distract us from the goal of trying to figure out how to continue to make journalism pay in the digital age."
David Brauer is a freelance journalist and media commentator for Minnesota Public Radio. He says Moyer can be credited with keeping employment at the paper up, and protecting the newsroom from layoffs and other cuts during a period when advertising revenue dropped and most other major American dailies reduced staff.
Brauer says if Avista is planning to shrink the newspaper's staff, Moyer's departure may indicate an unwillingness to preside over a downsizing. "You have to believe that some of this was related to what Avista wants to do," says Brauer. "He said he wasn't pushed out or forced out, so clearly Avista wanted to keep him if that's true. But it may be something about how they're going to do business."
Chris Harte of Avista says the company has no plans for any layoffs at the Star Tribune.
Keith Moyer came to the Twin Cities in 2001 after four years serving as the publisher of the Fresno Bee. He previously held that paper's executive editor position.
Before that, Moyer worked as editor at two papers in Rochester, New York. He also spent nearly 15 years in the Gannett newspaper chain. Moyer, a Louisville, Kentucky native, says he and his family intend to stay in the Twin Cities.