Star Tribune's new publisher talks about challenges

Michael Klingensmith
Michael Klingensmith, 57, has been named the new publisher and CEO of the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis. He spent more than 30 years with Time, Inc.
Photo courtesy of the Star Tribune

The Star Tribune Thursday announced Michael Klingensmith will be the paper's new publisher. He begins his new job on Monday.

Klingensmith grew up in Fridley and once worked as a cab driver in the Twin Cities to pay for college.

He spent more than 30 years with Time Inc., where he co-founded Entertainment Weekly, was general manager of Time magazine and was president of Sports Illustrated.

Klingensmith spoke to MRR's Cathy Wurzer about his new job and the future of the state's largest newspaper. Below is an edited transcript of that interview.

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Q: Star Tribune board chairman Mike Sweeney said you have some distinct ideas about the future of the paper. Tell us about some of those.

A: I think the market position and resources of the paper really position it perfectly to serve as sort of a portal for all the news, information, entertainment, e-commerce and community for the marketplace. So obviously I see more digital in our future, but I'm hoping we don't see a whole lot less print at the same time.

Q: What do you want to see on the front page of the paper and on the home page of the Star Tribune's Web site?

A: I think the primary mission for the Minneapolis Star Tribune is to do the best possible job we can with the news of the Minneapolis-St. Paul marketplace. Obviously there's a lot of people who do national news. We need to do that as well, but our focus and our unique contribution is what we can bring to the news of the marketplace.

Q: Does that mean being more "hyper-local"? Doing more investigative journalism?

A: The paper has an important role to play in the community, and I think investigative is a key part of that. Hyper-local probably will be Web-based more than print-based. We can go more in that direction, but really I think the paper is to serve the community and to serve the readers in the community, and that will be our primary focus, as it has been.

Q: Newspapers, including the Star Tribune, have seen their traditional sources of revenue decline in recent years. How will you rebuild those revenue streams?

A: We're going to hope that the advertising marketplace comes back and raises all boats. Specifically with the paper, I think there's a lot we can do digitally to improve the contribution of the digital component of the digital revenue base.

Q: Are there plans to charge readers for more content online?

A: That's inevitably part of the future financial picture for a lot of media. I think that the consumers so far have been enjoying somewhat of a free ride. I've never particularly seen the logic of charging readers for information that you then subsequently just post for free on the Internet, so we're going to look at that. I just think it's inevitable across all media, that down the road consumers are going to have to shoulder a bigger portion of the responsibility on the revenue side.

Q: The Star Tribune recently announced about 30 more job cuts in the newsroom. The decision was made before you started your job, but how will you make up for that loss?

A: I trust that they've done a very thoughtful job in determining the least painful way to do that. There's never a non-painful ways to make cuts like that. What I'm really hoping is that as we sort of arrest the revenue declines and turn that around, there won't have to be a whole lot more of that in our future going forward.

Q: The Twin Cities is currently a two-paper market with the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press. How long will that last?

A: Hopefully it lasts for a long, long time. I never want to wish ill to any newspaper property or media property. At the same time I also feel very strongly that it's the Star Tribune's role to serve the entire marketplace. I don't necessarily see the logic of concerning ourselves with events are two miles west of our headquarters building but not two miles east of the building.

Q: What are you going to do on your first day at the Star Tribune?

A: I'm going to begin the process of meeting everybody, rolling up my sleeves and getting into the details of the financials. But really the first order of business is to meet the staff. I have to say that those that I have met, I've been thrilled to make their acquaintance. I think a lot of credit has to be given to the existing management team, who've been through an unbelievable last couple of years. I just can't imagine anybody having done a better job under the difficult circumstances that they had to operate under to keep that paper vibrant, editorially strong and to keep it moving forward in the marketplace.

Q: Are you looking forward to the job?

A: I can't think of a job that I've anticipated with more enthusiasm than this job. I've always liked a challenge. This will be one without any question. I come in with my eyes wide open. But I also think there's no more important job available these days than to look at a way to re-craft a business model that can be adaptable and flexible in the future and that can prevail against all these market headwinds.