Star Tribune editor Barnes heads to Texas

Nancy Barnes in a panel discussion
Nancy Barnes participated in a panel discussion on for the "Future of News" conference hosted by MPR in November, 2009.
Ann Marsden for MPR News

Nancy Barnes, who led the Star Tribune newsroom as editor for six years marked by staff cuts, bankruptcy, stability and two Pulitzers, has announced that she's leaving the paper for a leadership post with the Houston Chronicle.

The news comes amid continued unpredictability in the media industry. There was hardly any sector of American business that didn't take a haircut or worse during the Great Recession, but for newspapers it was more like a full head shaving. While there are still plenty of readers, those eyes have been turning increasingly toward glowing electronic screens and away from inky paper -- the source, for decades, of easy ad revenue.

At the Star Tribune, this meant the loss of more than a third of the newsroom staff in several rounds of layoffs and buyouts, plus a bankruptcy filing in 2009.

But the last layoffs at the paper were more than three years ago. And Publisher Mike Klingensmith says an increasing number of readers are paying for access to articles online after a paywall went up nearly two years ago. Barnes can take a share of the credit for the turnaround, he said.

"People are willing to pay that because they think the product we're delivering has been valuable. And so that is all the work of the editor and the newsroom in creating that product, and it has enabled us to better balance our advertising revenue and our circulation revenue," Klingensmith said.

Barnes was not available for comment, but under her editorship, the Star Tribune won two Pulitzers -- both this year -- including one for local reporting.

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Mark Lisheron has reported on the Star Tribune in recent years for the American Journalism Review. He says Barnes helped refocus the newsroom for the online era.

Nancy Barnes
Nancy Barnes is leaving her post as editor of the Star Tribune.
Courtesy Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

"I think Nancy gave that newspaper, and those reporters and editors the sense that they could do really top-flight journalism and still feed the multi-platform beast. I think she's very well thought of in that newsroom," Lisheron said.

Not all staff have been happy with the changes. In a statement, reporters Janet Moore and David Chanen, co-chairs of the Newspaper Guild at the Star Tribune, say while the union has disagreed with many decisions made by management in recent years, they wish Barnes the best of luck in her new job.

Barnes' last day at the Star Tribune is Oct. 10. The paper is owned by a private equity firm that is expected to sell it at some point. However, Publisher Mike Klingensmith says Barnes' departure should not be read as an indication that a sale is coming anytime soon.