‘Star Trib’ Editorial Page Editor Forced Out In ‘Local’ Dispute

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By: Joe Strupp

In the latest upheaval for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Editorial Page Editor Susan Albright will leave the paper after 14 years at the helm following a dispute over localizing the editorial page.

In a story on the Star Tribune Web site, the paper stated “the editor who oversees the Star Tribune’s institutional voice will leave the newspaper because of philosophical differences with the publisher, who favors a deeper focus on editorials about local rather than international issues.”

Her former deputy, Jim Boyd, who now writes for MinnesotaMonitor.com, used the incident to accuse Harte of seeking to dumb down the editorial pages. He called the ousting “grossly unfair.”

Albright said, in a prepared statement, that it has been “an honor and a privilege” to work at the paper. Her last day will be Oct. 12, the paper said.

“Publisher Chris Harte said the change was necessary to steer the paper’s editorial and opinion pages toward more local topics at a time when opinions about things outside Minnesota are easy to come by,” the paper added. “Albright will be replaced on an interim basis by Managing Editor Scott Gillespie, who expects the assignment to last two to three months as the paper seeks a permanent replacement.”

Harte, the chairman of the Star Tribune company, assumed the publisher’s title last week when former publisher Par Ridder was forced out by a court ruling, the paper added. It said his decision about Albright “was not rooted in political differences with Albright.”

The paper reported that Harte contended his objections stemmed from “her choice of assignments for her stable of writers?He gave as examples the Iraq war and global warming, saying the Star Tribune pays for opinion pieces on those subjects from news services and the nation’s largest newspapers and needn’t write its own. Harte said the change is not meant to rule out international topics on the opinion pages.”

“I believe the role of a metro newspaper is changing radically and rapidly in a world of instant global access to information,” Harte wrote in a memo. “I see the need for our editorial pages, like the rest of the newspaper, to concentrate more heavily than ever on local, state and regional issues.”

In a note to staff, first posted on the Poynter.org romenesko site, Harte stated, “Susan has ably guided the Star Tribune editorial pages with the highest integrity since 1993, and I have the utmost respect for her as a journalist and an editorialist.” But, he later stated, ” As I moved into the chairman’s role in March and then into the publisher’s role, it was clear as Susan and I talked that we had different views of the future. We have a professional disagreement about the role of the editorial pages and how they should be edited. The main shift I want to see is toward even more locally focused editorial pages.”

Albright and Harte could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. Albright’s former deputy, Jim Boyd, who worked at the paper for 27 years, mainly at the editor page, now writes for MinnesotaMonitor.com, used the incident to accuse Harte of seeking to dumb down the editorial pages.

“Harte has demanded that editorials in the Star Tribune demonstrate ‘no sharp elbows.’ So local and bland is his prescription for his editorial page,” Boyd wrote. “To my way of thinking, that is no editorial page at all. It is a genuflection toward the belief that a newspaper must have such a page, coupled with a determination to make it as inconsequential as possible, a boring page to skip over during your morning read. How that builds readership for a struggling newspaper I do not comprehend.”

He also wrote: “Susan bent over backwards to meet the vague and unspecified objections that Par Ridder and Chris Harte had to her stewardship of the editorial pages. It seemed obvious from the start that they wanted her gone, and nothing she could do would change that. She is as gentle and uncombative a soul as you are likely to meet anywhere, and very aware of her obligations to the owners. The excuse, to call it what it is, that Chris Harte gave for her ouster — a determination to focus on more local editorials — is silly on its face. A review of the Star Tribune editorial pages over the past two months will demonstrate Susan’s determination to steer the editorial pages into the local waters demanded by the newspaper’s new owners. National editorials were few; international editorials were rare. But unfairness doesn’t matter because Harte and Avista own the presses.”

The editorial page shake-up comes less than a year after the Star Tribune was sold to Avista Capital Partners from McClatchy and has undergone two rounds of job cuts.

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