Star Tribune’s CEO Steve Grove: Leading the transformation of Minnesota’s 157-year-old legacy title


For the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, dabbling in new ideas is at the center of the organization’s identity as they have a new CEO and publisher at the helm.

Steve Grove, who is a year into his position, told E&P the “massive shifts” are the approaches the Star Tribune needs. Whether the company is expanding into the greater Minnesota community, creating partnerships or investing in products, changes are happening in an effort to build on the paper's 157-year legacy.

Revenue diversity is an immediate goal. One area of exploration is sports betting, a burgeoning industry yet to be legalized in Minnesota. Through a recent partnership with XLMedia, sponsored content will be featured on the Star Tribune's website. Future plans include philanthropy initiatives.

“This is not an industry that I've spent my career in,” said Grove, a former Google executive who most recently served as commissioner for Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development. “But I think trying to create a culture of experimentation and willingness to fail inside an institution built on trust and veracity is the cultural crossroads news organizations find themselves in today,” Groves said.

The newspaper’s success is long rooted in impactful local news coverage — exemplified by its Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on the killing of George Floyd. Moving forward, the paper will maintain its coverage of topics such as sports, news, politics, food, culture, outdoors and business with a sharper focus.

Branding, specifically rebranding, is another opportunity the Star Tribune wants to tackle. In February, the outlet partnered with design firm Colle McVoy to shepherd the redesign, which hasn't been done since 2014. The redesign will launch in the latter part of 2024 and include a revamped website and application presence. Previously, the Star Tribune’s CMS relaunch resulted in its applications becoming “buggy,” Grove said. He admits the call to relaunch is part of a trial-by-error transition the organization needs to make.  

“I think moving from the model of being a paper of record to a paper of relevance is powerful and one that starts to free your mind to what you cover and where you focus,” he said. “You no longer feel you have to cover every single thing that happens in the state out of a sense of obligation to exhaust it, but you start to figure out what are the most relevant and useful pieces of content that we can deliver to our readers to make us indispensable to them.”

Kyndell Harkness, head of culture and community, Star Tribune

The moves done by Star Tribune have been discussed internally, said Kyndell Harkness, the Star Tribune’s head of culture and community. A 20-year photographer and most recently a photo editor, Harkness arrived in the role of assistant managing editor for diversity and community in 2020 before ascending to head culture and community. Harkness is building foundational work in creating systems, guidelines and policies. This includes having internal conversations between senior leaders at the Tribune and employees, as well as external conversations with readers. She said these sessions work both ways, as the community understands how they can see themselves in the coverage while understanding how journalists can be helpful to them. It creates a “partnership and helps facilitate” things missing in coverage and provides that information.

For Harkness, the expansion into greater Minneapolis will consist of driving to different communities and potentially partnering with community members, smaller news organizations and universities. In March, the Star Tribune held a listening session with African community leaders.

“[We’ll be] showing up in communities in many ways; we’ll have reporters on the ground and lots of different places more than we have in a while,” Harkness said. “It’s also about non-transactional listening time. Then helping them talk to each other, creating solutions and reporting on those solutions.”

Suki Dardarian, editor and senior vice president, Star Tribune

Suki Dardarian, editor and senior vice president, told E&P that the organization started developing its own map of the future after the retirement of former publisher Michael Klingensmith.

“We’ve been having great success, but at the same time, we’ve not been able to expand or really tackle some of our technology challenges,” Dardarian said. “This was an opportunity to put together goals and a roadmap to really become a modern digital media company.”

Journalism is at the core of Star Tribune. Expanding outside Minneapolis is the next iteration for the publication with a president and CEO that separated two publications — the Minneapolis Tribune and Minneapolis Star in 1968 until they merged as one in 1982. As part of the journalism expansion, reporters are assigned to a particular community or bureau and focus on that area. They’ve built their digital presence through newsletters to cater to delivering information to their audience.

“It’s part of our stewardship of this organization and our commitment to the state and daily coverage,” Dardarian said. “It will continue to be investigative coverage … Most of our investigative stories have talked about systems in Minnesota that either do or don’t help people in need, from the elderly to children to disabled people. It’s really part of our public service mission to expand our footprint and commitment to readers around the state.”

For the Star Tribune, implementing different business models is the change the organization wants to make as digital media companies transform. Letting go of the past requires focusing on culture and the future at the Star Tribune, Grove said.

“None of this is easy,” Grove said. “It’s super tough, but I’m betting on us. We have a good team and a state that’s behind us.”

Keldy Ortiz is a New York-based writer and educator. He has written for publications locally and nationally. (Photo by Michael Jackson)


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