Star Tribune chooses new publisher

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 7, 2010 - 9:43 PM

Michael Klingensmith grew up in the Twin Cities, then spent three decades at Time Inc. He said his top priority is to arrest the newspaper's revenue decline..

Michael Klingensmith

Michael Klingensmith

The Star Tribune has named former Time Inc. executive Michael Klingensmith as its new publisher.

Klingensmith, 57, replaces Chris Harte, who left last fall shortly after the Star Tribune emerged from bankruptcy. A native of Fridley who drove a taxicab around the Twin Cities to help pay for college, Klingensmith spent three decades at Time Inc., where he led Sports Illustrated and co-founded Entertainment Weekly.

Klingensmith, who starts work Monday, emerged from a field of more than a dozen serious candidates. Star Tribune Chairman Mike Sweeney said Klingensmith stood out because of his deep, broad media experience and his proven ability to innovate.

"Mike is very accomplished, he's very bright, he's very talented, and he's got the ability to be part of a team," Sweeney said in an interview. "Plus, he genuinely gives a damn about the Twin Cities."

Klingensmith becomes publisher at a daunting time for newspaper companies, which are facing the double-barreled challenge of a prolonged recession and the shifting habits of readers and advertisers. Even so, newspapers' combined print and digital audiences still often dwarf other local media.

In an interview in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Klingensmith said he expects the work to be difficult but "fascinating."

"I really think there's nothing more important in the business right now than reformulating the business model for some of these media properties that are really critically important to communities -- and to this community, one that I care about deeply," he said. "Democracy depends on people having good information and I think this is really an important job."

Klingensmith said his top priority is to arrest the newspaper's revenue decline. The Star Tribune's estimated revenue in 2009 tumbled about 22 percent from 2008, to $193 million, according to numbers provided by the company. The declines diminished slightly throughout the year. Revenue is estimated to have fallen about 19 percent in the fourth quarter from a year ago.

That problem has led to budget cuts and downsizing. On Wednesday, as part of a plan announced last year, the newspaper unveiled a reorganization that will lead to the loss of about 30 jobs.

Klingensmith and Sweeney declined to speculate on when the newspaper will return to profitability. Sweeney downplayed the significance of net income, or profits, saying the Star Tribune's viability and health hang on its ability to generate operating cash flow.

"This year we're going to generate more than $20 million of operating cash flow," Sweeney said. "So we're going to be around a long, long time."

The Star Tribune, the nation's 14th largest newspaper, has an average daily circulation of 304,543 and a Sunday circulation of 477,562, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Its website has about 5.5 million unique users a month.

Klingensmith said he will not look at more budget cuts immediately and hopes the cuts made during and after bankruptcy will be enough.

"But in this environment, it's impossible to make any guarantees," he said.

All media need a larger share of revenue coming from consumers as opposed to advertising, Klingensmith said, and he expects eventually to charge for content online in some fashion. He also said he envisions readers getting a package of benefits with their newspaper subscription, possibly resembling the loyalty programs some retailers use.

"Clearly, the future is more in digital than it is in the legacy print, but I see them as complementary," he said. "I never really saw the logic of taking the information and news products that you had people paying healthy subscription prices for and then just putting them freely up on the Web."

Although he has focused on magazines, Klingensmith also has digital experience. He helped develop Sports Illustrated's website and evaluated digital companies for potential mergers and acquisitions at Time. Most recently, he managed the media practice for AdMedia Partners, a mergers and acquisitions company in New York. He said much of his time was spent on deals such as the sale of Triad Digital Media, an online advertising company used by retail giants such as Walmart.

Janet Moore and David Chanen, co-chairs of the Star Tribune Newspaper Guild unit, said they look forward to meeting Klingensmith. "After a long period of caretaker leadership, the Guild is glad a publisher is in place who seems invested in the community and this institution," they said.

Jeff Jarvis, an author and media consultant in Manhattan who blogs at www. buzzmachine.com, called Klingensmith a "somewhat puzzling" choice for publisher. Klingensmith is too traditional, he said. Jarvis co-founded Entertainment Weekly with Klingensmith, but said he hasn't spoken with his old colleague in a long time. He described Klingensmith as "a finance guy" steeped in a corporate media culture.

"What a newspaper needs these days is radical and brave vision," Jarvis said.

Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst for Outsell Inc. and former managing editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, disagreed. He called Klingensmith's hiring "a gutsy move" and said his background will be valuable. "This is not new stuff to him," Doctor said.

Klingensmith grew up the youngest in a family of 10 children in Fridley. His father left the family farm in Iowa to become an aeronautical engineer at Honeywell, he said. After graduating from Fridley High School in 1971, he left for the University of Chicago, helping put himself through school by driving a taxicab for three summers in the Twin Cities.

After earning a master's degree in business administration at the University of Chicago, Klingensmith landed a job as a financial analyst at Time Inc., a role that launched his 30-year career there. He retired as an executive vice president in January 2008, giving himself a six-month sabbatical to relax and watch his son's final high school baseball season, he said.

Klingensmith said he has had his eye on the publisher job since the Star Tribune's former owner, New York private equity firm Avista Capital Partners, contacted him in early 2008 to evaluate the newspaper's prospects. He got back in touch with the newspaper this fall about the position, he said. He is the Star Tribune's fifth publisher since 2000.

As he begins work, Klingensmith said, his family is keeping its brownstone in Manhattan but has already moved into a townhouse in the Lowry Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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Michael Klingensmith