Rene Sanchez, a veteran journalist who has served as second in command of the Star Tribune newsroom for nearly six years, was named the newspaper’s new top editor Tuesday.
Sanchez, 48, said he is honored and grateful for the opportunity to lead the newsroom of the nation’s 12th-largest daily newspaper. Beginning Friday, he will take over the job of editor and senior vice president from Nancy Barnes, who was named editor in 2007 and is departing to become editor and executive vice president of news at the Houston Chronicle.
At an afternoon meeting to announce the selection, Star Tribune Publisher Mike Klingensmith called Sanchez “a great journalist” and said choosing him was “an endorsement of the course that we’ve been on here in recent years.”
Sanchez told the newsroom staff that as the paper continues to strive toward digital innovation, it will be important to “stay committed to the core calling that I think any newsroom still needs to have … to go as hard as we can at the full truth of issues that really matter in the lives of your neighbor and mine, to first and foremost work in the public interest, to bear witness to the best and to the worst that life brings our community.”
He added that he expects no radical changes and wants to build on the legacy of his predecessor. He and Barnes worked closely to lead the newsroom through tumultuous times in recent years, including staff reductions, the newspaper’s trip through Chapter 11 bankruptcy and new emphasis in delivering news digitally via the Internet, social media and mobile apps.
The staff of about 250 full-time journalists has won numerous national prizes recently, including the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting on day-care deaths.
“We’re on a good course,” Sanchez said later, adding that he expects to continue to emphasize watchdog and in-depth journalism as well as more adventurous storytelling. He said he also hopes to increase coverage of stories reflecting good work that people are doing in the community.
He said he will begin the search for a managing editor next week.
Sanchez’s experience living and working for several years in the community is a “huge plus,” said Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. He’s likely to face many challenges in the newspaper industry in the coming years, she said.
“The reality is that a metropolitan daily newspaper has to serve its community. It seems to me that he’s demonstrated already that he has the skill to do that and the foresight to see what kinds of things need to be done,” Kirtley said, noting that he’ll need the economic resources to do it. “That kind of reporting is labor-intensive … if you don’t have the personnel you can’t get the work done.”
The newspaper is owned by Wayzata Investment Partners, a private investment group that has said it intends to sell the company. Klingensmith said Tuesday that no conversations are going on and no sale is imminent.
Local leaders of the Newspaper Guild, the union representing Star Tribune news staff and other employee groups, issued a statement wishing Sanchez good luck with his new assignment: “We look forward to working with him to craft a productive, progressive relationship between the union and management,” co-chairs Janet Moore and David Chanen said.
Sanchez, a New Orleans native, earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University in New Orleans. He was a reporter for the Washington Post for 17 years prior to coming to the Star Tribune as a writer in 2004. Less than a year later, he was named Sunday editor. He later took on the roles of deputy managing editor and managing editor, where he oversaw metro, business and sports departments, as well as investigative and special projects.
Sanchez is married to Kerri Westenberg, the Star Tribune’s travel editor. They live in Minneapolis and have one daughter.
Barnes, who begins her new role leading the Texas newspaper on Monday, said she “couldn’t be happier” that Sanchez was named top editor. “The newsroom will be in great hands,” she said.
The editor announcement came after an expedited national search, Klingensmith said.
“At the end of the day, Rene was a very easy choice for us, a very clear choice,” Klingensmith said. “We’ve seen firsthand what Rene can do and we’ve been very impressed. … I am thrilled that we could find the perfect choice right here amongst our group.”