Suki Dardarian took over the Star Tribune newsroom last month after Rene Sanchez left to become the editor of his hometown newspaper in New Orleans. Dardarian had been second-in-command since joining the Star Tribune in 2014. She spent her career in Washington, from her start as a reporter in Everett, Wash., to managing editor and director of audience development at the Seattle Times, where she helped oversee work that earned two Pulitzer Prizes. Star Tribune Publisher and CEO Mike Klingensmith, in appointing Dardarian editor and senior vice president in February, said it was one of the easiest personnel decisions he's made at the Star Tribune. "She is completely ready for the task. She is deeply experienced," Klingensmith said. "Her news judgment is impeccable, but also her creativity and energy is infectious."
Dardarian lives in the Mill District with her husband, Peter Callaghan, a reporter for MinnPost. They have two adult daughters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Has this job — running a major metropolitan news organization — always been a goal for you?
My goal has been to help lead a great newsroom operated by an independent owner who is value-driven, a news organization run by smart, caring, humane people. So I've been living the dream for a while now. Getting to be the top editor is icing on the cake.
You were a reporter early in your career. How has that affected your leadership style?
I appreciate the challenges our journalists face today, which are substantially more than those I confronted as a reporter. So that fuels a certain amount of empathy and admiration for the folks who produce our news report every day. And a bit of a mothering instinct.
You have been a senior leader at the Star Tribune since you arrived in 2014 and often managed day-to-day newsroom operations, yet you just told staff that your new job was a "daunting responsibility." How is it different?
Everyone here feels an enormous responsibility to this community, to this institution and to each other. As the editor, more is appropriately expected of me. And I carry that with every decision I make, every action I take — or don't take. I am thankful for such a creative, brilliant and committed news staff.
As a subscriber to the Star Tribune, what changes might I see going forward?
Well, I hope you've felt well-served by us along the way, but you will see us trying even harder to be indispensable to you, to delight you and to enlighten you. From reporting to writing, to design, graphics and photo/video, we want to bring the best of our journalistic skills to bear on the critical stories of our time — and also to help you navigate your day, feel a part of the community and experience a sense of discovery, whether you are a print or digital subscriber, or both.
The Star Tribune has continued to expand in greater Minnesota in recent years, opening bureaus in Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester. Why? And will we see more of that?
We aim to serve all Minnesotans, urban, suburban, rural. And it's hard to do that authentically without being present in those communities. There are so many great stories to tell all over this state, and I hope we can continue to expand our reach.
How does this era of continued and growing misinformation change what you do on a daily basis and long term?
It used to be that a lie would die out, but with social media and so many ways of spreading untruths, we are bombarded by misinformation campaigns. As a result, we have a greater responsibility to call out the truth — and the lies. This isn't about pushing an opinion or twisting the truth, it is about providing the facts. So we are doing much more fact-checking and myth-busting today than ever before. At the same time, we have become targets of some misinformation campaigns, and our staff has been harassed for doing nothing but reporting the truth. It has been difficult for us all, and we had to take a number of steps to help protect our journalists.
What do you see as the citizen's role to combating misinformation?
Understand the source of your information. That sounds easy, but it's not. You may have seen something on social media, or someone you know sent you something that sounds reliable. But is it? What is the original source? Legitimate news sites will tell you who they are, what their standards are and provide a way for you to contact them. Citizens need to do more homework to verify the sources of information — and to think critically about what they're hearing. They should identify the news sources they trust and follow them — and subscribe to them.
How has George Floyd's murder and the pandemic changed the Star Tribune?
These two important historical events have changed us all these past few years. We are working on our own reckoning around race and equity at the Star Tribune, yet at the same time, we are continuing to work in a remote/hybrid way. Somehow we are doing our hardest and most meaningful work while being apart from each other. For some of our front-line journalists particularly, the pandemic and Floyd's murder and the aftermath have been physically and emotionally challenging. But we have all also felt a profound commitment to telling the stories of both, as hard as they are to tell. I think we have all become more dedicated and passionate about our work these past few years.
After George Floyd's murder, the Star Tribune publicly committed to increasing diversity within its newsrooms and through its coverage. Where does that goal stand and how are you measuring it?
We have increased our hiring of people of color and women, and we are more deliberate about who we are including in our coverage. Nevertheless, we will keep measuring our progress, including plans to conduct an audit of our coverage to see if we are truly covering the diversity of this community. We have also created a number of workgroups to rethink our recruiting, hiring and coverage, to ensure the efforts underway now will continue indefinitely — and we all will be part of making this happen.
Beyond the Star Tribune's role in reporting news and holding officials accountable, do you see broader community goals for your organization, and how might we see those in action?
We want to be there for you not just as a citizen who needs to be informed of the news and information in their community. We want to help you figure out what to do this weekend, learn more about this place and your neighbors, help you understand everything from what's happening in the economy to where to get a COVID booster to how to help those in need. We also want to help feed your soul, telling stories of people, places and all the delights Minnesota has to offer. We want to amuse, delight and challenge you each and every day.
The Star Tribune is now one of the largest print newspapers in the country. Is the print model sustainable and for how much longer?
Well, it's sustainable here in Minnesota, where citizens have a heightened interest in civic affairs and want to track the news as much as possible. We know over time the interest in print will decrease, and we have focused heavily on developing a strong digital report as well. We also have the e-edition, which has a loyal readership. And we want to help our readers stay connected throughout the day, so we also are producing a strong array of newsletters and keep our followers on social media well informed.