A former Google executive — and Minnesota's current economic development commissioner — will be the Star Tribune's next publisher and CEO.
Steve Grove, a Northfield native who has led the state's Department of Employment and Economic Development since 2019, was named Tuesday to the media company's top post.
Grove, 45, will take over for Mike Klingensmith, who has led the company since 2010 and recently announced his retirement.
The new publisher will be expected to drive digital subscriptions and increase advertising as the Star Tribune faces a future with fewer print subscribers.
"I thought it was important to bring someone from the outside to look at things with a new view," Glen Taylor, owner of the Star Tribune, said in an interview. "I concentrated a little bit more on our immediate needs, and that would be digital."
Grove's media experience has a digital focus: He was the founding director of Google News Lab and created YouTube's first news and politics team.
"It was clear to me that Glen and Mike and the whole team know that a pretty significant transformation is needed so there is a long-term growth model that's going to work," Grove said. "You have to build a digital-first company if you want to survive in today's ecosystem."
Like other newspapers, the Star Tribune has seen print subscriptions and advertising revenue decline as more readers get their news online. Circulation among the top 50 metro newspapers dropped an average of 20% in 2022.
The Star Tribune has fared better than most, now selling more print single copies than any other U.S. metro newspaper; its Sunday circulation is the fourth-largest among metro papers. The company has about 100,000 digital subscribers.
Taylor said the company's overall finances are "OK for the immediate future" as the new CEO takes the reins.
"Financially we've done probably better than I expected; we're in a very difficult business," Taylor said. "We've been fortunate to pay down our debt every year, run a paper and have the cash to keep moving ahead."
Still, Grove said change will happen fast.
"I think the next 10 years are going to be a lot more disruptive than the last 10, and I will come at this from a perspective of excitement, thoughtfulness and a little bit of urgency," he said. "The best days of the Star Tribune are in its future."
Since implementing a paywall in 2011, Klingensmith said, the Star Tribune has just about as many digital subscribers as print subscribers.
"Now we have to accelerate that to have vastly more digital subscribers than print subscribers — more along the lines of a local equivalent of what the New York Times and Washington Post have been able to do nationally," he said.
When Grove takes over in April, he'll lead about 700 employees, 230 of whom work in the newsroom.
"If you asked an AI to draw up a résumé for a Star Tribune publisher," Klingensmith said, "I don't think they could do any better than Steve Grove."
Taylor said 10 candidates were interviewed after a nationwide search, and Grove stood out as an enthusiastic leader who could inspire employees, readers and business leaders around the state.
Taylor said Grove will help the Star Tribune "change faster, get closer to our customers, try new things and take bigger risks."
Grove's record as a Democratic governor's appointee could give some pause about the influence on the Star Tribune's objectivity, just as Taylor's affiliation as a Republican did when he bought the paper in 2014.
Asked about the potential backlash, Grove said his mission will be to carry on the Star Tribune's commitment to accountability in government.
"That builds trust in our state, that builds trust in the system and ultimately leads to a more prosperous society and democracy," he said.
Gov. Tim Walz applauded Grove's time leading DEED during the pandemic and the racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd. The governor pointed to Grove's efforts in workforce development, child care and increasing equity-based training and funding.
"Steve is a great pick, he has a good feel for the pulse of this state, and he loves Minnesota dearly," Walz said. "We're going to miss him, and we're going to miss his vision."
Grove and his wife, Mary, have 6-year-old twins. The couple started the nonprofit Silicon North Stars in 2013 to help underserved communities in Minnesota chart a career path in tech. More than 120 students have participated so far.
Like many companies, the Star Tribune has pledged to support diversity and equity goals by being more inclusive in its reporting and in its hiring. Grove said he intends to continue those efforts.
"As a white male leader of an agency, I've had to be an ally and not be nervous about talking to those who can teach me," he said. "It's hard to overstate how much diversity, equity and inclusion have been at the center of my work at DEED these last few years."
Those efforts included quadrupling the amount of funding going to businesses led by people of color and increasing consultations for small-business owners.
"Steve has been a capable and connecting force between the Walz administration and the business community in his time as commissioner," said Doug Loon, president and CEO of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. "His experience suits him well for this position."
Grove is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College in California and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was a reporter for the Boston Globe and ABC News — and wrote for his hometown Northfield News — before joining YouTube and later Google, where he led the tech giant's civic engagement work.
At Google News Lab, Grove led a global team and launched media training efforts that reached more than 100,000 journalists. The News Lab is part of the Google News Initiative, which aims to promote digital innovation and sustainable revenue models in the news industry through its research arm, fellowship programs and other collaborations.
Tim Franklin, director of the Medill Local News Initiative at Northwestern University, said Grove's experience makes him an "inspired choice" to lead the Star Tribune.
"He has an innovative and strategic mind, and he's been on the leading edge of thinking about new models for local news," he said.
Franklin said Grove's success will come down to execution and inspiration — getting the company to share his vision.
"He's going to have the benefit of leading what is already one of the most successful regional news organizations in America," he said. "Many new publishers are walking in and finding their chair is already on fire."
Grove said his first priority will be to travel the state and learn from non-subscribers "why they don't or why they might" subscribe.
"This isn't a moment where someone who used to work at Google is going to sprinkle some digital pixie dust and fix everything," he said. "We have to create something of enduring value."