In his negotiations to buy Star Tribune Media Co. in 2014, Glen Taylor, the billionaire businessman from Mankato and former state legislator, had one condition above all others: that Mike Klingensmith remain CEO and publisher.
Klingensmith agreed to stay for three years, then stayed much longer under Taylor’s encouragement. On Thursday, Klingensmith, 69, announced he would retire early next year.
His departure will end a 13-year stint at the helm of the Star Tribune, with eight of them working with one of the state’s wealthiest people to keep Minnesota’s largest news organization viable and independent.
“He was just a pleasure working with him, but more importantly, he’s just a great person,” Taylor said after the news broke.
Klingensmith, who grew up in Fridley, spent 32 years in senior roles at Time Inc. in New York before returning to run the Star Tribune in 2010 just after emerging from a bankruptcy restructuring.
“Mike believes deeply in the value of local news as something people want to consume, and he’s ready to invest in that,” said David Chavern, chief executive of the News Media Alliance, a newspaper group and of organizations. “He is perhaps the most respected local news editor in the country.”
His departure creates both uncertainty and opportunity for the Star Tribune as it continues to navigate the shift of readers and advertisers to digital devices. Its next leader will face tough spending and investment choices as this shift continues and the broader economy slows.
“Mike considered our paper one of the best independents in the country,” Taylor said. “Even though it’s going to be difficult, if we can maintain ourselves in this position, I will be satisfied.”
Amid radical industry consolidation and technological transition, the Star Tribune under Klingensmith has often outperformed other major regional news outlets in financial results and circulation. He consolidated the company’s finances in 2013 and 2014 by selling his five downtown property blocks.
The company has also developed new revenue streams as a contract printer, including for Crosstown rival St. Paul Pioneer Press, and with digital marketing services for businesses.
“We’ve done a good job of staying contemporary with digital advertising and we’re doing pretty well in that world,” Klingensmith said. “The bigger question is, how long can we retain our print reader base? We’ve done very well compared to other markets in this regard.”
The company made operating profits every year during his tenure. And last year, for the first time since 2014, Star Tribune Media saw an increase in revenue.
In the meantime, it has retained a staff of around 230 journalists – one of the largest newsrooms in the country – and launched new sections, a magazine and multimedia products.
“You want to be the go-to subscription for people when it comes to local news and information,” Klingensmith said. “If the Star Tribune can continue to be that, I’m pretty confident it will find a business model that will support that.”
Klingensmith remained convinced of the value of local news as digital platforms and other new forms of competition emerged. In 2011, the Star Tribune implemented subscription fees on its website and mobile apps and has since gained around 100,000 subscribers.
The company also won three Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure. Editor & Publisher, a trade publication, named Klingensmith Publisher of the Year in 2011.
“To have worked for Mike is to have been blessed,” said Star Tribune editor Suki Dardarian. “He’s brilliant, funny, humble and kind and has inspired us all to do our best for him, for the Star Tribune and, most importantly, for the people of Minnesota.”
Klingensmith spent most of his career in New York City at Time Inc., which merged with Warner Communications in the late 1980s and AOL in 2000. He was the founding publisher of Entertainment Weekly, president of Sports Illustrated and held other leadership positions.
He arrived at the Star Tribune just months after some local investors bought out the company following a bankrupt restructuring. Over the next few years, Klingensmith positioned the Star Tribune for these investors to sell.
Taylor, who made his fortune in commercial printing and is well known as the owner of professional basketball teams Timberwolves and Lynx, became a potential buyer in 2013. At the same time, Time Warner began recruiting Klingensmith to return as CEO for a planned spinoff of his magazines.
“I went back and forth, back and forth, but one of the considerations was that Glen was ready to buy the business,” Klingensmith said. “I was worried that if I went back in time it might impact the deal.”
He said he did not recall Taylor explicitly buying the Star Tribune contingent on him. Taylor said on Thursday, “I told him I wasn’t going to do the deal unless he committed to stay.”
Klingensmith recalled that in 2014 he “enjoyed the Star Tribune very much” and worried that the Time spin-off wouldn’t work. After going public, the former Time magazines were privatized in 2020 and then resold last year.
Taylor’s acquisition made the Star Tribune one of the few major news outlets to be owned by a wealthy local businessman rather than a big corporation.
“He wanted us to generate enough cash to support ourselves and our capital needs, but he wasn’t looking to give him a dividend,” Klingensmith said. “It’s a wonderful and generous arrangement that Glen set us up with, and it has worked out very well to date.”
He added: “I feel 100% that I made the right decision.”