Paul Schmelzer: Before he accepted his position as Minnesota Monitor’s editorial mentor, Jim Boyd worked the majority of his 27 years at the Star Tribune on its editorial page, most recently as its deputy editor. With news on Wednesday that Susan Albright, the paper’s editorial page editor, will be leaving October 12, we asked Boyd to share his reflections on this major change at the ever-turbulent Minneapolis daily.
When I was in graduate school, we were always taught that freedom of the press is for those who own one, and so it is. The Avista partners who purchased the Star Tribune have every right to get rid of Editorial Page Editor Susan Albright, with whom I worked as partner and friend for 14 years.
Her ouster I regard as grossly unfair. Susan bent over backwards to meet the vague and unspecified objections that Par Ridder and Chris Harte had to her stewardship of the editorial pages. It seemed obvious from the start that they wanted her gone, and nothing she could do would change that. She is as gentle and uncombative a soul as you are likely to meet anywhere, and very aware of her obligations to the owners. The excuse, to call it what it is, that Chris Harte gave for her ouster — a determination to focus on more local editorials — is silly on its face. A review of the Star Tribune editorial pages over the past two months will demonstrate Susan’s determination to steer the editorial pages into the local waters demanded by the newspaper’s new owners. National editorials were few; international editorials were rare. But unfairness doesn’t matter because Harte and Avista own the presses.
The issue, however, goes beyond unfairness to an individual. Harte and Avista buy hook, line and sinker the dubious conventional wisdom that the only way newspapers will survive is by going local, local, local. Furthermore, Harte has demanded that editorials in the Star Tribune demonstrate “no sharp elbows.” So local and bland is his prescription for his editorial page. To my way of thinking, that is no editorial page at all. It is a genuflection toward the belief that a newspaper must have such a page, coupled with a determination to make it as inconsequential as possible, a boring page to skip over during your morning read. How that builds readership for a struggling newspaper I do not comprehend. But Harte and Avista own the presses.
Expect no leadership from these pages, because true leadership requires risking the ire of those in power. It requires telling hard truths and pushing difficult choices, whether the issue be local, national or international. A good editorial page serves as the conscience of a community. It bravely afflicts the comfortable, as the old aphorism goes. Harte and Avista seem determined to afflict no one about anything. But Harte and Avista own the presses.