The Star Tribune’s editorial page is losing another important contributor in Dave Hage, the 30-year Strib writer and editorial page staffer who announced on Tuesday he’s leaving to become communications director for Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The move continues a turbulent spell for both the paper and the editorial page — and it’s sparking speculation about what comes next. While Hage’s position will be refilled, a lingering question mark — even for many at the paper — is: By whom?
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A writing workhorse, Hage’s exit diminishes a staff that’s already seen the contentious firing of editorial page editor Susan Albright in late September and buyouts by veterans including deputy editorial page editor Jim Boyd (now with Minnesota Monitor), Ron Meador (Friends of the Boundary Waters) and Steve Berg (MinnPost). After Hage leaves, there will be two full-time editorial writers — Lori Sturdevant and Denise Johnson — plus writing contributions by the page’s interim editor, Scott Gillespie, and occasional pieces by commentary editor Eric Ringham and letters editor Tim O’Brien.
Hage, who joined the Star Tribune in 1979, wouldn’t say if he was approached by Klobuchar’s office or if he sought the job, nor would he say if recent downsizing or management’s mandate about exclusively local editorials (the issue that prompted Albright’s ouster) contributed to his decision.
“I wouldn’t have left the paper if this opportunity hadn’t arisen,” he said, calling the job an “amazing opportunity.”
“Look, everyone knows this is a difficult time for the paper,” he continued. “We’ve definitely lost wonderful talent in the last six months, not just in editorial but also in the newsroom. But I’ve been reminding people: for every wonderful journalist who left, four or five or eight or 10 decided to stay. This is still a tremendous news organization.”
Ringham agrees, but notes that current staff is spread thin. “There’s a minimum number of editorials we have to produce in a week, and if we get any smaller it’ll becomes physically impossible to write them.”
He says the editorial staff is “already too small” and noted that former managing editor Gillespie has been “writing like a house on fire” since taking over the top post on the editorial page.
The Rake’s Brian Lambert wrote on Tuesday that according to “office scuttlebutt,” newsroom editor D.J. Tice was to be Hage’s replacement. It’d make sense — Tice has worked on the Pioneer Press’ editorial page, and as a former columnist for the Center of the American Experiment, the move could placate critics who complain the paper’s editorial stances are too liberal — but Tice and Gillespie say there’s no truth to that rumor.
“I only know what I read about on Brian’s blog. He must have sources I don’t know,” said Tice. “No, nobody has broached the subject here.”
Gillespie concurs. He called Hage’s resignation, which he learned about Sunday night, “an unexpected loss.” As an interim editor who was out of the office Monday, he said, “It’d be presumptuous to say anyone has been tapped.”
But could Tice be named? Maybe: Newsroom staffers historically have applied for such positions, and Tice’s past editorial experience could be a benefit in a department stretched by staff cuts.
And what about the balancing factor of Tice’s conservative political leanings?
“We’ll talk about that as a possibility,” Gillespie said.
Institutionally, the Star Tribune’s editorial page, in its voice and positions, has tended to be left of center. (Hage argues that “the best interests of Minnesota,” not politics, have guided its stances. He points out the paper’s many editorial endorsements of Republicans, including those he penned for Reps. Jim Ramstad and Gil Gutknecht, attorney general candidate Charlie Weaver and, just last week, a Republican candidate for St. Paul City Council.)
How a new editorial team member responds to that historical legacy will be a significant factor in whoever gets hired, said Gillespie. “You do need someone who can work with the editorial board and who can work with opinions, sometimes other than their own, that consider the paper’s opinions over time.”
He concluded, “Fit is important.”