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The Star Tribune’s first big post-bankruptcy departure

Though he says it isn’t related to any bad news on the horizon, outgoing business/local news assistant managing editor Eric Wieffering will leave a hole at 425 Portland.
By David Brauer

Eric Wieffering, who has a prominent portfolio as the Strib’s supervising editor for business and local news, told staff Wednesday morning that he’s leaving for a p.r. job.

Eric Wieffering

Eric Wieffering

It’s a big loss, as editor Nancy Barnes acknowledged in her staff memo (below). Wieffering was widely considered a sharp ex-reporter respected for his news judgment and managerial sanity. Before the Strib, he worked at the Pioneer Press and Corporate Report Minnesota (where we got to know each other), so he has a deep knowledge of the local scene.

So does this signal coming awfulness at the Strib?

“No, and I’ve made that clear,” Wieffering says. “I know as little about our next publisher as anyone in building, but there have been no whispers to managers about head counts coming or anything like that. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the uncertain state of journalism figured in, [but] this is motivated by opportunity, rather than fear of what coming.”

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As a senior strategist for the Minneapolis-based Haberman firm, Wieffering says he and his new bosses agree he will not be pitching former colleagues stories or “banging out press releases.” While Wieffering may be handling general media relations, Haberman already has folks to do such duties. His job will be more entrepreneurial, luring new clients while helping existing ones with branding, social networking and other communications needs.

I asked Wieffering if he thought his Strib job would be filled. (The job currently includes supervising the paper’s Minneapolis, St. Paul and suburban news teams). After all, triage is tempting, and perhaps necessary, at the senior management level.

Wieffering says newsroom management has already announced a national search for a new business overseer. Barnes and managing editor Rene Sanchez “realize in a place with 19 or 20 of the Fortune 500 companies, there are few stories as local as business. They really recognize importance of stand-alone business section; they are incredibly supportive of that.”

Here’s Barnes’ memo:

I’m deeply sorry to announce that Eric Wieffering, our AME for business and local news, is stepping down to take a job in the business community. Eric has accepted a senior position at Haberman, a Minneapolis-based public relations, branding and strategic communications firm. He will play a key role in helping that firm grow and expand its service offerings. His last day with us will be a week from Friday.

I’ve written a lot of these announcements over the years, but this one is more difficult than most.  Eric has been a terrific reporter, editor and leader during what has turned out to be the most tumultuous period any of us has ever seen in this business and at this paper. His staff knows him to be steady, demanding, and sophisticated in his thinking about reporting and story development. Those skills are hard to come by.

Eric has worked for the Star Tribune for more than a decade. He joined the paper in October 1998 to cover the Internet boom, and eventually became a general assignment enterprise reporter in business. He was promoted to a team leader in business in 2004, and handled some of our biggest news stories including the bankruptcy and strike at Northwest Airlines, the Sale of Marshall Fields, the Petters scandal, and the meltdown in our real estate markets. Eric served as an interim investigations editor before becoming business editor in May of 2007. Prior to joining the Star Tribune, Eric covered airlines at the Pioneer Press, and was editor of a monthly business magazine, Corporate Report Minnesota.

Eric has spent his entire career as a journalist, and he told me he wanted to try his hand at something different while he was still young enough to make a career change. We wish him only the best at this new venture.

We will begin searching for a replacement immediately.  Meanwhile, we hope to have an interim solution by the time Eric leaves.  

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Nancy