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Ex-Star Tribune editor Gyllenhaal takes over McClatchy Washington bureau

Anders Gyllenhaal, who preceded Nancy Barnes as Star Tribune editor, was named vice president, news and Washington editor by McClatchy Co.

Anders Gyllenhaal, who preceded Nancy Barnes as Star Tribune editor, was named vice president, news and Washington editor by McClatchy Co. McClatchy owned the Strib until 2007, when it sold the paper to Avista Capital Partners for $530 million.

Gyllenhaal announced he was moving to McClatchy’s Miami Herald 11 days before the Strib sale became public, a reflection of his role as a corporate favorite, which today’s news reinforced.

I have to believe some current and former Stribbers are shaking their heads over this latest ascension. I profiled Gyllenhaal for Minnesota Monthly back in 2006, and he wasn’t a popular figure among some of the paper’s more tenacious investigators. (I didn’t talk to everyone.) He was seen as smart, but excessively cautious on big stories; McClatchy’s D.C. bureau is praised as one of the most aggressive, especially for early and prescient skepticism about the Bush administration’s Iraq War claims.

Despite that reputation as a hedger, Gyllenhaal was anything but shy when it came to hiring columnists, nabbing Nick Coleman from the Pioneer Press and Katherine Kersten from conservative think tanks. Even though there were complaints about Kersten’s unwillingness to acknowledge or unearth inconvenient facts, Gyllenhaal defended her as a strong, unconventional voice and necessary balance for a paper perceived as liberal.

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“She definitely has an edge to her,” he told me. “She’s introducing ideas and opinions and perspectives that the paper hasn’t had. Those all add up to an important new element in the paper.”

Barnes shipped Coleman and Kersten off to the editorial pages in 2009.

Gyllenhaal also absorbed criticism for a costly redesign that didn’t alter readership losses. (However, given industry-wide trends, who knows what would have.) Sunday circulation dropped from 667,000 to 585,000 in the last two years of Gyllenhaal’s term; it’s 504,000 now.

Many readers complained to me that the paper got softer as story sizes shrank and visual elements exploded. To be fair, designers say the design recognized time-pressed readers, and the visual elements would help good stories, provided journalists brought them forth, and editors allowed them through.