Star Tribune names ex-Marketwatch exec Jim Bernard as top digital exec

Jim Bernard, fresh off a stint as Marketwatch.com’s general manager, has just been named the Star Tribune’s Senior Vice President for Digital. He’ll be the lead dog for the paper’s strategic initiatives and business planning.

I’ve known Jim for a couple of decades, when he was helping stage events for student journalists. He’s a local guy who’s spent the last dozen years on the sales and strategy side of Marketwatch, a 10-million-user website. Marketwatch has passed through several corporations during his tenure — CBS, then Dow Jones, then Rupert Murdoch, who acquired Dow in 2007. When Murdoch decided to move the G.M.’s job to New York, Jim decided to stay here.

I’ve never worked for the guy, so I can’t vouch for what kind of a boss or strategist he’ll be. But I’ve always found him enthusiastic, approachable and willing to share his insights (he gave a great presentation at an alternative “Future of News” conference I helped organize a year ago). He’s also not some sales automaton who ignores editorial; he cares a lot about the Twin Cities.

The timing on this is interesting; Strib’s closely guarded top-to-bottom website re-do is well underway, and Bernard is parachuting in fairly late in that process. (For example, SapientNitro has already been hired to help build the site.)

Last I heard, the Strib still plans on metering web access — somewhat akin to what Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal does — and it will be interesting to see how Bernard’s arrival affects that. The Strib also has teams working on a sorely needed mobile app strategy.

Bernard’s LinkedIn site touts efforts doubling search traffic and deploying social networking platforms. Jason Erdahl, the Strib’s current director of digital media, will stay on and report to Bernard. Editor Nancy Barnes, who is not exactly a digital native, had been leading the digital team in a pinch. Dan Shorter, who was the Strib’s digital president, left in 2009 after being passed over for the publisher’s job.

Here’s the staff announcement from CEO Mike Klingensmith:

It gives me great pleasure to announce the addition of a new member of the Star Tribune’s management team. Effective Monday, Jim Bernard will join our company as Senior Vice President, Digital, filling a position that has been open for some time now.

Jim joins us from Dow Jones where he was most recently General Manager of MarketWatch.com.  There he led a team of over 100 professionals and was responsible for the business operations of this highly successful financial website. During his tenure, he oversaw a complete redesign of the site and a 35 percent increase in site traffic and visitors, as well as a doubling of search traffic. This important division of Dow Jones is a significant part of the Dow Jones Digital Network, which also includes the Wall Street Journal.com and Barron’s.com, among others.

Jim has a deep and wide-ranging digital background that includes experience in sales, marketing, editorial, product development and strategic planning.  He was Vice President of Sales at CBS MarketWatch when it was acquired by Dow Jones in 2004.  He stayed with Dow Jones, where held the executive roles of  Vice President of Customer Quality, Vice President of Strategy and Planning and Vice President of Strategy and Market Intelligence for the business-to-business division.  He was named general manager for MarketWatch.com in 2007.  Earlier in his career, he was sales manager for the University of Minnesota Press.

It’s a plus for us that Jim has been headquartered in the Minneapolis market his entire career and is a big fan of the Star Tribune.   He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa and got his MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, so he will undoubtedly be conflicted in next weekend’s battle for Floyd of Rosedale.  Jim lives in Minnetonka with his wife and two young children. 

Jason Erdahl, who has been leading our digital efforts so ably, will report to Jim and together Jim and Jason will lead our strategic initiatives and business planning for our digital business, which is such a critically important part of our future. Jason and his team have done a remarkable job operating our web activities and dramatically increasing unique users and page views this past year. They are currently well underway on the complete rebuild of the Star Tribune’s website.

I also want to thank Nancy Barnes, who has done a great job of providing leadership for the digital team while this position has been open. Going forward, we will retain our matrixed structure where responsibility for digital content will remain within news and for digital sales will remain with the advertising organization. Our strategy is to transition into an agile content-driven company delivering our news and information across all platforms. This will require the coordinated and collaborative work of all parts of the company including sales, news and editorial, circulation, finance, production and digital– all working in concert.

Please join me in welcoming Jim to the company and to our executive team as we all continue to focus on building a bright future for the Star Tribune.

Note: The original version of this story contained an incorrect reference to the post-Shorter succession. It’s been deleted.

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