Six questions for new Star Tribune managing editor Suki Dardarian

Suki Dardarian
MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband
Suki Dardarian

Editor’s note: Please read the accompanying story on Suki Dardarian’s path to the Star Tribune.

MinnPost: You’re 57, and you’ve spent your entire career in the Seattle area, where you’ve already served as a managing editor. Why come all the way to Minneapolis for a lateral move?

Suki Dardarian: First of all, I don’t see it as a lateral move. The Star Tribune’s circulation is significantly higher than the Times. And the newsroom is probably 25 to 30 percent bigger than the Times newsroom. From Seattle, I’m looking at the resources that exist and I’m impressed. [The Star Tribune has] a robust features section, they still do significant polling, they just have a stronger foundation.

This is [also] about making a big personal change. Having been in the same place for all of my career, I’m thinking what’s the last third of my career is going to look like — about really wanting that excitement and [being part of the] change that reflects what’s going on in the industry.

The paper is at this critical juncture, turning away from the past, moving into a new direction with new leadership, pretty soon a new building. What a great opportunity for all of us to reset and restart some ambitious journalism.

MP: In practical terms, what does the title “senior managing editor/vice president” mean?

SD: I’m still learning. I’ve only been here a month, but I’m happy to be … working across department lines, [especially] on digital strategy. Being part of the strategy team that helps set our course for the future … that’s something I really enjoy, and that I enjoyed doing at the Times.

I haven’t had [a vice presidential title] before … I don’t get into all that title stuff, but I feel like it’s a growth opportunity for me, and for the paper, and for the company.

MP: You’ve been at the Star Tribune since April 21. What are your initial impressions?

There are 260 journalists in the room, plus dozens more people outside the room that I’m beginning to meet. I’m developing this impression [of] people who are amazingly committed to this community, this company and to doing great journalism, and to keeping the company healthy so it can do great journalism. They’re so generous with advice and so welcoming, and if they have complaints — and what journalist doesn’t? — it’s about how they wish they could do their job more effectively. It’s not, “I’m oppressed,” but “how are we going to do more ambitious journalism?”

MP: What areas do you intend to focus on first?

SD: I’ll hearken back to my initial conversations with [editor] Rene [Sanchez]. Job 1 is doing the highest order of public service journalism that we can. Watchdog journalism, good community coverage, arts coverage, covering culture and life, shining a light on institutions in the community, and helping the community find its way as it’s going through all the changes that Minneapolis and the Twin Cities are seeing.

That’s what we talk about most of the time. That’s what Rene is pushing hard for. And he has great expectations about doing more aggressive enterprise and storytelling.

MP: Your last job at the Seattle Times was “director of audience development and innovation.” What sorts of products and programs did you work on, and how do you see those working here?

SD: [I was only in that job for] three or four months [and] a good chunk of that time was during the Seahawks’ run up to the Super Bowl. My role was to catch some of the excitement in digital strategy, helping connect all the departments together, to talk about new ways of making revenue.

I worked with some really wonderful people in every department of that company, learning so much about the different ways this news-and-information company could leverage all of its assets to try and increase revenue.

The Seahawks run up was the most fun; it all came together [in] advertising, sponsorship, everything from special sections to hawking extra copies of paper on the street, posters, commemorative tchotchkes. It was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. Maybe. [Considering this week’s Super Bowl announcement], who knows?

The Star Tribune has news products, sells photos, does special sections, works with advertising on strategy. There are elements of that job here … and in most newsroom leaders’ jobs.

MP: How will you define “success” once you’ve been here awhile? Do you have a five-year plan or something similar?

SD: I’m getting that question from staffers as well. Rene and I and senior editors, many of whom are new to their jobs, are working on that. What do we want to achieve in the next two or three years? We all want to do great journalism, have a quality newspaper and a quality website, but specifically, what do we want to do?

I can’t say what that’s going to be, beyond, obviously, doing great journalism and doing it in a way that’s much more engaging for this community — that increases our impact in the community and engages them. We want to improve our digital footprint, making our digital experience more delightful and engaging.

Moving into that new building is going to be cathartic — that fresh face giving us this fresh start, being a little more embedded into the community. It’s just a great time for journalism and for the Star Tribune.

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