Skip to Content

The Strib’s Incoming Publisher Just Settled a Lawsuit Over Allegedly Withholding Public Records

Independent journalist Tony Webster sued Steve Grove and his Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development last year.

Provided by Star Tribune Media Co.|

Steve Grove, pictured here with his arms crossed and ready to lead.

To hear retiring Star Tribune publisher/CEO Mike Klingensmith tell it, his successor could have been designed in a Newspaper Executive Laboratory.

"If you asked an AI to draw up a resume for a Star Tribune publisher job, I don't think they could do any better than Steve Grove," Klingensmith said (weirdly) Tuesday in a statement announcing the hire.

In that case, the immediate baggage Grove brings to the state's highest newspaper job must be a hypothetical AI glitch.

Grove, who's stepping down as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for the Strib position, settled a lawsuit Monday brought by independent journalist Tony Webster. Webster sued Grove and DEED last fall, alleging that the agency failed to produce public records related to DEED Twitter accounts and Grove's personal account.

"I spent substantial time attempting to negotiate with Commissioner Grove’s attorney before filing the lawsuit," Webster tells Racket. "I laid out the facts and law, and they didn’t budge. Had Commissioner Grove expressed any willingness to work out a resolution last year, this needless waste of time and taxpayer money could have been avoided. I hope this settlement serves as a deterrent to other government officials who might delay and improperly deny public records requests."

In the settlement, DEED and Grove agreed to update policies, pay Webster $17,000, supply the previously requested data on blocked accounts, and promise to not withhold future records "for the duration of Commissioner Grove’s appointment and any future re-appointment as Commissioner of DEED."

As laid out in a blog by Webster, DEED has a long history of secrecy that pre-dates Grove. But things apparently haven't improved under his leadership. Last year MinnPost's Peter Callaghan criticized the agency for "finding new ways to evade public disclosure of how state dollars are spent." Yesterday Minnesota Reformer's J. Patrick Coolican took a critical look at how Grove's DEED dragged its feet on public record requests from his outlet.

All of this matters a helluva lot considering Grove will soon lead a newsroom that, ideally, is driven by skepticism of public institutions, corporations, and the elite. (One of the state's most powerful people, Republican billionaire Glen Taylor, happens to own the paper.) "Grove said his mission will be to carry on the Star Tribune's commitment to accountability in government," Stribber Brooks Johnson wrote in a fawning article introducing Grove. To which Webster wrote: "Interesting."

"If Grove’s conduct in Governor Walz’s cabinet is a preview of the 'commitment to accountability in government' he promises to deliver as Star Tribune CEO, I am not optimistic," Webster continues. "Though I nevertheless wish him all success."

When Racket requested a Grove interview Wednesday, the Strib's head PR guy, Steve Yaeger, punted to Gov. Tim Walz's PR team. We've yet to hear back from them. Yaeger declined to provide a comment on the behalf of the paper regarding the Grove/DEED/Webster settlement.

Grove, 45, grew up in Northfield and worked as a reporter at the Boston Globe and ABC News early in his career. He then pivoted to the tech world, working for YouTube and, later, Google News Lab. (The latter company is often cited for helping destroy the flailing journalism industry, though the News Lab is viewed as an olive branch.) Evidence of that Silicon Valley pedigree is all over Grove's quotes Tuesday to the Strib, which include terms like: "disruptive," "accelerate," and "digital-first." In 2019 Grove earned the top job at DEED, and became a vocal DFL cheerleader.

We also wish him success. A strong, feisty, incredulous Star Tribune means a stronger Minnesota.

Update: DEED PR rep Alicia Cordes-Mayo provided the following statement from Grove. "I blocked fewer than 20 user profiles from my personal Twitter account during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the incendiary nature of the tweets and comments posted on those profiles. Since that time, I have unblocked all of those accounts. Additionally, no accounts are blocked from official DEED state government Twitter accounts." 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Yaeger punted to the DEED PR team; it has been updated to reflect that he punted to Gov. Walz's PR team, who we contacted pre-publication and have not heard back from.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter