Phill Casaus, a former editor at The Albuquerque Tribune and The Rocky Mountain News, has been hired as the new editor of The Santa Fe New Mexican.

Casaus, 54, will replace Ray Rivera, who is leaving Sept. 8 for a job as deputy managing editor for investigations and enterprise at The Seattle Times. Casaus is expected to start at The New Mexican on Sept. 18.

Robin Martin, the owner of The New Mexican, made the announcement Wednesday to employees of the newspaper. She said Casaus will continue with the watchdog journalism The New Mexican has become known for.

“I’m convinced he’s as interested as I am in continuing The New Mexican’s tradition of being a community watchdog,” Martin said in a statement. “I am sorry that Ray Rivera is leaving, but I know that Phill will continue to put out a great news report in print and online. We will continue to cover local and state politics, schools, arts, entertainment, prep sports, environmental and health issues, as well as giving our readers an intelligent roundup of national and international news and producing award-winning magazines.”

Tom Cross, the publisher of The New Mexican, said Casaus stood out from a “strong field of candidates” even though he has been out of a newsroom for several years.

For much of the past eight years, he has served as executive director of the Albuquerque Public Schools Education Foundation, raising millions of dollars in grants for fine arts, literacy and STEM programs.

“He impressed the hiring committee with his news instincts, energy and intelligence,” Cross said in a statement. “He also has a deep knowledge of New Mexico and a proven record of leading newsrooms committed to the kind of investigative and watchdog reporting The New Mexican has become known for. Colleagues who have worked with him recall him as an elegant writer and a smart, generous and ambitious editor.”

In a phone interview Wednesday, Casaus said he is excited to come back to journalism, especially to a newspaper “as good as The New Mexican.”

Casaus began his career at The Albuquerque Journal as a sports reporter in 1978. He spent more than two decades at the paper, also working as a columnist and assistant sports editor.

At The Albuquerque Tribune, he worked as deputy sports editor, city editor, managing editor and eventually as the president of the paper from 2003-08, when the publication closed.

While he was at the Tribune, the newspaper won several national awards, including first place in the National Journalism Awards for a 20-part series titled “The State of Our Children.” From the Tribune, he went on to serve as senior editor at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where he was responsible for the local news section and helped implement its digital transition. That paper closed in 2009.

Born in Albuquerque, Casaus spent several years of his childhood in Bisbee, Ariz. While he was still a teenager, he moved back to Albuquerque with his family and eventually graduated from The University of New Mexico in 1986.

“I’m thrilled and honored,” he said. “For me, coming back to a newsroom, you never know how much you love being a journalist until you can’t be one. And I love being a journalist, so I look forward to doing the best job that I possibly can.”

Causaus' wife Kathy is a native Santa Fean who is an elementary school principal in Albuquerque. The couple have two children, Kait, 22, and Jack, 19.

Contact Uriel Garcia at 505-986-3062 or ugarcia@sfnewmexican.com.