On the Acquisition of The Salt Lake Tribune by Utahn Paul Huntsman
By Ken K. Gourdin
Paul Huntsman’s recent purchase of The Salt Lake Tribune from a New York hedge fund which is geared toward non-print media has garnered much attention of late. Many observers were unhappy about the most recent iteration of the joint operating agreement between The Salt Lake Tribune and The Deseret News, claiming, contrary to the assertion of the Tribune’s former owner, that it put the Tribune at a severe disadvantage vis-a-vis the position of the News. (Indeed, some were unhappy enough over that arrangement to sue over it, but, presumably, Mr. Huntsman’s acquisition of the paper resolves most, if not all, of their concerns.) For Tribune coverage of Mr. Huntsman’s acquisition of the paper, see here (last accessed August 1, 2016):
In response to another poster who, in the light of the tenuous future of print media in this age of more immediate news coverage that electronic sources provide, questioned the wisdom of Mr. Huntsman’s acquisition and his ability to ensure its continued success, I responded thus, contending that, while the difficulties inherent to ensuring the success of print media in an era in which its electronic counterparts predominate should not be understated, print and electronic media, nonetheless, can coexist:
Many people involved in the newspaper business recognize the limitations of the model you mention. However, coverage of newsworthy events in other media often is shallow and is limited to what essentially is a 30-second soundbite, a 140-character tweet, or a short blog post. Newspapers and newspeople who are committed to in-depth reporting have the opportunity to sustain the relevance of print media by providing such coverage to consumers who are more interested in something deeper than the superficial treatment provided by other media, even if those other media are more immediate.
I’m no technophobe (as should be evident from the forum in which this dialogue is taking place), but there’s still an old-fashioned part of me that will never want to let go of the opportunity to digest most all of an entire newspaper at my own pace over a leisurely breakfast. (And I have a foot in both worlds: I contribute regularly to print media, while also having a blog.)
In a recent thread on Mr. Huntsman’s acquisition of the Tribune at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion, I commented:
I often disagree with The Salt Lake Tribune, but, even so, I have long considered it a point of pride that a town such as Salt Lake City has two newspapers when such competition is lacking in much larger cities. I don’t see the point of turning the Tribune into a Deseret News clone.
In response to a hue and cry over the fact that the sale of the Trib required the blessing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“The Church already has too much control over what happens in Utah! This is simply another despicable manifestation of that!”), I responded:
The Salt Lake Tribune and The Deseret News operate under a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA). There certainly is room for discussion about whether any particular provision in the JOA is necessary or proper, but the last time the JOA between the papers was revised, it included a clause that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would have veto power over any proposed sale of the Tribune. Not a few observers think that the Trib’s owners “gave away the store” (my phrase) the last time the JOA was renegotiated/extended. The Trib’s then-owners contended that the allegedly-disadvantageous provisions were necessary for the Trib to remain viable. I don’t know quite what to make of the whole kerfuffle between the Trib and the News, but I don’t think a rational owner would do things to purposely depreciate the value of an asset prior to a sale. It’s sort of like people arguing, every time the Utah Jazz have an extended losing streak, that the extended stretch of poor on-court performance is evidence that the Millers are getting ready to sell the team: Rational owners don’t drive assets into the ground before selling them, and, in fact, do everything possible to avoid doing so.
In response to another poster who opined that The Deseret News is unable to report news about its owner (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which also owns television and radio stations KSL, respectively) objectively, I responded:
Every news/media outlet, let alone every newspaper, is owned by somebody, which creates the potential for that news outlet to have a blind spot as regards negative news about its owner. Aren’t you engaging in a form of special pleading when you assert, essentially, that this problem is especially acute at KSL/The Deseret News while downplaying or discounting the possibility that it exists in other news outlets, as well?
And it wasn’t reporters at The Deseret News or KSL who were fired (along with their editor [I was slightly mistaken: the editor was not fired, but he did resign under pressure]) after selling information about Elizabeth Smart’s abduction that, at best was based on rumor and innuendo (and at worst was simply outright false) to The National Enquirer. I wouldn’t blame anybody with whom the Tribune lost credibility permanently after that lovely little episode.
In response, my interlocutor in this exchange asked me if I was contending that The Deseret News has no blind spots with respect to coverage of issues involving its owner. I responded:
If you need to re-read what I wrote, by all means, do so. It’s clear on its face and stands on its own. As for your accusation that my Elizabeth Smart example allegedly is a red herring, I thought we were talking about the credibility of news outlets. The willingness of reporters, for a price, to pass along unsubstantiated rumor and gossip that they’ve uncovered in the course of covering a story does seem germane to that issue. If you don’t think so, to each, his own.
You seem to think that The Deseret News and KSL are in a class by themselves when it comes to whether they have the freedom to call it as they see it with respect to newsworthy items affecting their owners or affecting other institutions which also are owned by their owners, or whether extraneous factors (such as, but not necessarily limited to, who owns them) might play a role in what they cover and how they cover it. Granting for the sake of discussion, without so conceding, that The Deseret News and KSL might have a problem covering, e.g., the recent BYU Honor Code/rape controversy, I simply pointed out that even if that is true, KSL and The Deseret News hardly are unique in that regard. (And Scott [Lloyd, a fellow poster and Deseret News staffer] has provided evidence, or at least put forth the argument, that, in fact, there is no appreciable difference in how they are covering the contraversy vis-a-vis how theTrib is covering it.) If you disagree, that’s fine. Vive le difference!