Huntsman lays out how the Tribune’s move to a non-profit may work

Salt Lake Tribune marquis

When broke the story a week ago that The Salt Lake Tribune was going to be turned into a nonprofit newspaper by owner Paul Huntsman, speculation quickly broke out over how that billionaire/philanthropist family would financially support the newspaper in the future.

A hint of how that will work came out Monday on KUER’s RadioWest show, where Huntsman and Tribune editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce appeared.

Huntsman, who bought the financially-troubled newspaper in 2015, said that “soon” the six children and widow of the late Jon Huntsman Sr. would announce that the huge family-run Huntsman Foundation would begin giving money to more than just cancer research and hospital – located at the University of Utah.

 The family is going into philanthropy work to “relieve human suffering” in general, Huntsman told host Doug Fabrizio.

And that could mean Huntsman Foundation monies going into the soon-to-be-created newspaper foundation, which in turn will fund the operations of the Tribune’s nonprofit parent foundation.

So, in short, some of the Huntsman family’s immense fortune will help keep the Tribune alive in a not-for-profit operation.

Apparently, without the Tribune moving into a foundation, the Huntsman Foundation couldn’t give nonprofit monies to the Tribune.

But with the Tribune moving into a nonprofit foundation itself (although technically a different foundation), then some of the original Huntsman Foundation money could go to the new newspaper foundation.

This doesn’t mean that the Tribune foundation will only be funded by the Huntsmans. Paul Huntsman said that the new newspaper foundation wouldn’t even be mostly financed by Huntsman Foundation money. (While the Huntsmans’ huge petrochemical company has given hundreds of millions to the Huntsman Foundation, over one million contributors, large and small, have given to the cancer-fighting foundation.)

Paul Huntsman hopes the Salt Lake City/Utah community, personally and through businesses and other foundations, would contribute to keeping “independent” newspapering alive here.

But the new arrangement, if approved by the Internal Revenue Service, under a 501(C)(3) operation, would allow the larger Huntsman Foundation to give money to the Tribune, and the Paul Huntsman family (he is one of six children) itself would no longer be on the hook for the red ink the newspaper has been running up for years.

A 2017 public filing of the Huntsman Foundation shows it has assets of $774,866 million and had an income of the previous year of $143 million.

It is the 215 largest foundation in the United States and the 2nd largest foundation in Utah.

Seven of its nine board members are Huntsmans, with former Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham as one non-family member and J. Kimo Esplin listed as treasurer.

Paul Huntsman, in a previous interview, said at first there likely would be three board members on the new Tribune foundation, himself being one.

Huntsman told Fabrizio that he saw no problem with the LDS Church, or any other large Utah business or organization, giving money to the Tribune Foundation, as long as they understood that donations – big or small – would not influence the editorial independence of the newspaper.

Huntsman also said that it was only a matter of “when,” not “if,” when the printed version of the Tribune would end, and it would only be an online, electronic publication – like is today.

Huntsman said the Joint Operating Agreement with the owners of the Deseret News – the LDS Church – runs out the end of 2020.

And he said that until then, the Tribune going to a non-profit status/foundation wouldn’t impact that JOA.

He didn’t speak to whether the JOA would continue after 2020.

He said the JOA as currently constituted doesn’t require the approval of the church for the Tribune to go to nonprofit foundation status.

The JOA does say either party – Tribune or Deseret News – gets to approve a new owner of the other publication, and the church did approve when Paul Huntsman bought the paper in 2015.

But that doesn’t appear to apply to the Huntsmans moving the paper into a foundation status.

In introducing the topic, Fabrizio said that just a few years ago the Tribune staff was 189, and today it is 60. The paper has had at least one large layoff several years ago and has had several smaller layoffs over the last decade.

Huntsman said the current for-profit Tribune operation “is not sustainable,” and that the paper must move to a nonprofit status if it is to survive.

He said he – and other family members – are determined to make the nonprofit newspaper foundation work.

And with $775 million in the Huntsman Foundation – and with the idea that the Tribune is vital to the Utah community – it is clear the money is there to fund a new newspaper foundation to keep the paper – online or in print – going.