Media Watch: It’s the end of an era, but can a digital Deseret News fulfill a much bigger vision?

A new era begins in just a few days for Salt Lake City’s two daily newspapers. The Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune will both move mostly to digital formats at the first of the year, but each will retain a weekend printed paper.

Given the ubiquity and dominance of digital information in the last several years, printed newspapers, once the king of information dissemination, were already on a long death spiral. For me, at least, it’s sad to see the demise of the printed word.

But digital publication and distribution offer myriad new opportunities.

To outside observers, it might seem that the Tribune and Deseret News are moving in the same direction. In reality, their paths are diverging dramatically. The Tribune will continue to be a mostly Utah publication, focused especially on politically liberal readers in the state’s urban areas.

By contrast, it appears to me that the Deseret News has national and even international ambitions, targeting family-oriented people with traditional values across the country and the world — including, but not limited to, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I believe the Deseret News’ first priority will remain robust and comprehensive local news coverage. But the Internet allows instantaneous worldwide distribution, enabling reach to a much broader audience.

The printed Deseret News is a member of a family of news and information enterprises, including KSL TV, KSL Radio,,, The Church News, and Deseret Book. Together, they constitute a digital powerhouse, capable of producing in-depth multi-media stories of national and international significance, and able to reach a worldwide audience.

All digital publications must look for niches where they can dominate. One obvious niche for the Deseret News and its sister publications is to become the news and information service for people worldwide looking for news, information, entertainment, opinion and commentary through the lens of family and traditional values.

I’ve written about this previously, but here’s a little history that I find interesting. Way back more than 45 years ago, when I was a college student studying journalism, I was invited to serve an internship with famous investigative journalist/muckraker Jack Anderson in Washington, D.C.

Anderson, a fairly liberal journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winner, was also a prominent member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The purpose of my internship was to assist him in writing a weekly column to be published in a new weekly international edition of the Deseret News, targeted at church members living all over the world.

This international edition was the brainchild of then-Deseret News Editor William Smart. It was to be patterned somewhat after the Christian Science Monitor, a successful church-sponsored international newspaper that featured quality, in-depth journalism. Smart felt that with worldwide church membership growing rapidly, the new Deseret News international edition could become a source of news and information for members everywhere, with news stories, columns and features formulated for that audience, including contributions from prominent church members, like Jack Anderson, who were living outside of Utah.

It was a great concept, but because of budget and other constraints the international edition never was launched. Today, however, the Deseret News is poised to fulfill Smart’s vision, only targeting an even broader audience, not just church members. Digital publication and distribution is dramatically easier than using ink on paper.

So, for an old guy like me, it’s sad to lose my old familiar friend — the daily printed newspaper. But it will be fascinating to see how successfully the Deseret News is able to fulfill a much bigger vision.