It will be fascinating to watch what happens with the Salt Lake Tribune under the ownership of the Huntsman family. It will certainly be an improvement over ownership by a New York hedge fund. And it will be a lot different than ownership by a group of progressives headed by Democratic partisan and liberal firebrand James Dabakis.
Who knows? Perhaps it was the prospect of Dabakis taking over the Tribune that motivated the principals involved to do a deal with the Huntsman family.
Like many newspapers, the Tribune has been struggling financially because of the disruption in the information business, but also because a succession of owners, for various reasons, have taken their money out of the paper.
It’s perfectly normal for a business owner to want, at some point, to cash out. So the Tribune has been sold and resold. Key physical assets have been sold. Today, not much remains except the staff, the brand, and the circulation base. Certainly, those are important and valuable assets, but it’s a lot different than the good old days when the Tribune owned a majority of the physical assets needed to publish two daily newspapers, along with valuable downtown real estate.
When I grew up in the Salt Lake news business, newspaper publishers were community movers and shakers, engaging in and promoting important community projects and initiatives, raising money for good causes and taking leadership positions in non-profit organizations.
Such activities grated on purist journalists, but I believe it was healthy for the community. This may signal a return to that era for the Tribune.
Both the Deseret News and the Tribune must still navigate the precarious and unpredictable forces disrupting the news and information business. It won’t easy to break even or make a profit. I doubt the Huntsmans will want to lose a lot of money month after month. I don’t know if part of the deal is that the revenue split between the Deseret New and the Tribune will be improved for the Tribune.
The Deseret News, as part of a family of strong news and information outlets and powerhouse web sites, including KSL TV, KSL Radio, KSL.com, and other niche publications, probably has a more favorable business model. As the LDS Church has grown and expanded worldwide, it has increased the potential readership and viewership of the church-owned family of information businesses.
But Utah needs two strong newspapers. Most metropolitan areas of our size have only one newspaper, so we’re lucky in that regard. I believe the Tribune does a fine job covering local news, although the paper’s editorial philosophy is too liberal for me. It will be fun to see where the Huntsmans take the venerable Salt Lake Tribune.