Utahns fall into one of three camps when it comes to the future of the Salt Lake Tribune, but a majority want the venerable paper to keep publishing.
Recently, it was announced that the Tribune would be sold to Paul Huntsman, son of billionaire businessman Jon Huntsman Sr.
A new UtahPolicy.com survey finds about a third of Utahns (28%) support the sale to Huntsman. Another third (30%) say they don’t care who owns the Tribune as long as it keeps publishing. 35% of the respondents in our survey say they don’t care who owns the paper, and it does not matter to them if it continues publishing.
The sale of the Tribune to Huntsman has been heralded by many in Utah as the saving grace for the newspaper. Huntsman’s purchase ended years of speculation about the future of the publication. Sources close to Huntsman tell UtahPolicy.com that he is considering bringing Jay Shelledy back to serve as publisher of the paper for a few years while he learns the ropes. Current publisher, Terry Orme, reportedly will remain on staff as an editor.
Shelledy served as the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune for more than a dozen years until 2003, when he resigned in the wake of a scandal when two of his reporters, Michael Vigh and Kevin Cantera, admitted selling information to the National Enquirer during the Elizabeth Smart saga. The reporters were each paid $10,000 by the Enquirer, who then published a story using that information alleging sexual misconduct by several of Smart’s family members. The Smart family demanded an apology, and the involvement of the Tribune reporters came to light. Vigh and Cantera were fired, and Shelledy resigned shortly after that.
[UPDATE: Sources tell UtahPolicy.com that at a meeting for employees on Friday, it was announced that Paul Huntsman would serve as the publisher of the paper while Terry Orme would be the editor. Shelledy advised Huntsman prior to the purchase, but will not serve an official role with the paper.]
In 2013, Digital First Media, the current owner of the Tribune, renegotiated the joint-operating agreement with the Deseret News. That renegotiation left the Tribune with a smaller share of advertising profits that the two papers split. The new deal also sold the paper’s interests in the printing facility in West Valley to the News.
Some supporters of the Tribune have worried openly that the sale to Huntsman would endanger the paper’s editorial independence. The Tribune has often been a critical voice against the LDS Church. The recent reporting of sexual assaults at Church-owned BYU is a great example. There are some who are concerned that the Huntsman family’s ties to the Church could mute that voice.
Republicans who responded to our survey were more likely not to care if the Tribune continued publishing. There is a perception among many conservatives, particularly on social media, that the Tribune’s editorial policy (and news coverage) leans to the left, politically. That is reflected in our poll results. Media bias is clearly in the eye of the beholder.
– 41% of Republicans say they don’t care if the Tribune keeps publishing.
– 30% of Republicans say they’re not worried who owns the Tribune as long as it keeps publishing.
– 24% of Republicans support the sale to Huntsman.
Utah Democrats are much more enthusiastic about the sale to Huntsman.
– 46% support Huntsman buying the Tribune.
– 31% don’t care who owns the Tribune as long as it keeps publishing.
– Just 12% say they don’t care if the paper survives.
Surprisingly, hardly anybody opposes the sale of the paper to Huntsman. Only 4% of respondents overall say they’re against the sale. That number includes 2% of Republicans and 7% of Democrats.
The Dan Jones & Associates poll was conducted May 2-10, 2016 among 588 registered Utah voters. It has a margin of error +/- 4.04%.