Salt Lake Tribune marquis

UtahPolicy.com has learned that soon The Salt Lake Tribune, owned by the Paul Huntsman family, will change from a for-profit entity to a newspaper and nonprofit foundation.

An application for nonprofit status with the IRS was made a month ago, an email to staffers obtained by UtahPolicy.com outlines. Top editors at the Tribune told staffers they expect the IRS will approve their nonprofit applications by the first quarter of next year at the latest.

“For those who couldn’t attend our impromptu staff meeting today, Paul (Huntsman) announced a new path toward our sustainability,” read the email. “The plan is two-fold: He is creating a nonprofit organization to support independent journalism in Utah; and he is converting The Salt Lake Tribue to a nonprofit organization, a first for a legacy newspaper in the U.S.”

The Tribune is expected to become an online-only newspaper sometime in 2020 sources tell UtahPolicy.com. That’s when the current joint production agreement with the Deseret News – its long-time daily newspaper rival – runs out.

In an email to some staffers obtained by UtahPolicy.com, Tribune editors said their mission and role, to present first-class journalism, will not change. But, of course, all this depends on money to hire first-class reporters and editors and staff a large enough newsroom to get the job done.

The Tribune confirmed their plans shortly after UtahPolicy.com published this story.

Going nonprofit makes sense for the Huntsman family for several reasons:

It gets Paul Huntsman, one of the sons of the late billionaire/philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., out of the for-profit newspaper business.

There have been whispers for quite some time that Paul Huntsman wanted to remove his family from the financially-struggling Tribune, into which the family has contributed millions of dollars to keep the operation going.

It removes a massive public relations problem/conflict of interest for current Russian Ambassador and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who is considering returning to Utah to run for major office in 2020.

As first reported by UtahPolicy.com, Huntsman Jr. is thinking about resigning his foreign post under GOP President Donald Trump and returning to Utah to run for governor next year.

He served as governor from 2004 until early 2009, when after winning re-election to another four-year term, Huntsman Jr. resigned the governorship to become ambassador to China under the Democratic administration of President Barak Obama.

Huntsman Jr. ran as a Republican for president in 2012, losing the nomination to Mitt

Romney, who, coincidently, was elected U.S. senator from Utah in 2018.

The Huntsman family, in general, could afford to put millions of dollars into a non-profit foundation, with tax-exempt advantages, to run the newspaper, thus giving it some financial stability at the outset of its nonprofit existence.

Like any other nonprofit, the Tribune Foundation would operate under newspaper subscriptions (donations), grants and other tax-exempt contributions.

The Tribune touts itself as Utah’s independent voice, i.e., it is not a news outlet owned and managed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like the Deseret News, KSL TV Channel 5 and KSL Radio.

As Salt Lake City has become a progressive, Democratic population in very red, very Republican Utah, the Tribune and its supporters – like the website Save The Tribune -- has been hailed as a counter voice to Mormon-dominated, conservative Utah society. As a foundation, the Tribune could entice that progressive population to donate to keep the “independent” voice alive.

How aggressive a Tribune foundation-owned online newspaper would be will be much watched. When the Tribune, under Paul Huntsman’s ownership, endorsed GOP Rep. Mia Love for re-election last year, any number of Democratic subscribers loudly complained and ended their subscriptions to the newspaper. The foundation may decide not to endorse partisan political candidates.

Several years ago, the Tribune won its second Pulitzer Prize, this one for reports of abuses in handling sexual assault complaints at LDS-owned Brigham Young University in Provo. Would a foundation-owned Tribune have done the same? Or would it even have had the staff to do so?

Since 1952, the Tribune has been in a joint operating agreement with the Deseret News – meaning the papers shared the costs of production, printing, advertising, and distribution. The JOA has been renewed several times as the two newspapers operated editorially separately, and as “friendly” rivals.

However, more than a decade ago, through a series of Tribune ownership changes, the state’s largest daily was acquired by a New York hedge fund, and over time that entity sold to the Deseret News (Media One) its share of the presses and other production assets. The hedge fund also sold all of the Tribune’s real estate assets, including the Tribune Building on Main Street. (Which for a time, ironically, was owned by the LDS Church.)

In any case, today the Tribune has no real assets – it rents its offices in the Gateway, the daily paper is printed on church-owned presses and distributed by church-owned Media One.

It does own its website.

And some months ago it put up a paywall – you can subscribe for $1.99 a month to an electronic version of the Tribune. But the online-only newspaper model has been hit and miss, mostly miss, by most newspapers in America. Just last week the New Orleans Pulitzer Prize-winning Times-Picayune was sold to a tabloid out-of-town rival newspaper.

Across America, cities and towns are losing their neighborhood newspapers, which are shutting down altogether or being sold, combined, with staffs being laid off by the thousands.

In 2010 the Deseret News laid off half of its staff, the Tribune cutting back nearly as drastically in several layoffs over recent years. Like many other American newspapers, the Tribune has struggled financially for almost a decade.

Paul Huntsman has reportedly written several checks for millions of dollars to keep the newspaper afloat, UtahPolicy.com has been told.

By one recent account, there are only 15 general news reporters on the paper’s city desk staff – the heart of any general circulation newspaper’s operations -- down from several dozen reporters just a few years ago.

When Paul Huntsman bought the paper (price not disclosed) several years ago, the LDS Church changed the financial split under Media One from 70-30 percent profits for the Deseret News to 60-40 percent profit split for the Deseret News – giving Huntsman a better financial deal.

The Media One joint operating agreement ends in 2020. And Paul Huntsman has been quoted as saying in early talks with church business leaders that he hoped to get a viable deal with the Media One, one that would allow the Tribune to remain a workable daily newspaper.

But Paul Huntsman has also said that the future of the Tribune would likely be as an online-only product shortly – doing away with the printed paper completely.