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Front Page » May 8, 2014 » Opinion » Save the Tribune? You bet
Published 166 days ago

Save the Tribune? You bet


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Last week a movement started to save the Salt Lake Tribune.

You say what?

If you haven't been following it the Salt Lake Tribune is in real trouble.

There is a lot being said about the situation, but basically the paper, one of the oldest and best in America, is oozing money out its leaky bottom. And in my opinion that leaky bottom comes from the ownership of the paper.

Up until last year, the paper was owned by people who cared about community, who cared about what went on in Utah, who cared about covering the news well and providing service to their readers.

Now it is owned by a hedge fund company who has basically sold off many of its assets and continues to lower the bar by forcing staff cuts. While we at the Sun Advocate have had to endure some bad times in the last decade, we are lucky to have dedicated ownership who only owns newspapers and have no other subsidiaries or businesses to worry about. Our stockholders are a family who believes newspapers are a solid foundation for small communities.

You can feel sorry for those that work at the Tribune now and the myriad of people who have either been forced into retirement or let go over the last year. But most of all, you as a reader, and hopefully one that wants many points of view in what they read, should feel sorry for yourself. That's because if the Tribune dies, you will no longer have a paper that explores all the views in the state. You will have one statewide paper and while it is good, it is generally one sided.

There are some people in this state that have a name for the Tribune. They call it the "Lib Trib." That's because it has traditionally been the only daily statewide that really investigates everything that goes on in Utah. They have always delved into controversy and have never cared about whose toes they stepped on. Many in the legislature don't like that paper much, and neither do some in an office building down on North Temple in downtown Salt Lake.

But that's okay, because they have been the voice that cried out in the night when others wouldn't about corruption, bias and influence. And despite the best efforts of all the smaller papers in the state, without their leadership, hard work, dedication and resources, HB 477 that was introduced in 2011 to kill the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) would have probably not been defeated. Without sun shining in on our state governments actions, believe me things would go to hell worse than they already have, pretty quickly.

But the fact is that the "Lib Trib" is not all that liberal compared to other papers in the country. Besides there is nothing wrong with a left of middle leaning voice being heard. The fact is all voices should be heard. Of course some people don't believe that.

What is killing the Tribune is not their news writers, their editors, their opinion writers or their sports reporters. What is killing it is greed.

Just a few months ago the Tribune, which is by far has the largest circulation in the state, and a premium website, was somewhat healthy. It shared printing and advertising departments through Media One (formally the Newspaper Agency Corporation). Out of the profits of that operation the Tribune got roughly 60 percent of the profit and the Deseret News got 40 percent. Then came along the New York Hedge Fund. As any bean counter knows if you can make some quick cash to satisfy the investors, do it. And the Deseret News loved the situation more than the profiteers.

"There has been a hush-hush change in the relationship between the [Salt Lake] Tribune and the Deseret News. The Deseret News has made a deal with the hedge fund that (will) destroys it," State Senator Jim Dabakis, who founded the "Save the Tribune" website, told Utah Political Capitol. In the interview, Dabakis didn't pull any punches. "The Deseret News went quietly, grabbed a big knife and plunged it into the heart of the Salt Lake Tribune. It will die if that agreement is allowed to stand."

No one thinks that the Tribune can survive on only 30 percent revenue. And the pundits on their comment boards don't help, constantly criticizing the papers writers and editors for mistakes on the website and in the paper. I'd like to see them trying to put together a major daily paper with sometimes only three or four people doing it night after night.

The newspaper industry is changing and there is a lot of shakeout going on in newspaper business. Utah is unique though in that there are two major dailys in the capitol city, both of which were strong until the recent sale. But the other difference in our market is that the Tribune is needed to offset the influence of a paper owned by a church. Certainly there is nothing wrong with that ownership, but when non-newspaper people, or an entity that has other interests owns a newspaper, the influence of that organization or non-related business, while not always visible on the surface, is there.

And if organized and subsidized entities such as churches, monopolies and utilities can own newspapers and dominate markets, fair and unbiased news coverage, and yes even some types of biased news coverage, which all needs to be heard, will disappear because of unfair competition that drives the voices they don't want heard, out.

If the Tribune goes under, it will be a loss for all of us, regardless of religion or political persuasion.

You can get more detail and sign the petition if you wish at http://www.savethetribune.com/

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