Rally to rescue the Salt Lake Tribune

Supporters of the Tribune rallied to tell the Department of Justice to investigate the terms between the Deseret News and the Tribune.

Local politicians, activists and citizens gathered at the Salt Lake City and County Building on May 31 for a rally to save the Salt Lake Tribune. Troy Williams, from KRCL, introduced current and former journalists, state legislators and other prominent Utahns who spoke in support of the Tribune.

State Senator Jim Dabakis (D- Salt Lake City) is garnering support from Utahns and appealing to the Department of Justice to investigate the new joint-operating agreement between the Tribune and the Deseret News. The renegotiated JOA reroutes the advertising revenue to give the Deseret News 70% and the Tribune 30% (read below for more details and context on the JOA).

Dabakis’s website, SaveTheTribune.com, promotes the petition that will go to the DOJ. As of the end of the rally on Saturday, more than 15,000 had signed.

“This is not one of those rallies where nothing can happen and won’t make you feel good, because the Department of Justice is now deciding if and how deep they ought to weigh in. We’re going to make sure that your petitions and your voice [are] heard in Washington and that the Department of Justice does what it needs to do, which is make sure we have two strong, independent voices in our community for many, many years to come,” said Dabakis.

Peg McEntee, a former reporter for the Tribune, lauded the newspaper’s work and expressed her continuing devotion.

“The Salt Lake Tribune is nothing less than indispensible,” said McEntee. Cartoonist Pat Bagley reminded the crowd of the reporting that Robert Gehrke and Tom Harvey did on former Attorney General John Swallow, and the contrasting voice and story choices that the newspaper brings to the state.

Patrice Arent (D-Millcreek) attended the rally and said that she relies on the reporting of the Tribune for her work at the state legislature. Phil McCarthey, former owner of the Tribune, suggested that the JOA have two and a half more years and then be scrapped.

While revenue for print advertising is down, it hasn’t disappeared. Digital traffic is trending upward, but the newspaper still relies heavily on print ads.

Also seen in the crowd was 5-foot Whirley the fish. Attorney Daniel Darger created Whirley when the Tribune was writing articles about Mike Leavitt’s ties to a fish farm that spread whirling disease. Kathryn Lenton, from Park City, is the woman inside the fish costume.

“Whirley has been in retirement, but we thought we’d bring him out because this is such an important cause,” said Lenton. “I’m an avid Tribune reader and supporter.”

Background:

More than 60 years ago, the Tribune and the Desert News entered into a joint-operating agreement. Normally, this sort of pact would violate federal law, but because of the ‘Newspaper Preservation Act,’ it was allowed an antitrust exemption. The JOA allows a joint business end and preserves the separate editorial ends. The Deseret News and Tribune share distribution costs and split advertising profits (previously 58% to Tribune and 42% to Deseret News because of the Tribune’s higher circulation).

In October 2013, the hedge fund that owns the Tribune (Alden Global Capital) and Deseret News Publishing Company renegotiated the deal and the new terms reroute advertising revenue to give Deseret News 70% and the Tribune 30%. The new agreement also gives the hedge fund an undisclosed lump sum.

An additional clause in the JOA says that the ownership of the Tribune cannot be changed without “written consent” from DNPC, and DNPC has the “unrestricted discretionary right” to withhold that consent.

Tribune staff learned of the updated agreement when three reporters received notes that said that the Tribune would be left with very little. The editor at the time, Nancy Conway, had known nothing of the deal. Her successor, Terry Orme, took over the same month that the JOA was being renegotiated, and also hadn’t known.

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