Huntsman Buys Salt Lake Tribune

As rumored for a while the Huntsman family has bought the Salt Lake Tribune. Both the Tribune as well as the Deseret News have been struggling for quite a while. The drying up of classified ads has hurt newspapers across the country the last 15 years. For a relatively small market like Utah to have two major papers really has been difficult economically. However unification has always been controversial due to the relationship of both papers to the whole Mormon question.

Historically the Salt Lake Tribune arose to be a critical voice against Mormons. It was part of the Godbeite movement in the late 19th century. Godbe wanted religious and political reform in Utah. The fact that the other main paper, the Deseret News, was controlled by the LDS Church allowed for both perspectives to be voiced.

While in many ways both papers have been quite conservative, especially compared to typical urban papers, they also have had slightly different stances. Even in recent decades when the origins of the paper are largely forgotten, the Salt Lake Tribue tends to be able to voice perspectives one might not hear in the Deseret News.

I do question whether this will remain viable in the long term. The economics of newspapers are not great. My sense is that the issue isn’t just traditional revenue streams difficult in the internet age. Rather I think a lot of amalgamation of media across the country is necessary. I’m unsure how such amalgamation and economic savings can happen without losing local investigative journalism and reporting. However I think anyone looking at the number of news sites realize it’s an oversupplied market which makes it hard for anyone to be profitable. This in turn incentivizes media outlets towards misleading and sensationalist journalism.

It’s possible that the Huntsman purchase is part of a larger trend of extremely rich individuals running newspapers for more philanthropic reasons. Famously Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post a few years ago – although it’s not clear how profitable he does want the paper. With the Huntsman purchase it’s not at all clear how much money they are willing to loose nor what changes they’ll make at the paper.

Note for those not familiar with the history of the Godbeites and how it relates to the creation of the Salt Lake Tribune the book Wayward Saints is well worth reading.

9 comments for “Huntsman Buys Salt Lake Tribune

  1. Last Lemming
    April 20, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Jim Dabakis has claimed that “it looks like The Salt Lake Tribune will be a daily or once-a-week supplement inside the [Deseret News]…” But then he also claimed that Huntsman had “given up” trying to buy the paper. Can we assume that Dabakis was as wrong about the Trib becoming a DN supplement as he was about Huntsman?

  2. LongLiveIndependentMedia
    April 20, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    The Trib is a strong paper with an excellent crew of journalists. Sadly, the paper’s website is one of the worst of any major media websites in the country. Hopefully the sale will lead to an improved online reading experience.

  3. April 20, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Bezos seems to be running Amazon as a charity, so I guess it makes sense that he would run the Post that way as well…

  4. Clark Goble
    April 20, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Bezos has a long game with Amazon. I’ve no idea what he plans with the WP.

    Ultimately the issue is even large city papers are struggling. For a small market to have two papers seems crazy. Especially when one is a fairly diverse media system (KSL TV, KSL radio, Deseret News, plus all the Bonneville stuff) Of course the Huntsman family is extremely wealthy and I’m sure they want to ensure a diversity of voices, especially given the history of the last nearly 150 years.

  5. Jim Averly
    April 20, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    I’m glad the Tribune will live on…for now. If they could just do something about the comment sections though…complete cess pool.

  6. April 20, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    Will be most interesting to watch what happens now. Hoping for good things!

  7. Art
    April 21, 2016 at 12:46 am

    Reputable news outlets have power. Power to not only sway opinions, power to set the agenda about what the people will have opinions on, and perhaps most importantly, as a direct result of those reasons the ownership creates an ability to access political individuals.

    For individuals with a lot of money, power is more important.

    I’m not saying it’s nefarious, because the power will be yielded for good or bad. If I’m a wealthy person concerned with the state of the world, or concerned about trying to shape the world how I’d prefer it, news media acquisitions make sense.

  8. John Mansfield
    April 21, 2016 at 9:28 am

    It has been unpleasant to experience the evolution of the Washington Post’s news delivery over the last decade. The newsstand price was 35 cents in 2007. In January 2012, it went up from 75 cents to $1. It’s now $2. I suppose printing costs haven’t gone up six-fold in a decade, and the difference reflects loss of advertising. I used to enjoy picking up a paper in the morning now and then while getting a doughnut, and that behavior changed little as the price doubled and the paper got skinnier, but when the price hit a dollar, it no longer seemed like the same trifling indulgence, and my newspaper purchases plummeted, which seems to be WaPo’s intent; the drastic price hike feels intended to push readers away from print. The internet presentation of the paper used to be modeled somewhat after a print newspaper’s front page: multiple columns, and a hierarchy to the design. Catering to smart phones instead of computer monitor screens or laptops, the home page is now mostly a long, single-column, undifferentiated scroll. Browsing the news on the site now feels like it’s mediated by a fence with a hole I can peek through at random things. And that’s the experience with what had been one of the nation’s leading papers, now owned by a web-born billionaire.

  9. Clark Goble
    April 21, 2016 at 10:13 am

    With many of these sites they don’t simply sell advertising but they sell analytics via Google. The real money (well what there is) comes from learning about you the reader.

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