Why The Salt Lake Tribune Wants To Become A Nonprofit

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The Salt Lake Tribune building in Salt Lake City. The paper has announced plans to become a nonprofit as it moves toward a nontraditional model that it hopes will ensure long-term stability after years of financial struggles. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
The Salt Lake Tribune building in Salt Lake City. The paper has announced plans to become a nonprofit as it moves toward a nontraditional model that it hopes will ensure long-term stability after years of financial struggles. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

After years of declining revenue and staff cuts, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Salt Lake Tribune — in print for nearly 150 years — says it's filing to become a nonprofit.

The Tribune is owned by a Republican family. But it's seen as a counterpoint to its friendly rivals at the conservative, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned Deseret News.

Paul Huntsman owns the Tribune — and his last name might sound familiar. His brother Jon Huntsman Jr. was governor, ran for president and is currently U.S. ambassador to Russia. There's also talk he might run for governor again. Paul's father was the late billionaire philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr.

The Huntsmans have deep roots in Utah, and Paul tells Here & Now's Robin Young he wants to keep the paper there.

"I purchased The Salt Lake Tribune about three years ago. I've not had any background in journalism. It was like a lot of newspapers around the country: It was in threat of going out of business," he says. "This is just something that we as a community cannot accept, and [we] needed to bring the ownership back into local hands."

Interview Highlights

On the plan for how the organization will function as a nonprofit

"As we look at the base of support for local journalism, I really see it as digital revenue, digital advertising and philanthropy as being the three legs of the stool. What we're planning on doing here is we're setting up a foundation called the Utah Journalism Foundation, which we intend to build. The interest from that foundation will be used to help provide financial support. So if you look at that third leg of the stool, we hope to build a strong enough corpus longer term that the investments coming off that will provide funds for local journalism in perpetuity. That is one area.

"On an annual basis, we'll continue to solicit funds. The Salt Lake Tribune itself, we also intend to convert that into a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization as well. But we really look at the foundation as a primary vehicle to support not only The Salt Lake Tribune, but local journalism as well."

On his family spending millions to keep the Tribune afloat, and the potential to continue to spend millions but with tax-exempt status

"The previous owner was Alden Capital. They made a short-term financial decision, which provided financial gain to them. They put The Salt Lake Tribune into a financially untenable position. So we were able to negotiate a deal which did put it more on a sustainable pathway. However if you look at local news in general, the business model has fundamentally shifted. As subscriptions and ad revenue has continued to decline — I would say that over the last two years, that decline has been even steeper, which has put many local newspapers in a financially untenable situation."

On those who have pointed to a potential conflict of interest given that Huntsman's brother Jon might mount another run for governor

"As the publisher and the owner of the newspaper, I really look at my role as ensuring that we have the resources to ensure that we accomplish and fulfill our mission at The Salt Lake Tribune. We have an outstanding editor that runs the newsroom. I am not a journalist. I do sign off on the editorials. We have a fairly clear firewall as it relates to the journalism. And it's worked out extremely well.

"As we transition to a nonprofit model, we'll continue to ensure that we have that firewall. Our editor will continue to run the newsroom, and I'll have a broader board that will be part of ensuring that we have the necessary resources to accomplish the mission of The Salt Lake Tribune."

On whether the Tribune will continue to print a physical paper beyond 2020, when its printing agreement is slated to expire

"It's my hope that we can extend the print product as long as we can. But at the end of the day, market forces will ultimately determine how long we're able to print the newspaper. But it's really my hope that we can extend that beyond 2020."

James Perkins Mastromarino produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on May 9, 2019.


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Robin Young Co-Host, Here & Now
Robin Young brings more than 25 years of broadcast experience to her role as host of Here & Now.



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