Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly received the first anonymous letter. Then investigative reporters Robert Gehrke and Tom Harvey each received the same cryptic note:
“Church and John Paton are renegotiating JOA,” it states in elaborately disguised block letters. “Tribune will be left with very little. Deal is Tribune interest for cash.”
That’s how reporters at The Salt Lake Tribune learned of radical alterations to their paper’s Joint Operating Agreement with Deseret News Publishing Co. Being journalists, they managed to get their hands on the amended JOA (from the Justice Department, not their paper’s New York owners). And being journalists, they wrote about it.
A close reading of the Tribune story that appeared Oct. 25, 2013, and the new JOA itself shows this deal has huge implications for Salt Lake City’s unique media landscape. Existential challenges are facing all mainstream media, and print publications, it is said, are most endangered. Yet revenue from print editions remain newspapers' major source of revenue.
In the immediate term the new JOA would deny the Tribune’s editorial operation the majority of revenue from print publication it has relied on to fund its central mission – reporting the news and informing the Utah electorate. It appears the newspaper’s hedge fund owners mortgaged the paper’s future profits for an unknown number of millions from the LDS Church. Additionally, the New York owners of the Tribune turned over control of both newspapers’ advertising and distribution operations to the Church-owned Deseret News Publishing Co. by ceding to it a majority position on the MediaOne board.
Indeed, the deal seems to portend an untimely end of the Tribune’s print edition. After all, the paper’s owners literally sold the press to the competition. Much is unknown about the new deal between the Salt Lake newspapers, which is but one reason Utah Newspaper Project is seeking a Justice Department investigation into it. Utahns deserve to know exactly what just happened.
See the Tribune’s stories on the JOA amendments and the sale of its interest in the formerly jointly owned printing plant and other equipment.
Within a few days of that story, the Utah Newspaper Project wrote a letter to the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division seeking an investigation into the deal. That letter can be found here and their response is below.
Salt Lake Tribune Building
Deseret News Building
Fears of a Deseret News takeover of The Salt Lake Tribune may strike some as a bit paranoid. But it has been in the offing before. In fact in 1999, ownership changes at The Tribune presented the LDS Church-owned Deseret News Publishing Co. an opening to acquire its troublesome gentile partner. The contemplated new publication would retain the popular “Rolly and Wells” column, pictured here with former Tribune reporter Dan Bates at left, but their content would have to be “cleaned up.“