From its earliest days, The Salt Lake Tribune fashioned itself the gentile critic of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Tales of fistfights between the editors of The Tribune and LDS Church-owned Deseret News on Main Street during the late 1800s are part of the papers’ lore as The Tribune’s gentile criticism was often anything but gentle. By the mid-1900s, however, the newspapers had reached the “Great Accommodation” in the form of their first Joint Operating Agreement. (Congress later sanctioned JOA’s in Salt Lake City and elsewhere with the Newspaper Preservation Act, allowing dailies in the same market to share production operations, advertising and distribution without running afoul of antitrust laws.)
The Tribune and the Deseret News enjoyed their partnership amicably and profitably until late in the 20th Century. The Deseret News and the LDS Church presidency wearied of its troublesome partner by the mid-1990s, however, just as The Tribune executed a complicated spinoff of its stock in a cable company. The Tele-Communications Inc. stock deal represented a disruption in the ownership of the Tribune, and the Deseret News took advantage, seeking to put an end to what the LDS leaders regarded as Mormon disparagement, as well as perceived Tribune interference with the News’ plans for morning delivery. Below is a timeline of the Tribune’s highlights (and some lowlights) since its beginnings a quarter century after the pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.
April 15, 1871: First issue of the Salt Lake Tribune and Daily Mining Gazette published. The cumbersome name was soon changed to The Salt Lake Tribune.
In 1873: Three men from Kansas buy the paper, discover that it’s profitable to take a stance against the church and for 10 years The Tribune is uninhibitedly the anti-Mormon newspaper.
Aug. 29, 1877: Death of Brigham Young.
September 1883: The paper is sold to Patrick H. Lannan and C. C. Goodwin, who had joined the staff as editor in 1880.
Oct. 9, 1893: Nearly a century before it would take on a “liquor by the drink” campaign, the paper revealed that three Mormon-controlled municipal corporations were owners and operators of distilleries and that Brigham Young and Daniel H. Wells had helped set up someone in business to run a distillery.
In 1887: The church-sponsored campaign for statehood is denounced by The Tribune as obvious trickery. Who, the paper argued, could be so gullible as to believe that the same church leaders who had gone underground and into exile rather than obey a law prohibiting polygamy really intended to enforce a state constitutional provision prohibiting the practice?
Sept. 24, 1890: President Wilford Woodruff of the Mormon Church issues a “manifesto” declaring that he would submit to laws forbidding plural marriage and use his influence with other members of the church to do likewise. The Tribune is at first skeptical and then claims vindication.
Jan. 4, 1896: Utah achieves statehood.
Jan. 23, 1901: Park City mining magnate Thomas Kearns, once a pick-and shovel miner, elected to United States Senate by vote of all Republicans in the Utah Legislature. The Tribune screams church influence and control at the top of its editorial voice, claiming the seat had been sold to Kearns by the head of the Mormon Church.
Oct. 19, 1901: After 19 years, Lannan and Goodwin retire from the paper and new owners take over. It isn’t made public for some time that they are Sen. Thomas Kearns and his mining partner David Keith.
Jan. 30, 1902: First edition of the evening Salt Lake Telegram, sister paper to The Salt Lake Tribune, competing head to head with the Church paper the Deseret News, is published.
In 1905: Kearns delivers his Senate “swan song,” terming the Mormon Church a “monarchy” that continues to control its subjects in secular affairs, . . . rules all politics in Utah, and is rapidly extending its dominion into other states.”
Jan. 1, 1911: The Tribune makes a change in its coverage of political-ecclesiastical affairs: From now on it will be far more objective in its news coverage.
Spring 1913: Kearns hires John F. Fitzpatrick as his personal secretary. Fitzpatrick would be Tribune publisher from 1924-1960.
Late 1913: Kearns and Keith sell the money-losing Telegram.
April 1918: David Keith dies placing a half-interest in the paper in an estate which demanded cash for tax purposes.
Oct. 18, 1918: Thomas Kearns dies eight days after being struck by a car, leaving the other half of The Tribune in an estate and shifting to Fitzpatrick the business interests left by Kearns to his family. A year later, after Mrs. David Keith also dies, her son offers the one-half share in the paper for sale to the Kearns estate. Fitzpatrick agrees to buy.
Oct. 19, 1919: Sale of the paper to the Kearns family is completed. During the 1920s The Tribune was on its way to becoming the most widely read and quoted newspaper between Denver and the Pacific Coast. There was solid progress in circulation and advertising volume and comparable growth in its public acceptance as a reliable and objective source of news and opinions. Its new role was that of a unifying communications medium for its territory
Sept. 26, 1929: With all three Salt Lake City newspapers feeling the effects of the Great Depression, The Salt Lake Telegram goes under. Owners of the other papers don’t want a third publisher to enter the field; The Tribune ultimately buys the Telegram. The Sunday Telegram is abandoned and operations are merged in the Tribune plant.
Dec. 1933: After the Deseret News and Tribune have been at editorial loggerheads over the issue of Prohibition repeal, with the News wanting the state to vote “dry” (against the national trend) and the Tribune “wet,” Utah decisively becomes the 36th and deciding state to approve the repeal amendment.
In 1936: F.D.R is elected; John W. (Jack) Gallivan goes to work for the paper – he will eventually succeed Fitzpatrick as publisher.
In 1947: The Deseret News starts a circulation war, offering Mormon wards a library of books for carrier subscriptions which translated to from $1 to $1.25 per order. Tribune circulation costs for starts gained through standard carrier contests ranged from 19 to 30 cents. During the next four years the News would offer premiums for subscriptions that included pots and pans, carving sets, radios, bicycles, watches and motion picture projectors. It more than doubled its circulation using these expensive tactics but also increased its costs beyond the stretching point.
In 1949: The Tribune’s biggest advertiser, the church-owned Z.C.M.I. department store, withdraws for 13 weeks. Retailers begin telling salesmen for the Telegram that the town didn’t need it and could best be served by only one morning and one evening newspaper. The Justice Department files charges attacking as monopolistic the combined advertising rates of sister New Orleans papers – a system identical to the one used by The Tribune-Telegram.
Aug. 12, 1952: Without the combination advertising rate, The Telegram would expire and The Tribune’s economic position would have been weakened. But the News was suffering massive losses and disappearing profits and the situation had brought about discussion between the management of the newspapers of possible solutions. They settled on what was known as a newspaper agency operation. The Telegram would be sold to the Deseret News for merger into a single afternoon newspaper and business and production operations of the surviving two papers would be transferred to the nonprofit, jointly-owned Newspaper Agency Corporation.
June 30, 1956: Two commercial airliners collide over the Grand Canyon killing all 128 passengers on board. For its coverage of this tragedy, The Tribune is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for 1957 for “local reporting under the pressure of edition time.” It utilized the carrier pigeons Jack Gallivan had been feeding on the roof of the Tribune Building in its team coverage.
Sept. 11, 1960: Fitzpatrick dies of a heart attack after 40 years at the paper. Jack Gallivan becomes publisher.
Autumn of 1963: Gallivan hires Jerry O’Brien, chief of the Associated Press’ Salt Lake bureau at the time, to be assistant publisher.
In 1968: The paper launches an unsuccessful campaign for a sale-by-drink proposal, on the grounds that it would substitute a controllable system of dispensing liquor for the uncontrollable system which prevailed under the bottle-only, “brown bag” system.
In 1970: After five years of substantial time and effort on the part of Gallivan, the Newspaper Preservation Act is passed by Congress, allowing the Newspaper Agency model of business, which had been under attack by the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, to continue, and giving newspaper markets the size of Salt Lake City’s the opportunity to have two newspapers and two editorial voices. Particularly endangered around the country were afternoon newspapers like the Deseret News.
Summer of 1982: The Tribune and Deseret News renew and amend their Joint Operating Agreement, which includes the Section 2 limits on alienation. The News would argue, in the late 1990s, that Section 2 required its consent for any sale of the Tribune. (Added decades later was the Section 10 JOA provision, at issue in our public-interest antitrust litigation, which purported to give Deseret News Publishing Co. a unilateral veto power over prospective buyers and managers of the Tribune.)
In 1983: Gallivan takes publisher-emeritus status and Jerry O’Brien is named Tribune publisher.
Spring of 1990: Jay Shelledy is hired as editor of The Tribune upon the retirement of Will Fehr. His tenure would be marked by frequent tiffs with the paper’s competitor and business partner, the Deseret News.
Feb. 15, 1994: Tribune Publisher Jerry O’Brien dies, prompting President Thomas S. Monson, then second counselor in the LDS Church to say, “In the passing of Jerry O’Brien, I have lost a dear and longtime friend…Jerry did not seek the limelight, his service was rendered in a quiet fashion, much like the Lord Jesus Christ.” Dominic Welch takes over as publisher.
In 1997: Monson steps down as chairman of Deseret News Publishing and board member of the Newspaper Agency Corp. Monson, known as a peacemaker between the rival newspapers, is replaced by the more confrontational Glen Snarr.
Summer of 1997: The Tribune approves a merger with the cable company Tele-Communications, Inc. The deal included an option for the paper’s longtime owners and Kearns heirs, the McCarthey family, to buy back The Tribune after five years. It also mandated that the paper’s management structure and personnel be unchanged. What the deal did not include, however, was the approval of the Deseret News.
March of 1999: AT&T buys TCI and is surprised to learn the deal includes a newspaper. Considering the paper “not a strategic asset,” AT&T seeks to sell it immediately. The McCarthey family moves to re-acquire the paper, but is stymied. After taking steps to purchase the paper itself, Deseret News Publishing instead agreed to AT&T’s sale of the paper to Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group.
Soon after that sale took place, the McCarthey family files suit in U.S. District Court. Salt Lake Tribune Publishing Co., LLC v. AT&T Corp., et al. would drag on for seven years before the family accepted a settlement in 2007. Legal observers at the time estimated it was the most costly civil litigation in Utah history, with all parties shelling out a combined $60 million in legal fees. More about the court case can be found on this site’s Developments page.
January 2010: MediaNews, which along with The Tribune owns a number of newspapers around the country including the Denver Post, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as the Internet revolution upends the business model of all mainstream media.
Summer of 2011: The hedge fund Alden Global Capital buys distressed newspaper companies around the country, including MediaNews’ Salt Lake Tribune. Layoffs commence, and by the fall of 2013, 40 percent of the Tribune’s editorial staff had been cut.
Oct. 4, 2012: Civic leader and long-time Tribune Publisher Jack Gallivan dies at age 97.
Fall of 2013: Tribune reporter and editor Terry Orme is hired as the paper’s new editor and publisher to lead the paper through the economic turbulence.
October 2013: Deseret News Publishing and the New York owners of the Tribune secretly amend the Joint Operating Agreement, but an anonymous tip leads to its revelation. The new agreement radically alters the profit split between the papers, according the Deseret News 70 percent of the profit and the Tribune just 30 percent. The new arrangement represents a 50 percent decline in revenue for the Tribune. The deal also gave the Deseret News a majority position over MediaOne, the entity that produces both papers, and included purchase of the Tribune’s stake in a printing press.
Sources: For The Tribune’s history until the 1970s, please see “The First Hundred Years.” News media reports make up the historical source for events after the 1970s. Thank you Ann Poore for curating the information in this timeline.