A number of years ago this newspaper published a series of articles about The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, and their cushy media monopoly. As many of you have now come to know, those two papers operate just about everything except their editorial departments under the aegis of what is called Newspaper Agency Corporation (NAC). NAC effectively drives revenues and cuts costs for both papers, and until recently, the ownership of both papers seemed quite content with the mathematical legerdemain that keeps them both rolling in the dough.
While there are plenty of people offering “the truth” or “the whole story,” and while there is plenty of finger-pointing on both sides, there are actually only two truths that matter here. One, slicing a money pie is far more contentious than slicing a pumpkin pie, and two, both papers are shitty newspapers. It’s the belief in this corner that the Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) propping them up has been a detriment to journalism in Utah. Indeed, one of the columns we published so long ago was titled, “Junk On Arrival,” a more apt description of the JOA.
As I read about all the nobleness and good intentions of both papers and their owners, I’m barely able to control my bladder. Back when daily newspapers were held in high esteem, people looked to them for truth, guidance and insight. Those readers were attracted to them because of the depth and breadth of their coverage, and papers built circulation not through incessant, annoying telemarketing, but by being the best newspaper that day and every day. Readers responded by plunking down a coin and buying a paper on the spot. Selling more papers than the other guy was the true measure of a newspaper.
That doesn’t exist in Salt Lake City today except on the shelves where this newspaper and others like it are found. City Weekly, Catalyst, the Event, SLUG and Sports Guide are among many owing their very existence to readers choosing publications with the best stories and coverage week to week and month to month. None of us are propped up by a telemarketing machine, and none of us are owned by conglomerates, banks or churches.
Without the necessity of publishing hard and truthful news, without the peril of publishing stories certain to hit a nerve in business, ecclesiastical or social circles, and with profits guaranteed thanks to the JOA, both papers have settled for the common denominator of mediocrity. If that weren’t so, they’d be fighting over issues in this city and state that affect you, not their bottom lines.—John Saltas