Prior to last week’s announcement that The Salt Lake Tribune was to be sold to MediaNews Group, all seemed well in the land of mediocre daily newspapers.
Enter William Dean Singleton, and with him conspiracy theories not seen since Roswell. According to Forbes Magazine, the CEO of MediaNews Group is the “notorious bad boy of cheapskate publishing.” According to the Tribune, convinced the LDS church is behind the sale, Singleton was not only on the board of BYU’s communication department, but is also the mentor of Deseret News publisher, Jim Wall. The Deseret News, ever ready to play Pinocchio and not a puppet, simply referred to Singleton as a “Baptist.” Who said religion doesn’t matter in this state?
Well, don’t say we didn’t warn you. For years we’ve railed against the insidious Joint Operating Agreement (JOA), which perpetuates not good journalism, but great profits for both the Tribune and Deseret News. That JOA is run by the Newspaper Agency Corporation (NAC), and began in 1952 under what was then called the Newspaper Preservation Act. At the time, the Deseret News claimed to be failing—a laughable notion given its ownership and the fact that it had just bought and closed Salt Lake’s other daily, the Telegram. When the Tribune didn’t want to play along, ZCMI pulled its advertising from the morning paper, and a deal was struck in less time than it takes to say “take me to your leader.” As one of my old teachers used to say at pre-PC Bingham High School, the Deseret News had the Tribune “by the short hairs.”
It does again today—barring the unlikely notion that the management of The Salt Lake Tribune can find a judge who will rule in its favor and prevent the sale. The Cliff Notes here call your attention to the fact that Orrin Hatch heads the Senate Judiciary Committee. That would be the same Orrin Hatch who, acting at the behest of a “constituent,” approached AT&T and by tugging on its short hairs got it to, ahem, rush this sale along. The constituent turned out to be the LDS church.
If the sale occurs, the parameters include a larger role for the Deseret News over the control of NAC, morning publication of the Deseret News, plus a larger share of NAC profits—and profits are what this is about. Currently, the Deseret News receives 42 percent of NAC profits while only contributing 30 percent of the circulation base. It wants more.
It also wants a weakened Tribune as its morning competitor. As tepid as the Tribune is when it comes to reporting about matters involving the LDS church, that still scares the bejesus out of certain people. In a Monday statement, the Deseret News spelled out its version of the impending sale under the headline, “Tribune Sale—the Truth.” Don’t believe it.