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Trib Voices

Former Salt Lake Tribune staffers look back—and ahead.


  • Enrique Limón

The city and state's preeminent daily newspaper suffered a crushing blow last week, when more than a third of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning Salt Lake Tribune's newsroom staffers retired or were laid off. The cuts came less than seven days after owner and publisher Paul Huntsman told the staff about declines in circulation and ad revenues. He then warned of an impending staffing reduction and consolidation of the printed paper, calling it "right-sizing"—a term that so oozes doublespeak that it would make George Orwell blush.

The Trib's cuts came days after the new owners of Ogden's Standard-Examiner eliminated 29 positions—five of which were in the newsroom—from the northern Utah newspaper, portending dark days for the state's media ecosystem.

City Weekly stands in solidarity with our fellow local journalists who lost their jobs in recent weeks. It's bad for all Utahns and journalists alike when there are fewer newsroom staffers keeping their eyes on elected officials and big businesses. And it's especially disheartening to see longtime Tribune writers, columnists, photographers and editors—as well as younger journalists, the Trib's potential future—end their storied careers at The Salt Lake Tribune, no longer able to inspire generations of readers.

These voices are only a handful of the 34 fired or retired Tribune employees. In the words of one former Trib staffer, "the people of Utah are losing some pretty vital voices."

Rich Kane
, former web manager.
Q: What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
A: "Probably some of the stories and videos I did, 'cause I'm just a longtime journalist and storyteller."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"Storytelling is just vitally important these days, and telling the truth, and telling people's truths. It's important for people to have these outlets, for other people to read these stories, for complete strangers to relate to these stories, it's important to make those connections. It's important for people to embrace those commonalities we all share."

Tiffany Caldwell
, former justice reporter.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"The Tribune did a series a year ago [for which it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize,] a bunch of stories on BYU and [its] Honor Code, how victims of sexual assault were being disciplined. it's such a touchy and sensitive subject, [but] these people were able to tell their story, and BYU ended up changing their Honor Code."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"I hope people continue to support the local media. It's been really touching to see how many people have tweeted their support for the Trib and my colleagues over the past couple of days. I hope that someday we figure out a sustainable business model, so the Tribune and all the other outlets can not only survive, but thrive."

Lillian Reed
, former education reporter.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"I was really proud to have been given an opportunity to be on the staff ... I had come from sort of a young newsroom, I think that's the trend in newsrooms these days ... one of the things I loved about the Tribune was looking around and seeing the faces of all these people who had clearly been in the industry for all these decades: I was in a newsroom that was an institution."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"There's always going to be a need for quality journalism. My hope is that not only do the media outlets in town figure out a sustainable business model but also that the people of Utah see what's happening and step up to support financially in the meantime during this difficult transition."

Luke Ramseth
, former health reporter.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"Since I moved to the health beat, something that we started to cover and [I] wish we had more time to cover is the state's suicide problem, and the rising suicide rate here ... [I was] just kind of starting to wrap my arms around big subjects that affect a lot of Utahns, like Obamacare and Medicaid expansion."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"Like all of us, I just hope that we can eventually find a model that works, where you can employ enough local journalists to do accountability-type reporting that every local community needs. I don't know if that looks like a nonprofit model, or if there's a way to better monetize local news websites. I don't know, and I think it's going to be a while before we do know. In the meantime, I can only encourage people to keep subscribing to local news, even as staffs shrink, because we need the people who are still left to have jobs."

Aubrey Wieber
, former crime reporter.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"[Before the Trib] I was in Bend [Ore.] for a year, and before I went there I was editing for a while, so I had kind of just gotten back into reporting. I didn't feel like I was really able to do amazing work there, and I feel like at the Tribune I got back to do some higher-level reporting. I think I got a level of satisfaction, I was just doing the kind of work I always wanted to be doing."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"I think it's crucial here that there is robust watchdog local media. I think the state has some issues. I think it's a state that strongly lacks transparency. I feel like the public officials talk about transparency here a lot, but I think it's complete lip service. I hope whether it's the Trib, somebody else, I think that's really important, and I hope the citizens of Utah realize how important that is."

Mariah Noble, former justice reporter.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"I'm proud of the content that we produced, and I'm proud of the things that I learned. I loved telling the stories of people who otherwise would not have been recognized. I loved making human and three-dimensional [the] people who otherwise would have been a name on a page. I really loved the opportunity to do a good job on fleshing out who these people are and why they believe the things they do."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"I hope that we can find a way to continue giving a voice to the people who might not otherwise ever speak up. I know it's a challenge, and that's why there were 34 people laid off from the [Tribune last] week. But I hope that we can find a way to show everyone the value in those stories, and find a way to continue sharing different perspectives, and just exposing people to new ideas and new, or different, ways of life from their own. Because that's one reason why journalism is really important, aside from the whole watchdog factor: there's just a lot of ignorance in the world, from everyone, when you aren't paying attention to people who are having a different experience. That applies to local media here in Salt Lake City, Utah, but that also applies to national media and the world."

Emma Penrod
, former environment reporter.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"The thing I most enjoyed covering and felt I did the best coverage of was the story of Utah's water. This was kind of an ongoing thing, it's a multifaceted thing; it affects everyone, and yet it seems there were so few people talking about it and so little information available.

"We don't know for sure how much water is being used because so much of our water is unmetered in Utah. We have drinking water that is, of course, metered, but we have these secondary [water] sources outside their homes, and those don't always have water meters on them ... there are these big gaps in terms of what we know and what we think we know about water ... to me it's the most interesting and fascinating story happening anywhere in Utah right now, possibly anywhere in the world."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"I grew up in a small town, I still live here, in rural Utah, and started reporting at a very young age. When I was a rookie reporter, I would watch the other reporters cover these developing environmental issues in my town, and I realized a lot of people in my community and a lot of people in general didn't have the expertise. Big corporations would come in ... they wanted to build power lines right on the bench of the mountains here in Tooele. The town was just outraged by this, but nobody really had the ability or expertise to go to bat with the utility company ... they tried. You'd never seen public meetings in Tooele that were as well-attended. The utility companies would come out with all these statistics and numbers, they could talk in specific terms and sound very authoritative, and a lot of other people didn't have that.

"[Reporting] really felt like a calling to me. I wanted to make a difference, to have an impact on the world. And when I saw this, I thought, 'This is something I can do: I can research things and make them accessible to the public through my writing.'

"We as journalists [need] to empower people by giving them the information they [need] to engage in these topics, because when people aren't informed they don't have the ability to lobby for themselves, so they lose control of their future."

Scott Sommerdorf
, former photographer, previous photo editor and director of photography.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"I think in terms of being a photographer, there isn't one photo or one story where I could point to, but I do feel proud for hitting a high level of consistency with everything that I did. I think sometimes people in our business can look at this or that assignment as lesser than they would like to do, but I always took pride in doing the best with whatever came across my desk as an assignment.

"As a photo editor or director of photography I was able to have one hire in that time, and that was Chris Detrick, out of the University of Missouri, a really excellent photographer, and lucky for him was able to retire before all this mess happened."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"My hopes have kind of been dashed lately, but overall I think the general public needs to realize how important a strong press is in its role in a strong democracy. They sort of need to wake up. They've been getting their news for free, they've gotten into this habit of dialing into a website and getting this product for free for so long that it's starting to erode the entire industry. If you cast your mind into the future about what sort of country or state that's going to look like, it doesn't look good because it gives a lot of the people we've been the watchdog of for so long kind of a free hand."

Michelle Quist
, former editorial writer and continuing weekly columnist.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"I was happy to increase the representation on the editorial board from 25 percent to 40 percent women. There were only five people on it. The editor is a member, and the other three are male. And so adding even just one woman really increased the percentage and the different perspectives. I'm really proud of the focus we've had this past year on women's issues, and the broadness that that kind of theme touches. It's not just a 'Me, too' sexual harassment issue, it's a drug issue and a poverty issue and a homelessness issue. The perspective of women on news stories in general is different, and so I was proud to represent that a little more in the editorials the paper published."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"I really hope that the local media market continues to innovate so that it remains relevant to readers who are getting their news online, especially millennials, Gen Xers. I don't watch the broadcast news. I never sit down and watch news on TV. I get my news on Twitter. The newspapers and the Tribune needs to make sure they're keeping up with those changes in how people read news. The website is a good start, and I don't lament the paywall; I think people should be paying for a product that is worth it. The cost needs to be reflective of the value. I hope the Tribune keeps producing the quality of the reporting that it has, and I hope that it keeps its cost low."

Jay Drew
, former BYU sports reporter who worked his way up to his job after starting as a newsroom assistant in 1989.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"I was a true workhorse. I would bet I wrote more stores for The Salt Lake Tribune in my 28 years than perhaps any other writer that that newspaper has ever had. I don't know that for a fact. I didn't write the longest, most in-depth stories throughout the year. But I wrote a lot. Averaged maybe 10-12 a week.

"Obviously there's a big appetite for BYU sports coverage, so I tried to feed that beast on a daily basis. I put out a lot, a lot of copy. I didn't win a lot of awards and didn't write any memorable, great pieces. I did some, but I just was most proud that I could be counted on almost every single day that I could have something for my editor to put in the paper. I gave BYU fans a reason to turn to the Tribune, while most people would think they would turn to the other paper."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"I hope the Tribune can survive. I don't wish any ill will upon the Tribune. This town needs two newspapers because of the obviously unique makeup of this state. Will that happen? I think so. I think in some form or another there will be a Salt Lake Tribune. It might be online-only, it might be even more limited with less employees, but at least on some level there will be a Salt Lake Tribune, an independent voice."

Bob Mims
, former breaking news and religion reporter.
From your time at the Trib, what are you most proud of?
"In my 20 years at the Trib, I covered everything: environment, fraud, technology, business, Native Americans, politics, crime, the courts, but it was in the four years of religion writing that I felt journalistically, well, redeemed. Being allowed, sometimes invited into the lives of people of all faiths—in their efforts to help their fellow humans, and to touch the Divine in times of celebration, joy, crisis and mourning alike—educated and inspired me. At this point, I have three stories in the can still at the Trib. One, about hospital chaplains, is one of the most satisfying, one of the best things I've done, so a good way to go out."

What are your hopes for the future of the Utah media market?
"First, that the Trib will survive and find its way to a sustainable operating model. That said, I wonder about how local news coverage—not just the big, sexy issues but the more mundane, yet cumulatively still important events and issues—will be chronicled. Truly community news seems in much peril. This is exactly the niche City Weekly has helped fill in the past, and that role will continue to be important."

Al Hartmann
, former staff photographer.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"I can't say it's one particular story. This might sound strange, but I'm proud to have survived for 35 years in a volatile industry doing a dream job, a fun job, for 35 years. When I started in the early 1980s, Utah was pretty much the end of the earth. There were no jobs. For me to have found a staff photographer job at a very cool place in a wonderful town, it was a great job. No regrets, no hard feelings."

What are your hopes for the future of Utah's media market?
"I don't know about the Utah media market. What concerns me is the national media market. I mean The Denver Post took big hits, the Ogden Standard took big hits. This is an ongoing problem nationally. The military likes to say, 'Freedom isn't free,' and I'd have to say the same thing for getting good information. Getting good information locally isn't free either. The SLT goes to the state legislature so the citizen doesn't have to ... there's easier, better reliable ways to get information, and that's through the local newspaper."

Mark Hansen
, copy editor and page designer, Trib staffer since 1991.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Trib?
"I think it was kind of putting out a quality product everyday. Keeping the Valley informed, giving them an angle they weren't always going to get from another source of news. Typically, our chief rival."

What are your hopes for future of Utah media market?
"My hope is there will still be diversity in the market. If the Tribune goes in the direction it's going, it's looking bleak, in a lot of ways. It's going to mean the people at City Weekly are going to have to pick up a lot of that slack. I strongly believe there needs to be a watchdog. Somebody who holds feet to the fire. I say this as someone who worked for the [LDS] church for a long time, also ... there is a real need for something like the Tribune, and by extension City Weekly, to just hold people accountable. It needs to happen. There needs to be some other person keeping an eye out. Not necessarily to poke their finger in the eye of power ... there just needs to be somebody there."