An ode to independence, however you define it.
A Nov. 19 front-page article in the Salt Lake Tribune (the "independent" morning paper) has left Deseret News editorial page editor Jay Evensen, sports writer Doug Robinson and reporter Lisa Riley Roche patting themselves on the back until they've dislocated their shoulders. They've been impossible to live with since Wednesday's Trib story touting the "firewater firestorm" created by their news coverage and opinion columns poking fun at the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau for offering beers-in-a-bag to visiting journalists.Frankly, the rest of the Deseret News staff is green with envy. Every writer craves response, positive or negative reaction to his or her work. It's a principle of Journalism 101: "Even a bad love is better than no love at all." Eliciting an opposition front-page, upper-right-hand story on Utah's dry image being forever sealed has lionized the three writers here.
The Tribune article postulated that a three-year, award-winning promotional effort to prove to the world that Utah is not a dry state could "evaporate like the morning dew" because of five or six Deseret News stories. That's quite a compliment to this paper's influence.
Additional Deseret News stories reported on bureau fallout from the tiff, which was billed by some as a Deseret News tendency to "stoke the fires" against outsiders and alcohol in conspiratorial fashion.
Would somebody please call Oliver Stone.
The SLCVB called a special meeting Thursday to deal with the pressing problem, and the morning paper had a Thursday editorial cartoon and column on the subject.
A Friday front-page article in that paper noted the bureau had cleared up the controversy caused when the "Mormon Church-owned Deseret News questioned whether liquor should be handed out in a bag to nearly 200 journalists attending last month's Olympic Media Summit."
The irony of the Trib stories - which have Jay Baltezore bylines but, when held up to the light, have one of his editor's fingerprints all over them - was the implication there was organizational orchestration behind the Deseret News columns and news coverage.
In fact, there was not, and this paper has taken no editorial position on the matter.
Evensen and Robinson both wrote bagged-beer pieces independent of each other and free of assignment by superiors. Roche's news coverage - out in front of the Tribune and valid given local polarized views regarding alcohol matters - was straightforward and initiated by her own eye for relevance.
The irony of the Trib's insinuation of an alcohol "holy war" is that nobody was encouraged to write one way or the other at the supposedly "controlled" Deseret News, but could the same be said about "independent" Tribune coverage?
It is no secret that the two newspapers are diametrically opposed on some social issues, including alcohol distribution and consumption practices. But associates at the Tribune report that assignments to skew stories to imply LDS Church dominance on some issues or excessive control of its newspaper are not uncommon. It is an attempt to undermine the credibility of the competition and its owner that has gone on in Salt Lake City since 1871.
That is not independence but merely bias of a different slant.
A friend at the Trib recently expressed surprise when told that nobody in our editorial department can remember the last time we received a directive from our owner to write about any given topic. Policy for editorials on the opinion page is determined by our editorial board of senior editors and editorial writers. Opinion columns such as Evensen's and Robinson's are the sole views of their authors. News coverage today operates independent of editorial positioning.
But while that is truth, erroneous public perception fanned by the Tribune is sometimes otherwise. Reality is seldom as fun and entertaining as a good church-driven conspiracy/control theory. If some see deep meaning in innocuous Deseret News stories and opinion pieces on bottled beer in bags and run it as big news on their front page, so be it.
Folks here are just surprised that more and more "independent thinkers" are reading and taking notice. We hope it's good for business.