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Year-old News-Trib war is bor-r-ring

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It has been a year now that the city and state have been held hostage by a newspaper war — although, unfortunately, not a newspaper war in the traditional sense.

Normally, a newspaper war involves two or more newspapers slugging it out to control a city using such weapons as huge travel budgets (live from Kabul!), fights to the death over scoops (Supermarket Opens!), subscription incentives (a new toaster!), 2-inch headlines (TAXES UP!), and, if you're really lucky, evidence that the other paper is involved in a scandal.

Salt Lake's newspaper war, alas, has none of that.

It very well could qualify as the most boring newspaper war in newspaper war history.

It is only a battle over ownership.

In 25 words or less: The Deseret News doesn't want the Salt Lake Tribune to be purchased by some of the people who used to own it.

Since the D-News and Tribune are hooked at the belt by a joint operating agreement that allows them to use the same presses, ad sales force and distribution trucks — only the editorial departments are separate — it is the Deseret News' contention that either newspaper has the contractual right to veto or approve any sale of the other paper.

The Tribune is currently owned by the MediaNews Group, which paid $200 million to buy the Tribune from AT&T a year ago, which is what started all the fireworks.

The people who owned the Tribune until 1997 — and this included several Trib reporters — sold the paper that year along with valuable cable TV stock for $731 million to TCI.

TCI then sold the Tribune to AT&T and AT&T sold it on Jan. 2, 2001, to MediaNews, thus making the Tribune as traded these last five years as Scottie Pippen.

For at least 200 million reasons, MediaNews is of the opinion that it owns the Tribune outright and gets to keep it. At issue is whether several former owners of the Tribune — who have a contract to manage the newspaper until this August — also have the right to buy it back.

Naturally, lawyers have gotten involved, which has only made the whole thing more boring, not to mention expensive.

The Tribune — and remember, that newspaper is currently run by the same former owners who are trying to buy it back — keeps trying to spin the story that the conflict has something to do with editorial content; that there's a conspiracy led by the LDS Church-owned Deseret News to still the Trib's editorial voice. This, of course, is a revelation to MediaNews, which is every bit as non-Mormon as the Tribune ever has been, and is of the opinion that its experience publishing non-sectarian newspapers like the Denver Post somehow qualifies it to do the same thing in Salt Lake City.

It's a story about suits vs. suits.


The whole dry, dull mess was summed up very early on by a reporter from the New York Times, who flew here salivating over a newspaper war with all the usual nasty overtones plus a bit of juicy religious conflict as well.

But after a week of interviewing, nosing around town and talking to the respective staffs of the Tribune and D-News, the reporter flew home dejected, observing as she left, "This is a business story."

Which is exactly where the Times ran it.

Sale of the Salt Lake Tribune - Read Deseret News' archive stories and see related links about the sale of the Tribune.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.