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Trib back on track, editor says

She says tabloid scandal wasn’t a fatal blow

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Nancy Conway

Nancy Conway

The Salt Lake Tribune has "recovered nicely" from the controversy surrounding the sale of information about the Elizabeth Smart case to a supermarket tabloid, the newspaper's new editor said Wednesday.

"The paper suffered — what a blow to our image. But I'm here to tell you that though it hurt, it was not a fatal blow," Nancy Conway told about 70 people gathered at the Alta Club for a KUER FM 90 fund-raiser.

"The Tribune is strong. It has a fine tradition of independence and service. And it's recovered nicely," she said. "I dare say we will continue to do good journalism. We'll get better and better."

Conway became the newspaper's first female editor-in-chief when she was named in May to take over for James "Jay" Shelledy, who had held the top spot for 12 years. He resigned shortly after firing two Tribune reporters for their dealings with the National Enquirer.

"Journalism polices itself better than any organization or institution I know," Conway said. "If you don't measure up in the ethics arena . . . you're usually run out of the business, most likely never to get another job in journalism. It's a very unforgiving profession."

It's also a tough profession that requires daily decisions that can lead to controversy. She outlined some of the choices that have to be made, such as whether to identify a child involved in the death of his siblings.

"It may be what we do, but it's not easy," Conway told her audience. "If I once thought it would be easy, my first few months at the Salt Lake Tribune dissuaded (me). I was beginning to wonder what I got myself into."

She said she saw herself as "the new queen of ethics, all caught up in a very public and seemingly endless drama at the Tribune." The drama includes the ongoing court battle over ownership of the newspaper.

"I had a taste of the roller-coaster ride my staff has been on. Who owns us? Who'll own us tomorrow? Who knows?" Conway said. She said she's also had to deal with a letter to the editor that turned out to be a hoax and a writer found to have used material not his own.

"I will be very happy not to be in the news for a while," Conway said. "But ours is a very public business. Our daily work is out there for everybody to see. So are the mistakes we make. Everybody knows when we blow it."

Journalists, she said, "need to be open, and we need to be challenged. We need to do our best to live up to those high standards, and when we fail, we need to admit that and disclose the circumstances to our readers."

Conway said that being timely is important to the newspaper, "but we'd rather be right than first." She said the Salt Lake City is fortunate to have two daily newspapers. "I think competition makes newspapers better. It keeps us on our toes."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com