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Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune will not renew Joint Operating Agreement

Salt Lake Tribune announces weekly newspaper, will stop daily print publication

The MediaOne building in West Valley City is pictured on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.
The MediaOne building in West Valley City is pictured on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

The Salt Lake Tribune Monday said the news organization will print a weekly publication beginning next year and end its daily print option for subscribers of the newspaper.

The Tribune’s board of directors announced the decision Monday, shortly after The Tribune and the Deseret News released a joint statement confirming the end of the decadeslong Joint Operating Agreement between the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune at the end of 2020.

With the end of the JOA, both publications will contract their printing needs with third parties, continue to enhance their digital footprints and will be free to chart their print and digital futures independently of the other.

“In the era of large printing presses, the benefits of these joint operating agreements were significant. But today’s situation is different,” said Brent Low, president and CEO of Utah Media Group, which manages the printing facility. “Demand for a printed newspaper is a fraction of what it was historically, while digital content and distribution is everywhere, and our clients can get their papers printed in a cost-effective way without owning their own presses.”

The change does not signal an end to newspaper print publications, but is a change in how printing will be accomplished. Low said he met with the 161 employees of Utah Media Group Monday to announce the coming end of the printing company, detailing severance packages.

In addition, the Deseret News announced related changes in a staffwide meeting Monday, noting severance packages for 18 employees, the majority in the newspaper’s visual editing and sales departments, some of which will occur some time next year. Six journalists in three departments were let go.

“Any change and restructuring can be painful, but we are committed to organizing ourselves in a way that will help us invest in some of the finest journalism and commentary in the country and increase our reach not just locally, but nationally and internationally,” Jeff Simpson, president and publisher of the Deseret News, said. Further announcements are expected Tuesday, Simpson said.

The Salt Lake-based printing facility is managed by Utah Media Group. The business also includes contracts with regional editions of several state and national newspapers and other publications.

“The Deseret News has been an outstanding and constructive partner in the JOA in this financially tumultuous industry,” said Paul Huntsman, chairman of the Salt Lake Tribune. “As The Tribune moves forward, our commitment to our readers is unchanged: to provide reliable and informative news, analysis, and commentary to our readers,” he said in the press release.

Simpson also lauded the partnership of the two newspapers, which maintained separate and independent newsrooms throughout the duration of the Joint Operating Agreement.

“The Salt Lake Tribune has been a great partner over the years and the partnership has benefited the community in many ways. We love our thousands of print subscribers along with the millions who read us online every month,” Simpson said in the press release. Joint Operating Agreements were protected by the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 under the administration of President Richard Nixon.

The federal legislation created carve outs in antitrust regulation to allow publications to share certain resources while maintaining separate and independent news gathering and editorial functions. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice, and intended to create viability for newspapers in the face of declining readership, the Deseret News-Salt Lake Tribune deal is among the last joint operating agreements in the country to end.

Current news markets bear little resemblance to those of even 10 years ago, let alone a half-century removed from the advent of the practice.

The Deseret News was founded in 1850 and is Utah’s oldest continuously operating business. It is part of the portfolio of media entities of Deseret Management Corp., owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Salt Lake Tribune was purchased by Huntsman from Alden Capital in 2016. Last fall, the Tribune earned approval from the Internal Revenue Service to become a 501(c)(3) public charity, opening the door for opportunities to seek tax-deductible support from readers and philanthropists.

The printing presses are scheduled to be shuttered sometime after the first of the new year.