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Rolly: Tribune’s Pulitzer shows the wisdom of keeping Salt Lake City a two-daily town

First Published      Last Updated Apr 10 2017 08:12 pm

It was 1952. Salt Lake Tribune Publisher John Fitzpatrick, his assistant John W. "Jack" Gallivan and other executives of the paper huddled with Deseret News brass and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with one goal: Keep Salt Lake City a two-newspaper town.

At the time, the LDS Church-owned Deseret News was reeling financially from an expensive promotional campaign to boost circulation.

The parties agreed that, because of the Utah capital's cultural dynamic, both media voices needed to be preserved — one for the predominant faith and its followers and the other for the secular side and non-Mormon communities.




The joint-operating agreement (JOA) that followed allowed The Tribune and the News to share advertising, production and circulation costs — and split the revenue — while remaining fiercely independent of each other on the news and opinion pages.

Later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such JOAs violated antitrust laws, so Congress, at the urging of Gallivan and other press executives across the nation, passed the Newspaper Preservation Act, exempting newspaper JOAs.

I bring this up because The Salt Lake Tribune won the Pulitzer Prize on Tuesday for local reporting for its yearlong coverage of campus sexual assaults in Utah.

The story essentially began with Madi Barney, a student at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, who argued that the school's Honor Code enforcement discouraged students from reporting sexual assaults.

Those allegations and The Tribune's reporting of them led to other victims stepping forward with their stories about their treatment at BYU and other Utah colleges.

I'm convinced that if it wasn't for The Tribune and its independent voice, this ongoing story, which resulted in sweeping changes in BYU policies to better protect students, would never have been told.

During the coverage, the paper endured heavy criticism as being anti-Mormon. LDS Church public relations officials posted comments on social media condemning The Tribune for "gotcha journalism."

In the end, BYU is now a better institution because of the changes it is making. But if it had been up to the church-owned paper to investigate, those problems still might be there.

If I'm bragging about this, I'm sorry. I have worked at The Tribune for more than 40 years and have been in the middle of a few conflicts between the staffs of the two papers. We are different. Our editorial writers largely view issues from different perspectives.

That's good. This community needs those two voices.

In recent years, after The Tribune, like most newspapers, suffered financial declines, we ended up under the ownership of a New York hedge fund that didn't care much about the legacy of Utah's largest daily or its importance to the community.

The hedge fund made a deal that gave the News a substantial advantage in the revenue split and control of the presses in exchange for a multimillion-dollar payout. Powerful institutions were at play, trying to destroy The Tribune, leaving Salt Lake City with one voice.

We pressed on during those dark years, providing strong independent news coverage under the leadership of former Editor Terry Orme. Like me, he started at The Tribune as a copy boy in the 1970s and, like me, had a deep love and devotion to the paper.

We continued with honest coverage of the hedge fund-News deal, even though Orme was irking his own bosses.

Then, Paul Huntsman, with encouragement from his industrialist-philanthropist father Jon Huntsman, bought The Tribune and committed to its continued existence as the independent voice.

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