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Editor column: Why The Tribune matters — we start the conversation

By Terry Orme

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Apr 25 2014 04:45 pm • Last Updated May 02 2014 12:45 pm

A lot of people are talking about the future of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Two groups with websites are dedicated to ensuring our future — www.utahnewspaperproject.org and www.savethetribune.com.

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Neither is affiliated with The Tribune. Former Tribune reporter and editor Joan O’Brien is the organizer of the Utah Newspaper Project. State Sen. Jim Dabakis is the brain trust behind Save the Tribune.

I appreciate the attention and the sentiments but don’t agree with everything on those sites, particularly the statement on savethetribune.com that The Tribune could vanish within months. That’s hyperbole. Besides, the newspaper is an essential institution too important to Utah for that to happen.

Do we have challenges? Yes. The new profit split negotiated between our owners and the Deseret News puts us at a disadvantage we must overcome. We need to find ways to replace that lost print revenue.

The outpouring of support confirms the strong emotional attachment people have to their newspapers and news websites.

Great newspapers become woven into the fabric of the places they cover. Tom Zoellner, former Tribune crime reporter, now writer of popular books, puts it this way:

"Newspapers are the way a community talks to itself."

In Utah, those conversations are lively, pointed, sometimes heated.

To be a central player — to influence and guide the discussion like The Tribune does — you must possess a sense of balance and fairness. You need to be on top of the news of the day, the source for readers to find out what’s happening now. You need to present what you know with clarity, with a sense of what’s truly important, and with an opportunity for others to weigh in and engage.

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You also need to be able to step back, take the long view, go deep and investigate, put events in a larger, more meaningful perspective. You need to give voice to those who have none, and be fearless in confronting the powerful.

In Utah during the past several months, the community conversations The Tribune has helped inform have revolved around the Utah attorney general’s office and John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, formerly the state’s elected top law enforcement officers.

During the past legislative session, Utah’s air pollution problems took center stage in the collective consciousness of people along the Wasatch Front and other areas where wintertime smog gets trapped.

We also talked about the prevalence of autism in Utah, and how families need help.

Another common theme: federal versus state control of everything from public lands to education to health care. We’ve talked about same-sex marriage.

We’ve talked about the role of women in the LDS Church.

Sometimes news events carry a general consensus of opinion, even a uniting sense of celebration: the Sochi Olympics and the triumphs of Utahns, including skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, skier Ted Ligety, bobsledder Steve Holcomb, snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg and history-making ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson.

If you were part of these conversations, it’s likely you engaged with the topics by reading The Tribune and sltrib.com.

If you weighed in, it could have been through The Public Forum, the message sections at the end of stories on sltrib.com, through watching "Trib Talk" or listening to "Behind the Headlines." More likely, you simply talked about the news with a colleague at work, a spouse or a child, a neighbor.

That’s why people are talking about the future of The Salt Lake Tribune. When the community talks to itself, we are the ones who get the conversation started.

Terry Orme is editor and publisher of The Tribune. Reach him at orme@sltrib.com.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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