We should all be concerned about challenges facing the Salt Lake Tribune. Leaders of the LDS Church should be especially concerned.
It would not look good . . . indeed, it would not be good for church headquarters to be in a city with zero newspapers. The negative image would be compounded if the church is perceived to play a role in the demise of the city’s only newspaper.
The Deseret News appears to be a newspaper, but it does not fulfill this journalist’s definition. Someone said the role of a good newspaper is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." The function of today’s Deseret News is to patronize the afflicted and affirm the comfortable. That’s a legitimate role for a church-owned publication, but it does not serve the community in the same capacity as traditional journalism.
LDS scripture includes this sentence: "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things." Opposition is not only desirable; it is necessary. It "must needs be."
The Tribune is not the opposition, but it gives voice to those who think differently from the establishment, whether "establishment" means church, government, business, or any other institutional influence. (By the way, the phalanx of those who "think differently" includes many active members of the LDS Church.)
At the same time, the Tribune moderates opposition by publicizing positive establishment activities (such as humanitarian relief), by printing summaries of church conference sessions for those who would otherwise ignore conference, and by giving those who "think differently" a respected source of information about local issues. If the Tribune editorially disagrees with LDS Church officials about selected issues such as liquor laws and legislative influence, that’s probably a good thing. Those who want examples of criticism leading to positive developments around here need not look very far.
In this community, more than half the population will never subscribe to the Deseret News, on principle. That has been true for a long while – even when the Deseret News met higher journalistic standards. If the Tribune goes away, that leaves more than half the population without access to a local newspaper. (Journalistic standards at the Tribune have also suffered lately due to economic pressures, but new owners will have a chance to halt or reverse the trend.)
Community leaders should also consider the economic benefits of a mass circulation newspaper. Many local businesses depend on newspaper advertising to build and maintain their customer base. Misinformed observers think the digital media can fill that role. But digital media are not the answer for local economic growth. They don’t replace; they augment. They target specific individual interests, not a mass audience. Local businesses achieve a surprisingly good "reach" by advertising in both the Tribune and the Deseret News, thanks to the Joint Operating Agreement. If the Tribune closes, the advertising "reach" is considerably diminished, not only in quantity but in diversity. Of course, big box stores will find another way to distribute their pervasive ad inserts. But local advertisers may be excluded.
Most importantly, Thomas Jefferson said: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . , it expects what never was and never will be." The Tribune helps counter some of the political ignorance in our community and state. Malfeasance at the state attorney’s office would not have been corrected without Tribune reporting.
The Tribune may be annoying to some, but it is an annoyance founded on traditional journalism values. The question is whether church leaders prefer one thoughtful voice governed by traditional journalism values . . . or a thousand shrill voices driven by ignorance, rumor, and prejudice.
Don Gale is a longtime writer and observer of Utah events.
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