A prominent Utah state senator confirmed that he's part of a group that wants to buy The Salt Lake Tribune.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, is one of five people in the group pursuing the purchase. He declined to say who the others are, but he has described the group in the past as "prominent, civic-minded Utah community leaders."
"My motivation really is to make sure that the newspaper is independent and is fiscally sound for the foreseeable future," Dabakis said Tuesday. He added that while The Tribune's news reporting should remain independent, he thinks it's "incredibly important for this community and this state to have a strong, progressive viewpoint, editorially."
Dabakis has been among the high-profile critics of a renegotiation in fall 2013 of The Tribune's longstanding business partnership with its chief rival, the LDS Church-owned Deseret News. Those changes cut in half The Tribune's share of ongoing profits from the partnership and sold the paper's stake in West Valley City printing facilities.
The revisions to the partnership are the target of a Justice Department investigation as well as a federal lawsuit brought by a group of former Tribune employees and community members, who allege the deal threatens to put The Tribune out of business. The paper's current owner, New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital, and top executives at the Deseret News have countered that the deal — crafted without the knowledge of local Tribune managers — was meant to strengthen The Tribune as it converts to a more digitally focused future.
The Tribune's editor and publisher, Terry Orme, would rather see the paper in the hands of a Utahn.
"I've long felt that local ownership is the best path to the future for The Tribune," Orme said Tuesday. "A local owner, or owners, would better understand the important role we play in Utah. Local ownership also brings challenges involving conflict of interest and other issues. But those can be worked through. I'm confident of that."
Dabakis does not foresee problems with a politician becoming a partial owner of The Tribune.
"There's a long history in the country of people of strong political affiliations and even elected positions of having ties to newspapers and media agencies," he said, adding that "people would be able to read for themselves what the kind of journalistic freedom that the management of the newspaper would have. That's what I'm fighting for. It would be counterproductive to destroy that kind of independence."
Dabakis also said he would hope that any reporting on him and his politics would be "just as hard, and maybe even a touch harder, as it would be on anyone else."
Dabakis has met with a top official from the U.S. Department of Justice. After the meeting, Dabakis said on Monday that "a serious proposal" had emerged to ensure The Tribune's status "as a professionally run, financially secure and independent voice for many generations to come."
The outspoken Dabakis declined to elaborate, saying only that the plans were "very complex" and involved a group of "prominent, civic-minded Utah community leaders" negotiating to buy The Tribune.
The latest talks, Dabakis said, are unrelated to a stalled proposal to buy the newspaper from Utah industrialist and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr.
A DOJ spokesman declined to comment Monday.