Salt Lake Tribune owner and publisher Paul Huntsman has announced members of a new board to guide Utah’s largest daily newspaper into its future as a nonprofit.
Word of the appointment of the six-man, three-woman board of directors came Tuesday as the 150-year-old publication prepares for a final set of asset transfers and other transactions to clinch its status as the first privately held U.S. newspaper to convert to a community-based nonprofit.
The IRS granted The Tribune’s unique application for nonprofit status last fall, triggered by years of financial losses and staff layoffs amid declining print ad and subscription revenue. The development has been closely watched by struggling news outlets and industry experts across the country.
Huntsman, who bought The Tribune in 2016 and is giving up his sole ownership in the landmark move, will serve as board chairman. He said the new directors will help hone long-term financial strategies, while avoiding direct involvement in news and editorial decisions.
The prominent businessman said he had chosen directors who shared his “passion for independent journalism and a great love for the state of Utah and its future.”
“We’ve got an outstanding board,” Huntsman said. “I couldn’t be happier with their enthusiasm and commitment to help sustain quality local journalism, which in many parts of the country is under threat.
“There are a lot of eyes on us right now,” he said in an interview. “There’s a lot of despair in the industry. We’ve just got to be successful and we will be.”
The board members, expected to serve two-year terms, include a diverse roster of business people and educators, many of them with strong backgrounds in journalism and technology and deep ties to the Beehive State.
The members are:
• Board Chairman Paul Huntsman, president of Huntsman Family Investments, LLC, and philanthropist.
• Clint Betts, executive director of Silicon Slopes, a nonprofit representing Utah’s startup and technology sectors.
• Luzmaria (Lucy) Cardenas, award-winning businesswoman, Salt Lake City restaurateur and owner of the Red Iguana.
• Randy Dryer, media lawyer and professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.
• Holly Mullen, a former longtime journalist and columnist at The Tribune who is now spokeswoman for Salt Lake City Public Utilities.
• Ashish Patel, a social media executive and chief insights officer at New York City-based Group Nine Media, a top U.S. mobile publisher.
• James E. “Jay” Shelledy, retired director of Louisiana State University’s Office of Student Media and former editor of The Tribune from 1991 to 2003.
• Angie Welling, director of communications for Google Fiber and former reporter for the Deseret News.
• Spencer Zwick, a chief adviser and financial officer to Sen. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns who is also co-founder and managing partner of Solamere Capital, a Boston- and New York City-based private equity firm.
In addition to backgrounds in news and technology, Huntsman said he chose board members from several generations, reflecting The Tribune’s existing and potential customers.
“We have to make sure there’s connectivity as we look at broadening our reach to much younger audiences," he said, “without losing the integrity of our product.”
Tribune Editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce, who helped recruit some of the members, said Tuesday she was “thrilled to have a board of such engaged, talented and accomplished individuals backing The Tribune.”
“They all deeply believe in The Tribune and our mission,” Napier-Pearce said. “They understand the crucial role we play in Utah and they are willing to share their experience and expertise during this critical time in our history.”
Dryer, a former working journalist in print and broadcast, said the board’s immediate goal would be “to ensure the long-term survivability and success of The Tribune.”
“But the other goal is just to help support local journalism, which is vital to our electoral process and to holding those in power accountable for their actions,” he said. “Local journalism is kind of the boots on the ground that really impacts people's lives.”
Huntsman also announced Tuesday the makeup of a separate three-member board that will govern the Utah Journalism Foundation, a separate charitable entity created to support independent journalism outlets throughout Utah. The foundation’s primary benefactor is expected to be The Tribune.
Though that panel is likely to expand its membership, Huntsman said it would for now be made up of himself; Linda Daines, a managing director with the global investment banking firm Goldman Sachs; and Fred Esplin, a former manager for KUED-TV in Salt Lake City who recently retired as vice president for institutional advancement at the University of Utah.
The IRS encourages nonprofits to elect a president, secretary and treasurer. Huntsman said those additional appointments of staff positions would be made shortly.
The agency also encourages such boards to adopt “a clearly articulated mission” that “serves to explain and popularize the charity’s purpose and guide its work.” Huntsman said crafting that ongoing mission would be among the board’s first goals.
Under its new business model, The Tribune will continue to offer subscriptions and accept traditional advertising (although it will pay taxes on that income). But, the newspaper now can also receive donations — large and small — from those who may then receive a tax deduction for that support.
[Want to know more? Go to sltrib.com/donate to read some frequently asked questions.]
Several newly appointed board members, meanwhile, said solidifying The Tribune finances would be a top priority.
Betts, founder of Beehive Startups in 2013 before it merged with Silicon Slopes three years later, called The Tribune “one of the most important institutions in the state of Utah” and said he wanted to ensure it “lasts for a very long time.”
“My hope is that I can give whatever insight I can into making it stronger," Betts said, “and focusing on building a sustainable model that works for local journalism.”
Cardenas, owner of the popular Mexican restaurant the Red Iguana since 2005, said she grew up reading The Tribune, as did her father, Ramon Cardenas, who learned how to speak and understand English through its pages.
The longtime resident of Salt Lake City’s west side said she hoped Tribune board members can continue to bolster and deepen Utahns’ bonds with the news source.
“Local papers are so important and so necessary,” she said. “And so my hope is to get people excited to subscribe to a local paper and really connect with their city.”
Mullen, who was also The Tribune’s first female executive sports editor, said she was honored to be a Tribune board member, praised the newspaper’s community role and called her appointment “exciting uncharted territory.”
“We don’t know how this model will work,” Mullen said. “But I know one thing for certain: We have to continue to have The Salt Lake Tribune in some form or fashion.”