Salt Lake Tribune will move to a weekly print edition in 2021

FILE - This April 20, 2016, file photo shows copies of The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

In a historic change, The Salt Lake Tribune will stop printing and delivering a daily edition at year’s end and switch to a weekly printed newspaper delivered by mail.

The nonprofit Tribune’s board of directors announced the decision Monday, shortly after The Tribune and the Deseret News released their decision to end a generations-long print partnership.

The two Salt Lake City media outlets said they had independently decided the joint operating agreement — which gave the rivals legal backing to collaborate on printing, delivery and advertising — will expire Dec. 31.

The move ends a 68-year-old business contract, but it means something more basic to print readers — a vanishing cultural mainstay. Millions since 1871 have enjoyed crisp copies of The Tribune left in their front yards or stacked into sidewalk racks across Utah and the Intermountain West each morning.

The Tribune said the move won’t diminish its journalism, and that there are no plans to reduce the newsroom staff of about 65 due to the decision, though some employees will be redeployed. Nor will its approach to breaking news change, its board said, with reporters and editors filing stories continuously on its website.

A long-in-the-works redesign of sltrib.com is set for launch “in the coming days,” it said, with updates to mobile apps by year’s end. All, according to the board, would deliver “up-to-the-minute news, analysis, investigative reporting, revealing profiles, powerful photography and a constant flow of unique journalistic offerings.”

The weekly print edition will become a showcase for The Tribune’s best enterprise work and in-depth coverage of politics, religion, business, sports, arts and culture. Its once-weekly pages will carry stories from The New York Times, The Associated Press, and other news services, along with obituaries and other Sunday features.

“While we mourn the loss of our daily print edition, we eagerly embrace the opportunity of bringing an exciting new weekly product to our readers' homes,” interim Editor David Noyce said. “It will feature the journalism Tribune readers have grown to trust and expect, along with new elements — all packaged in an energized edition.”

Noyce also also notified readers via a personal email: “This move and every other one we make," the email stated, “is to ensure that The Tribune is around for generations to come.”

The Deseret News said in a statement it would share “some of its future plans” Tuesday. The newspaper was founded in 1850 and is owned and managed by a media subsidiary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A story published late Monday on the News' website said 18 employees have received severance packages, most of them in its visual editing and sales departments. Six journalists were being let go, the story said.

The News editorial board ran an online invitation Monday to readers to “pioneer with us” and “engage with us on every platform from digital to print,” adding that the media outlet considered Monday “a hinge point in news media history.”

The shared printing presses and distribution facilities in West Valley City will be “mothballed,” according to one top source, and nearly 160 remaining press operators, carriers and other employees will lose their jobs, after months of progressive layoffs leading up to Monday’s announcement.

Pension obligations were being kept, according to a fact sheet provided by the papers, and affected workers were receiving severance packages.

Current Tribune print subscribers who want to continue will be automatically enrolled in new weekly plans that start in January and will still get free access to all digital products. Subscription plans will be released in November.

The new print edition is expected to be mailed to subscribers along the Wasatch Front and in Summit County on weekends. For subscribers in other areas, it will arrive early the following week.

Print subscribers will also have unlimited access to digital offerings, along with access to a new daily newsletter that will include many of the print edition’s top features, including overnight sports scores, daily cartoons from Pat Bagley, puzzles and comics. Those who have questions about their print subscription are urged to call Utah Media Group at 801-204-6100 or email at service@utahmediagroup.com.

Daily press runs in downtown Salt Lake City first began for The Tribune around 1871, when it was called “The Tribune & Utah Mining Gazette.”

The Tribune-News joint operating agreement, commonly called the JOA, was first signed in 1952 and then enshrined under the Newspaper Preservation Act, enacted by Congress in 1970. The arrangement granted special exceptions of anti-monopoly rules for a jointly run firm called the Newspaper Agency Corp. (which eventually become the Newspaper Agency Co.) or NAC. The papers renewed their pact in 1982 and adjusted it as The Tribune went through different ownership.

Printing and delivering the two papers was the NAC’s daily mission for nearly 70 years, first on presses behind their adjacent offices along downtown Salt Lake City’s Regent Street, then out at the West Valley City plant.

| Tribune File Photo Journeyman pressman Matt Larsen monitors the USA Today printing on the TKS press Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at MediaOne in West Valley City.

At its most robust, The Tribune carried hundreds of pages in a day, with copious display advertising geared to an expanding class of consumers in Utah. Editions thick with special features brought news, entertainment, syndicated columns and color cartoons, as well as legal notices and classified ads.

Circulation of The Tribune rose from 10,000 in the mostly family-owned paper’s earliest days to nearly 20 times that at its peak, delivered early morning across a network of carrier routes in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Montana and even into parts of Washington state.

Tribune and News managers praised the lapsing JOA on Monday but noted that the digital revolution had overturned its advantages.

“The Deseret News has been an outstanding and constructive partner in the JOA in this financially tumultuous industry,” Salt Lake Tribune Chairman and primary financial backer Paul Huntsman said in a news release “As The Tribune moves forward, our commitment to our readers is unchanged: to provide reliable and informative news, analysis and commentary.”

The Tribune board thanked the News and Utah Media Group workers and managers for “their rewarding decades-long service” to both papers.

Jeff Simpson, publisher of the News, praised The Tribune in return and said the longtime partnership that let them cooperate on advertising and subscription prices and share printing and delivery costs “has benefited the community in many ways.”

“We love our thousands of print subscribers along with the millions who read us online every month,” Simpson said in a statement. “With this change, we can continue our focus on great journalism, serving our readers and growing our digital audiences across Utah and beyond.”

Brent Low, president and CEO of Utah Media Group, which manages the West Valley City facility, said demand for a printed newspaper is at historic lows “while digital content and distribution is everywhere.”

“Our clients can get their papers printed in a cost-effective way without owning their own presses,” said Low, who oversees the umbrella organization that includes the Newspaper Agency Co.

The Tribune sold its interest in the presses in 2013 as part of a renegotiation of the JOA by its then-owner, New York newspaper chain MediaNews Group.

Huntsman, who bought The Tribune from Alden Capital in 2016, informed the newsroom in a meeting Monday afternoon, conducted via teleconference.

He said closing the West Valley City plant and dividing Utah Media Group’s other businesses were painful decisions but necessary for The Tribune’s survival.

Money from print advertising and paid circulation from home delivery has been on a decadelong plunge, Huntsman said, but has worsened in recent years, including large drops with the coronavirus pandemic.

The wealthy businessman said a new Tribune weekend edition — with an expanded opinion section “reflecting the breadth of Utah voices on key issues” — is expected to make money, with a vintage appeal and exclusive content.

The revamped approach to print also comes as The Tribune is transforming as an institution. The longtime family-owned daily that landed in Huntsman’s hands after a 20-year interlude of corporate ownership is remaking itself as nonprofit, after winning such IRS approval in late 2019.

Huntsman said Monday one thing that won’t change is “The Tribune’s role as Utah’s journalism leader,” adding that it was “dedicated to building stronger communities by providing vital, accurate reporting on all aspects of Utah life.”

“This is a historic moment in the industry, but one that reflects the reality of today’s news consumption,” he said in a statement issued as board chairman.

He called the print changes, and the move to a nonprofit status, a “pioneering effort toward financial sustainability.”

Today, The Tribune’s growing audiences live online, where hundreds of thousands of people each week read stories through sltrib.com and mobile apps. Four of every five readers now get their news content digitally, the Tribune board noted, “and that trend is accelerating.”

By comparison, print circulation for what readers call “The Trib” now stands at about 36,000 newspapers a day, according to audited reports. That’s down from about 61,000 in 2014 and about 200,000 printed copies in its heyday.

Still, the move was likely to affect the daily habits of thousands of die-hard print readers.

Greg Marsden, the former women’s gymnastic coach at the University of Utah, noted on Twitter late Monday the print edition has been a feature on his breakfast table his entire life.

“My morning coffee will never be the same,” he wrote, echoing many others. “This is terrible news for me and for our community.”

“I’m only a digital subscriber," another reader, located in Sugar House, wrote on Twitter, “but my 80 [year-old-] dad is going to be out of luck.”

Industrywide, The Tribune’s print reductions mirror similar “Sunday + Digital” moves going on across legacy U.S. newspapers up against the same shifts in audience tastes. It could also foreshadow a wider collapse of daily U.S. home delivery of newspapers within three to five years, according to some experts.

“Reductions in print frequency have been gaining momentum gradually,” said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst with the nonprofit Poynter Institute, a journalism research organization based in Florida. “I would expect to see many more such moves over the next year or two.”

Ogden’s Standard-Examiner and Provo’s Daily Herald, both owned by Ogden Newspapers, now publish six days a week, with a weekend edition covering Saturday and Sunday. The Herald Journal in Logan announced in September 2019 it would cut back to three days a week, sent by mail.

Noyce, interim editor, assured longtime print devotees and growing audiences of Tribune readers online and via mobile that the move would not diminish its trusted coverage, only shift it more fully to digital platforms.

He said the paper’s priority on watchdog journalism and agenda-setting perspective will continue, with the weekly print edition providing new and exclusive context, enterprise and more in-depth pieces in a legacy format.

“Digital is our present and our future,” said Noyce. “Imagine the best of our enterprise, our big packages and all the extra features we now do during the week, all crammed into one weekend edition. That’s a great newspaper!”

A longtime veteran of The Tribune’s editing ranks, Noyce took the top newsroom post with the sudden departure in August of then-Editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce. Huntsman said The Tribune’s nine-member board, appointed in March, was close to choosing a permanent editor and would announce that hire before year’s end.