Robert Gehrke: Losing the daily newspaper hurts, but it was always about the news first

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

As a kid I remember sprawling The Salt Lake Tribune on my parents' floor, back when the pages were a lot bigger and I was a lot smaller, and crawling across it — the comics, the sports, the news — until my elbows were black with newsprint.

My parents had an old typewriter where I’d write stories about my Little League games or Atari games I played — breaking news for sure. I’d draw cartoons in my own homemade newspaper. My goal was to take Pat Bagley’s job, and in eighth grade I won Bagley’s editorial cartoon contest and got to tour The Tribune newsroom. It was a nerdy thrill.

For a while I thought I had newsprint in my veins, but my doctor assured me that, if true, it would be fatal.

I remember in college, I was news editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle when my boss, Marco, strolled up one day and asked what I knew about the World Wide Web. Not much, I told him. It’s like an email thing? Marco was pretty jazzed about it. We could put all of our stories on this so-called World Wide Web and anyone anywhere in the world could read them.

This was my exact response: “Why the hell would we want to do that?”

I was truly a visionary.

But maybe I was, because once news outlets started giving away their product for free, people stopped valuing it. It lost its worth.

And we could spend pages strolling through the demise of print journalism in the United States, but let’s just say the past two decades have been unkind for a host of reasons.

Newspaper circulation is at the lowest level since 1949. Newspaper revenues fell by 62% between 2008 and 2018 and newspapers shed 33,000 employees in that same period.

Perhaps naively, I clung to print. I got a rude awakening when my daughter was in fifth grade and called me from school one day to tell me her class was studying newspapers and, naturally, they wanted me to come in and regale them with my wisdom.

Not exactly. She wanted to know if we had that stack of newspapers in the garage — which, of course there was, there always was — and if I could bring some in because only two other kids in a class of 29 had ever seen one.

They were blown away, amazed that they could get this thing delivered to their house every morning. I was amazed, too, and sad, because I knew then that the printed news would not survive this generation. They would get their news, to the extent they got news at all, differently.

The writing wasn’t on the wall. It was on the phone.

So it wasn’t exactly stunning news this week when The Tribune and Deseret News announced they would cease seven-day publication at the end of the year, moving to a weekly edition that will be delivered through the mail.

The decision had been creeping up on us for years. I had heard months ago this change was in the works.

But it hurts, like losing an old friend.

I feel terrible for my friends at the Deseret News who lost their jobs, as well as the men and women who work at the printing presses and all those carriers who made sure, even in the worst conditions, your paper arrived (almost always).

And I feel bad for The Tribune’s loyal print readers, especially those who have been reading the paper much longer than I have and now are going to be asked to make a change that for many will not be an easy one.

The harsh reality, however, is that daily print couldn’t continue. Every newspaper on every doorstep was costing The Tribune money and actually eroding our ability to do the critical journalism my talented colleagues provide.

So I’m hoping you stick with The Tribune during this transition and, as we reinvent the print edition, share your ideas about how we can serve the community better. Because as much as I loved the daily newspaper, it’s always been about the news first and foremost, not the paper — and we’re going to keep giving you the news every single day (and a robust print edition for the weekend).