The Salt Lake Tribune has hired a seasoned journalist, media executive and pioneer in community-supported news as its top editor.
The Tribune’s nonprofit board announced Tuesday that Sacramento Bee Editor Lauren Gustus will oversee news gathering and a newsroom staff of about 70 starting Dec. 3, becoming the third woman to hold the post in the newspaper’s 150-year history.
Board chairman Paul Huntsman told Tribune staffers Tuesday that Gustus was chosen unanimously after a monthslong national search.
“It became very apparent that she is a really unique leader in this industry," Huntsman said. “We are so fortunate to have someone of her capabilities with us."
Gustus will hold the title of executive editor of The Tribune and will report directly to the board, Huntsman and others said.
The 40-year-old Massachusetts native and avid runner is promising “authentic listening” to better align The Tribune’s mission to the needs and values of its readers and community as part of its ongoing conversion as the first U.S. legacy newspaper to become a nonprofit.
Gustus also will supervise The Tribune’s historic switch starting next year from delivering a daily print edition to producing a weekly print edition — along with fortifying its up-to-the-minute online news offerings and building its financial strength.
“I am drawn to the opportunity to build a sustainable local news organization,” she said in an interview. “I’m confident that we can do that together at The Tribune.”
And that path to fiscal stability, Gustus added, “is built on more and deeper relationships with our readers.”
A Tribune alumna, Gustus worked as an assistant sports editor at the paper from 2004 to 2007 before rising in the Gannett newspaper chain, where she filled a variety of management and corporate roles, including managing editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal and overseeing the Coloradoan in Fort Collins.
Until she returns to The Tribune, she will continue as president of The Sacramento Bee and Western region editor for The McClatchy Co., overseeing approximately 250 journalists in 10 newsrooms, as well as the California-based newspaper chain’s growing efforts to build its community-funded journalism.
Before her first journalism job as a sports writer in Los Angeles, she studied organizational communications and political science at Pepperdine University in Malibu.
Expanding The Tribune’s base of paying digital-only subscribers “dramatically,” she said, would be a top priority in the near term to cover newsroom costs. “That,” Gustus said, “is our North Star moving forward.”
“. . .We will listen to the data and to our readers as we refine our focus, and we will test our assumptions every single day,” she told The Tribune staff Tuesday. The approach, Gustus added, would center on accountability, adding value for readers to the paper’s reporting and continuing to provide major breaking news with context.
Gustus said she would also emphasize transparency and diversity in hiring in The Tribune’s newsroom operations as well as widening its sources of input from community members — in keeping with the outlet’s emerging role as a community asset.
“We have got to pay attention to the signals and to the conversations that are available today if we are going to be relevant for years down the road,” Gustus said. "And that has very little to do with digital or print. It has to do with the quality of the story that we choose to write on the day we have the opportunity.
"...That starts with, ‘What does the community want and how do we more deeply understand that by doing authentic listening?’ "
She said she had no mandate to reduce staff at The Tribune, which has seen successive waves of layoffs in recent years.
Orienting coverage more closely to community needs, she added, will not detract from The Tribune’s independent role in Utah.
“The Salt Lake Tribune has a great reputation when it comes to being the leader in Utah with respect to watchdog journalism,” Gustus said. “We cannot ever walk away from our responsibility to serve as a steward of the community, and that means robust accountability.”
James E. “Jay” Shelledy, a former Tribune editor and current board member who headed the job search, said Gustus “is very open and candid about what needs to be done, and that’s important as we move forward.”
Her resume includes major accomplishments over two decades in both journalism and on the business side of news.
In Colorado, Gustus led a two-year effort to change access laws on public records kept in digital form. She was the first-ever female sports editor at the Reno paper. She has overseen leadership transitions in newsrooms across the West.
At McClatchy, she is credited with cultivating campaigns that brought $4.5 million in philanthropic support for local reporting over the past 18 months.
Now based in Sacramento, Gustus said her eventual move to Utah would be impacted by the needs of her two young sons, the upcoming holidays and navigating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Gustus is the second media executive hired by The Tribune board in recent weeks.
Chief Revenue Officer Chris Stegman, formerly with the Houston Chronicle, was brought aboard in early November to oversee The Tribune’s subscription, advertising and marketing efforts online and in print.
Gustus replaces interim Editor Dave Noyce, a Tribune veteran who is expected to return to the paper’s editing ranks. He replaced Jennifer Napier-Pearce in the top newsroom post in August.
A longtime journalist and former public radio reporter, Napier-Pearce stepped down after four years at the media outlet’s editorial helm. She recently was named as a senior adviser and communications director for Gov.-elect Spencer Cox.
The paper’s first female editor — and the first woman to lead a major newspaper in Utah — was Nancy Conway, who retired in 2013.
Huntsman bought the Salt Lake City-based newspaper in 2016. The Tribune then won IRS approval last fall to convert from being privately held to a nonprofit, supported by subscriptions, advertising and public donations.
In a Feb. 20 piece Gustus wrote for The Sacramento Bee about building new and more sustainable revenue streams for newsrooms, she described an approach to journalism based on renewed bonds between news outlets and the readers they serve.
“The transition for local news is not a transition to digital,” she wrote. "It is a transformation to deeper engagement with our communities.
“...We must double down on our commitment to solutions-oriented journalism and deep engagement with our local communities,” she added, “if we are to transform our news organizations.”
In October, the Tribune’s nine-member nonprofit board announced that after continued financial losses on print advertising and daily delivery, it would stop printing a daily paper at the end of 2020 and shift to a weekly print edition starting in 2021.
The media outlet also is ending its longstanding business partnership on printing, circulation and advertising with its main rival, the Deseret News, effective at year’s end.
The News, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced separately that it too will eliminate its daily print edition, replacing it with a weekly print product for Utah readers as well as a weekly national magazine.