The Salt Lake Tribune has hired a seasoned journalist, media executive and pioneer in community-supported news as its top editor.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
“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.