A former legislator and a biotech executive join Tribune’s board of directors

Rebecca Chavez-Houck and Chris Gibson bring unique perspectives to board that oversees the nonprofit news outlet, they said.

A biotech executive and a former legislator, journalist and nonprofit leader and are the two newest members of The Salt Lake Tribune board of directors.

Chris Gibson, CEO of Recursion, and former Utah legislator Rebecca Chavez-Houck are joining the board this month, and will help steer the nonprofit news organization’s mission and financial success.

“I’m really excited,” Gibson said.

The Tribune was the first major metro to become a nonprofit in 2019 and named its first board of directors in 2020. Tom Love, founding partner and president of Love Communications, chairs the board.

“I love the direction [The Tribune] has been going in with its solution-oriented journalism focus — not just thinking about ‘how do we report?’ or ‘how do we communicate?’ or ‘how do we engage with the public?,’ but to do it to an end that meets the needs of everyone the best we can,” Chavez-Houck said. “So, I’m really excited about that, because I’ve been thinking about these issues in the context of the nonprofit world.”

Rebecca Chavez-Houck

Chavez-Houck said she remembers experiencing the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as though she were standing on a cliff, overlooking two trains that were careening toward each other and about to crash.

As a former legislator who focused on health disparities, and a Latina woman in Utah, Chavez-Houck said she knew from experience that Utah’s communities of color would be hit disproportionately hard by the virus. But she did not yet know how to communicate that outcome, or how to measure it.

Then she saw Tribune Utah Jazz reporter and data columnist Andy Larsen’s new COVID data tracking column. Chavez-Houck said she was impressed by Larsen’s agility as he pivoted from Jazz coverage to COVID data. It was exactly the response the community needed, she said.

“That was so incredibly insightful and audacious, in a community-oriented way,” she said. “It was like, everybody else was freezing, [wondering] what do we do? What do we do? And Andy pivots.”

It’s just the kind of flexibility and innovation nonprofits and media organizations need to serve their communities, Chavez-Houck said. And because The Tribune is both a nonprofit and a news organization, Chavez-Houck said she’s excited to be at the table with Tribune decision makers.

Chavez-Houck studied journalism and mass communications, and was briefly a journalist in Evanston, Wyoming, before moving into nonprofit public affairs and public relations. She also has a master’s in public administration from the University of Utah.

She represented northeast Salt Lake City in the Utah House of Representatives from 2008 to 2018, and focused on health and human services and election reform. Her journalism training made her a better, more fair legislator, Chavez-Houck said — she couldn’t shake the editor’s voice in the back of her head, reminding her to ask bigger questions and consider all possible sides and outcomes while she evaluated legislation.

Nonprofits at-large have had to reconsider their work since COVID, she said, as they are “being called to solve bigger community issues.” The ones that succeed, she said, will be the ones that approach changes or challenges using their institution’s values as their “north star.”

“There may be great opportunities, there may be great resources, there may be contacts or new things to explore,” she said. “But also grounding it, or threading it through [asking] ‘What do we need to balance our values as an institution? What is our role?’”

As a Tribune board member, Chavez-Houck said she is excited to learn more about The Tribune’s inner workings before offering insight about how the news organization might continue to grow. From the outside, she has admired such initiatives the Great Salt Lake Collaborative and The Tribune’s Innovation Lab. Now, she said she looks forward to helping The Tribune achieve that “balance” of audacity and innovation, and institutional values that best serve the community.

“I’m looking forward to thinking about, how do I support as a board member, the staff, the rest of the board, given my background, given my perspective,” she said. “Also, as a Latina, who has that lived experience of having grown up in Utah as a religious minority, as an ethnic minority, as a woman… those lived experiences also color how I look at the world and how I think that we can be active listeners as an institution.”

Chris Gibson

Nonprofit news is a new arena for Gibson. But as a scientist and co-founder of Recursion, a biotechnology company in Salt Lake City, Gibson said he hopes he can bring a unique perspective to The Tribune’s Board of Directors.

“It’s definitely new territory for me, but I hope I can be helpful,” Gibson said.

The Tribune is a centerpiece of community discourse, Gibson said. And healthy debate — “healthy” meaning rooted in fact — is an essential part of his job.

“Like, I spend my days sitting around debating ideas with people,” he said. “That’s the most exciting thing a scientist can do, and calling on facts to make a case… I think, in many ways, what journalism does is a different version of that.”

Gibson said he has some tech savvy to lend to The Tribune’s board, and is especially excited to share his experience working with A.I.

“The ways you can reach people more broadly now with technology, both the good and the bad, I think, are fascinating,” Gibson said.

Gibson moved to Utah in 2009 as a bioengineering Ph.D. student at the University of Utah. He founded Recursion in 2013. The company is a marriage of medicine and technology, according to its website, and uses tech to map human biology and create new medicines. Its offices are near The Tribune’s in The Gateway.

Like Chavez-Houck, Gibson said his first job on the board will be to listen and learn. As a Tribune reader and subscriber, he has some ideas about user experience and technological offerings. But he’ll keep them to himself, he said, until he has a better understanding of the organization’s needs and resources.

One of Utah’s greatest strengths, Gibson said, is its relative friendliness and willingness to collaborate.

“If you’re able to get in a room and actually sit down and talk to people, people are willing to engage here,” he said.

GIbson is excited to be part of some of Utah’s defining conversations, he said — or at least help support their publication in The Tribune.

“Of course, as a board, it’s not our job to share [our] opinions with anybody,” he said. “It’s our job to help steer the strategic direction of the newspaper.”

As a problem-solver by nature, and by trade, Gibson said he’s also excited to be part of the nonprofit news ecosystem. The model “could be a really important component” to journalism’s sustainability, he said, and he’s ready to “dig in.”

Shannon Sollitt is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.