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Why I joined The Tribune: To tackle the big issues, writes Innovation Lab Editor

Utah faces rising home prices, sharp political divides and shrinking water supplies that require a different kind of journalism.

Innovation Lab Editor Luke Peterson.

My roots in Utah run deep, and my commitment to public service runs with them.

My father was a sheet-metal worker who should have been a philosopher, a historian or a novelist. My earliest memories are of him cursing at the TV whenever the president’s face appeared. He wrote “IMPEACH REAGAN” on dollar bills he was then too paranoid to spend.

The pivot point of my young life was one of the few conversations we had when he felt adequate to the task of dispensing parental advice. He struggled through an awkward preamble about my failing grades before saying, “Luke, you’re smart, but so was I. Now I’m 50 years old, an out-of-work sheet-metal worker. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Go and do what you can in this world.”

I made no verbal promise, but I have lived by that mandate ever since. My dad died just over a decade ago. Through the years, he imparted a deep concern for the problems of the world. I have made it my mission to find solutions.

My career — which has spanned nonprofits, local government, and higher education across five states — has been dedicated to solving “wicked problems.”

Wicked problems are problems that refuse to be solved. Serpentine might be the best way to describe them. They like to wriggle away and have a tendency to bite back.

I helped a hardscrabble Rhode Island mill town avoid bankruptcy, assisted Richard Dreyfuss in preserving civic education in K-12 curricula, and assisted rural farmers to adopt sustainable practices for survival in the 21st century.

Here in Utah, wicked problems include explosive growth, rising home prices, worsening air, diminishing water supplies, and sharp political and social divides. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but it’s been far too little.

This is why I joined The Salt Lake Tribune. I never considered work in journalism, but the vision for the Innovation Lab, the scrappy entrepreneurial determination of The Tribune as a 150-year-old newspaper turned social purpose nonprofit, and the profound dedication of its staff, have convinced me that there is no better vehicle for tackling the big issues than The Tribune’s Innovation Lab.

The Innovation Lab is a three-person innovation team, receiving guidance on leads and connections to experts due to an advisory council with representatives from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. These efforts are made possible by the support of community donors: The Ivory Foundation, David Parkinson, Sorenson Foundation, and Gary Crocker.

Over the next year, like facing down a two-page algebra problem, we will solve for wicked. We will tackle big issues, and we will move forward solutions that bring together leaders from the for-profit, government and nonprofit sectors. We will look to readers to guide us and lead us to the heart of big problems and toward effective solutions. We will go and do what we can for the state of Utah.

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