As the saying goes, you cannot choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Fortunately for me, my family members are my best friends.
When I purchased The Salt Lake Tribune three years ago, I was aware my stewardship would create the appearance of a conflict of interest when the Huntsman family and its enterprises were the subject of stories.
I know those stories presented concerns of journalistic integrity for our reporters and editors. (That’s why we flag those stories with a reminder that a Huntsman owns the paper.)
Our staff has done a remarkable job, clearly articulated in their body of work. Such professionalism provides Utah readers with information that educates, empowers and unites communities.
In addition to exceptional news coverage, our commentators and columnists provide diverse perspectives on issues, events, trends and governmental actions. The Tribune’s editorial board, which I chair, furnishes opinion and analysis on the day’s events. However, this editorial role will soon be slightly amended.
Earlier this month we announced our historic transition to a public nonprofit, and as part of that, The Tribune will no longer endorse candidates for office. This is not so unusual; many newspapers choose not to make such endorsements for various reasons. Indeed, The Tribune had a policy of not endorsing candidates from 1972 to 2004.
As we enter the 2020 election cycle, the governor’s chair is open. My brother Jon, who held that seat from 2005 to 2009, is again seeking to be governor. Understandably, some readers may have concerns about whether The Tribune, of which I am publisher, can be fair in its news coverage or if coverage and commentary will tilt in favor of Jon Huntsman.
Be assured, that is not the way I do things.
I am not a journalist nor have I ever pretended to be. I have too much respect for my editors and reporters and the journalistic standards followed by every reputable newspaper to direct or attempt to influence political coverage. Such actions would undercut The Tribune’s core mission of fair, independent coverage.
While I may occasionally offer post-publication praise or criticism of stories, as all owners/publishers do, the next day the matter is forgotten. I do not influence the reporting or the gathering, writing and editing of the news. I don’t approve stories prior to publication.
This I will promise: The Tribune will treat all major candidates for office professionally and with respect. Our coverage will be even-handed and accurate, letting the truth emerge.
Of course, I fully expect some political candidates — especially those who play fast and loose with the rules — will insinuate that we are biased against them, especially if our coverage does not present them in a perfect light. According to these aggrieved politicians, annoying letters to the editor, essays, columns and editorial cartoons are published simply to make them look bad or their competitors look good.
It isn’t true and, even though we know that, we will faithfully publish their contentions for readers to judge. Tribune readers always have been, and hopefully will continue to be, our intrepid outside watchdogs. Never shy with criticisms, they regularly remind us of perceived slips on standards we profess to embrace. Letters to the editor and essays on editorial pages are healthy reminders of our journalistic commitments.
Despite what some politicians would have you believe, newspapers and their endorsements do not decide elections. A candidate’s platforms, character, backgrounds and records, political philosophy and party, foibles, hypocrisy, integrity and ability to articulate positions do.
The diligent, professional reporters, editors and columnists of The Tribune will present fact-based political coverage and commentary, helping Utahns cut through the campaign clutter and foolishness so they can make informed decisions next November.
This is my campaign promise.
Paul Huntsman is owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune. Once The Tribune fully transitions into a nonprofit, Huntsman will remain as The Tribune’s chairman of the board of directors.