Lauren Gustus: A few places where Tribune reporting made an impact in 2023

Reporters, photographers, editors, designers and digital journalists published roughly 4,870 stories this year.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Lake outlet gates in Saratoga Springs in March 2022. Reporter Leia Larsen documented bankruptcy filings, lawsuits and more from Utah Lake in 2023.

As journalists, we shine a light on wrongdoing. And elevate solutions.

We don’t advocate. We report.

And yet our journalism has an impact.

Salt Lake Tribune reporters, photographers, editors, designers and digital staffers will publish roughly 4,870 stories in 2023. I asked Tribune editors to share the pieces they thought made a difference for Utahns. Here are just a few of their favorites.

Utah Lake corruption

Land and water reporter Leia Larsen tracked Utah Lake shenanigans for the better part of 2023. She told us how the Legislature canceled a $500,000 grant that was awarded to Ben Abbott, a lead opponent of the plan to dredge the lake and turn it into a city of half a million people.

She also reported on how the executive director of the Utah Lake Authority resigned less than an hour after The Tribune asked questions about his support for Lake Restoration Solutions, the company behind the dredging plan.

Finally, she dove into the details of Lake Restoration Solutions’ summer bankruptcy filing, which included more than $1 million in unpaid debt. Abbott was the largest creditor, after the company unsuccessfully sued him for defamation. Leia also told us the CEO, who paid himself six figures before filing for bankruptcy, also paid his brother $75,000 and his son $3,000 for a monthlong internship.

If not for Tribune reporting, Utahns would not know about the corruption associated with the Utah Lake dredging and building project, which is now all but dead in the water.

Ute education

For months, reporter Courtney Tanner worked with editor Sheila McCann to help readers understand how Utah’s public schools fail Ute Tribe kids. Ute test scores are the lowest in the state, and the students drop out of school at a higher rate than any other demographic.

Courtney and Sheila collected hundreds of pages of records, from the boarding school era to the transition to public schools, and organized it for us. They shared first-person accounts from Ute students. And featured an Indigenous artist for visuals for the project. All of these elements are at sltrib.com/ute-education.

The lieutenant governor called Courtney’s reporting alarming and exceptional, and committed to doing better. When the 2024 legislative session rolls around next month, we’ll be watching to see what changes emerge.

Land trusts advance

Reporter Sofia Jeremias shared a solutions story that helped Utahns understand where and how community land trusts across Utah are helping more moderate-income people into housing. Gov. Spencer Cox included $15 million for land trusts when he unveiled his budget earlier this month.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Arroyo Crossing housing development, built on acreage owned by the Moab Area Community Land Trust, provides permanent affordable housing to Moab's workforce of families and individuals who could not otherwise afford a home, May 16, 2023.

A light on our A.G.

This year we also committed to reporting how Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, appointed after his predecessor left office amid a scandal, spent his time in public office. Reyes took 30 luxury trips over three years, reporter Tony Semerad told us, and heavily promoted his good friend Tim Ballard’s movie, “Sound of Freedom,” on which he is listed as an associate producer. The Tribune’s Robert Gehrke exclusively reported Reyes will not run for reelection in 2024.

We continue to fight for records from the attorney general’s office, including Reyes’ calendar and details on several investigations.

There are many more stories to highlight.

We profiled businesses, chefs, artists and teachers who help our communities thrive. We told you not about pandas, but pando, one of the world’s largest living organisms, which is in Utah.

We’re here because you value local journalism. We couldn’t do this work without you.

Thanks to all who have supported the nonprofit Tribune in 2023, and here’s to what we know will be a newsy 2024.