Robert Kirby: Newspapers have been cutting costs instead of trees, but we aren’t leaving

Robert Kirby

Do I still have a job at The Salt Lake Tribune? Several friends wanted to know. Their texts started hitting my phone early Monday morning.

Paul Huntsman, who owns The Tribune (along with me and a bunch of other ink-stained wretches), announced that the IRS had approved a new nonprofit model for the paper to pursue to keep it alive in a world increasingly run by social media.

This will entail creating an endowment from donated money that will replace the dwindling advertising revenue that once fueled us, and grant us tax-free status under which to work.

My friends — being of the sort who enjoy rubbing it in — equated the announcement to a death rattle.

“What are you going to do now, [deleted]?”

“Good luck panhandling at The Gateway, Kirby. Serves you right.”

“Walmart’s always looking for greeters, ya bum.”

It was bound to happen in a changing world. Printing on paper will soon be prehistoric. Only the dimmest of minds failed to see that it’s been happening for a while now.

Newspaper advertising was once the primary source of getting the word out. If you had something to sell, you paid to advertise it in the newspaper.

The newspaper took that money and used it to hire people to make sure your name made print were you to rob a bank, get run over by a streetcar, or be gathered up by police in a raid on a brothel.

Newspapers were the hottest thing going when the only forms of competition were big signs and guys walking around in sandwich boards.

Then came radio and television. Suddenly, newspapers weren’t the only marketing tool out there. The change is reflected in newspaper archives.

I researched old print editions of The Tribune to follow our decline based on size. To keep it somewhat fair, I only looked at editions printed the first Monday of November in the following years:

• 1933 — The worst year of the Great Depression. 16 pages.

• 1953 — Korean War ends, and I’m born. 34 pages.

• 1971 — I barely graduate from Skyline High School. 40 pages.

• 1994 – My first Tribune column. Internet providers start taking over the world. 36 pages.

• 2019 – Yesterday. Back to 16 pages.

This is not the most accurate way of measuring a newspaper’s success, but it does reveal the impact of print advertising revenue loss.

Ironically, even with fewer pages, we have more readers than ever (thanks to our digital audience). So we won’t be going away anytime soon.

Newspapers — or news gathering — will always be needed. People need something to yell about. And at.

I remember the Old Man yelling at the newspaper whenever Castro, Mao or de Gaulle did something he didn’t like. He took it personally that God put so many jerks in the world at the same time.

I took it personally because I delivered newspapers as a kid, including the Idaho Statesman, The San Bernardino Sun and the Los Angeles Times.

The papers were 30-plus pages an issue. On Sundays, it was like heaving dead walruses onto driveways. I would have worshipped Satan for a 16-page paper.

The point is not to worry. Times change, and we all have to change with them.

Well, not you. If you’re reading us, you stay the same.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.