For balance, we need Tribune and News

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” –George Orwell

I’m old school. I still get the Salt Lake Tribune delivered every morning on my doorstep as I drink my morning tea. But I read the Deseret News online, too. I like the balance I get from reading both papers.

It is clear that newspapers are going to have to adapt to the times. More and more people are looking online for their news and we operate under the expectation of immediate content updates. Newspapers are having to modify their business models to accommodate the myriad ways people get their news.

If you spend any time on Facebook you will have noticed all the discussion about the Tribune and its possible demise. On one hand, the talk includes quite a lot of hyperbole–the nails aren’t being hammered into the coffin just yet and it is unlikely that the Tribune will shut its doors in six months, as some are claiming. But is the future of the Tribune in doubt? Absolutely.

On the other hand, once you separate the drama from the reality you have a very disconcerting possibility–the Salt Lake Valley with a single newspaper. Moreover, that single newspaper would be the Deseret News, wholly-owned by the LDS Church.

Now let’s be clear, the Mormon Church can own a paper and it can print whatever it would like within that paper. I know a lot of people, my parents included, that are fully satisfied with the News. But the idea that the Salt Lake Valley and by extension the whole state would be served by this lone newspaper would be disastrous for balanced discourse in Utah.

There are some very good reporters at the News and its TV partner, KSL. They do good work and they work hard to be objective and to report the real news. But I’d be lying and we’d all be kidding ourselves if I said there was no influence exerted–either overt or covert–to portray the news in a certain way. The LDS Church is powerful and influential and they would be foolish to have media outlets at their disposal without utilizing that resource.

The current talk [read: panic] over the Tribune’s fate is exacerbated by a revised profit sharing contract that the current Tribune owners, a Wall Street venture firm, made with the owners of the News that puts the Tribune at a distinct disadvantage. Its complicated to be sure, different groups expecting profit in different ways that aren’t necessarily compatible. Ultimately this new agreement has to be approved by the Department of Justice. There are laws against monopolies and laws in favor of newspaper preservation that smarter heads than mine will have to sort through to determine if this contract can proceed. But if it does it is very likely that it will spell the end, at least eventually, of the Tribune.

I’ll still have my morning tea in front of my laptop reading the news from a variety of sources, like so many others are doing now. Those of us clinging to the ritual of a print edition will have to adapt. But the real loss will be of an independent voice that helps bring balance to the discussion of policy and politics. Change isn’t always good.

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