Though you won't find it on The Salt Lake Tribune's "Popular Stories" list, a was reported Wednesday by the paper—on itself. But judging the the "Popular Story" list in the days following, the Very Scary Story sunk without a ripple. Here's the lead sentence:
"The Salt Lake Tribune’s top editor said Wednesday the newspaper was preparing for sizable budget cuts after its corporate owner killed a digital initiative once considered central to an evolving business strategy."
These cuts would follow a couple of years of increasing staff layoffs that included a round in September that cashiered 20 percent of the staff—17 full-time and two part-time employees. The paper then underwent an attempted evolution to digital news coverage, including participation in a Digital First's moribund Thunderdome initiative.
But the story's real lead, as they say in the biz, was buried deep in the story: "Thunderdome’s closure is seen by some as a sign that Alden Global Capital, a privately owned hedge fund based in New York, may be readying a sale of some or all of its newspaper properties, which include major publications in California, New England, Philadelphia and Texas."
A better examination of the issue can be found at the Poynter Insitute's online site under the headline: "What went wrong at Digital First Media—and what's next?" Newspaper guru Ken Doctor writes that Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that owns the Trib through DFM, is “readying its newspaper properties for sale.” Most observers think the sales will roll out through 2014.
Will the Trib be sold? A better question might be: Who would buy the Trib?
A newspaper, obviously, is a lousy investment—as Alden Global Capital has learned. So a buyer for the Tribune would have to have two things:
1. A heck of a good reason beyond profit to own a newspaper.
2. A pile of ready money, even if it's a fire sale.
Rumors circulated last year that Jon Huntsman Jr. was considering putting a deal together to buy the Trib. He's got the money, sure, but what would his motivation would be? I haven't heard that Jon Jr. wants to be U.S. senator from Utah.
Any discussion of deep pockets leads to the LDS Church (or a group acting on its behalf). The Deseret News has become little more than a ward newsletter. But could a restaffed Trib, run by LDS loyalists, masquerade as a credible news source? Or would the it be worth a few dollars to the church to buy KSL/DNews' competition just to shut it down?
Even after the layoffs, the Trib—not KSL/DNews—comitted resources into aggressive reporting (by Robert Gehrke and Tom Harvey) on the John Swallow fiasco. Finally, one would have to wonder how well the state's No. 1 economic and political power would be covered in the absence of the Trib?