April 20, 2016

The Salt Lake Tribune, one of two competing papers in Salt Lake City, has been sold to the billionaire Huntsman family, the Tribune reported this morning.

Patriarch Jon Huntsman Sr. had acknowledged he wanted to buy the paper nearly two years ago. The executive in charge will be his son Paul (another son, Jon Jr., ran for president in 2012).

Though the Huntsmans are Mormon, they have indicated that part of their interest in the Tribune is to maintain an independent second voice in the city where the Church-owned Deseret Media has TV, newspaper and digital holdings.

Terms of the deal were not released and it will take some time to complete the transaction, the Tribune reported.

The sale continues a trend of very wealthy local ownership acquiring newspaper operations — generally for the good of their home community rather than as a straight for-profit investment.

The seller is Digital First Media. The chain itself was on the market for a year but found no buyer — now it appears willing to sell some individual properties if the terms are right.

The Tribune and Deseret News are one of five remaining Joint Operating Agreements in the United States. Terms were renegotiated in fall 2013, infusing some cash into the Tribune (the larger paper) but giving Deseret business control of the venture.

A citizens’ group filed suit challenging the deal, which it claimed would drive the Tribune under and give Deseret a monopoly. But Joan O’Brien, who headed the effort, has told me that the legal action will become moot with the Huntsman’s purchase.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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