February 13, 2024

At a time when many publishers are cutting print days, the Deseret News in Utah is finding success with a new print product.

Dubbed “The Digest,” the free publication amasses the Deseret News’s best journalism from its various platforms and is delivered to 120,000 homes around Salt Lake City once a month. The Digest launched in September and has been profitable since October, publisher Burke Olsen said.

“The result has been great enthusiasm from advertisers because this is now, I think, the largest newspaper product (in Utah). It has the largest distribution of any print product in the state that I’m aware of,” Olsen said. “It reinvigorated our advertising base.”

Executives at the Deseret News took inspiration from the company’s direct-mail advertising publication, Hometown Values, which is distributed for free to half a million Utah homes. They adopted a similar approach to create The Digest, which they insert into select copies of Hometown Values. Every month, they target certain ZIP codes in counties around Salt Lake City based on the audiences their advertisers are trying to reach.

The Digest has become a “marketing product that pays for itself,” Olsen said. It helps acquaint Utah residents with the Deseret News brand by republishing stories from the company’s website, newspaper, magazine and religion-focused publication. (Deseret News is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

Olsen estimated that a person who lives in one of the counties the Deseret News is targeting will receive The Digest about three times a year. The company wants The Digest to feel different from its other products, and it wants to make sure people do not receive it so often that they decide to abandon the Deseret News’ paid products.

“We tend to target established ZIP codes, more residential homes than rental areas, people who tend to have higher incomes — more disposable income — and that’s because that’s attractive to our advertising base,” Olsen said. “Over time, as we figure out on behalf of our advertisers what works and based on what kind of subscription uptick we get, we might focus on some ZIP codes more often than others.”

The Digest has nearly twice the audience as the Deseret News’ other print products — a selling point to advertisers — and the company expects to make $250,000 in profit off The Digest alone by the end of the year.

The Deseret News has already gotten phone calls from people who received The Digest and decided to subscribe to the biweekly paper, Olsen said. He speculated that a print paper taps into a certain nostalgia and its physicality lends readers a sense of accomplishment when they finish an issue.

Fifteen-year-old Adam Kunz said he discovered the benefits of physical papers when he came across a free sample from the Deseret News in the mail in November. Until then, he got most of his news through online aggregators like Google News. Newspapers were associated with “boring, old people stuff,” and Kunz hadn’t realized that the Deseret News was still printing physical copies of its paper.

He was surprised by how much he liked having a tangible paper in which stories were neatly packed. Kunz told his mother he wanted a Deseret News subscription for Christmas and that if she wouldn’t pay for it, he would buy it himself. Now, he starts and ends his days with the paper, reading a few stories at a time so that he can make the papers — which come twice a week — last.

Kunz said he especially likes following national news and political coverage, including stories about the election and bills passing through the legislature. He’s amassed a huge stack of papers in his bedroom. Though his friends and family sometimes tease him for paying for a newspaper subscription, Kunz insists they don’t understand “the experience of actually sitting down and flipping through the pages,” something he says is “awesome.”

“I think everyone has a responsibility to know what’s going on in the world.”

Before becoming publisher, Olsen worked as Deseret News’ head digital officer. “I didn’t care about our print products for a long time,” he admitted. But The Digest has made him wonder if there’s a product or marketing campaign that could slow or even reverse declines in print readership.

Though The Digest is still very new, Olsen has started to wonder if it might eventually outlive the Deseret News’ print paper. That is one of the things the company will be evaluating as The Digest moves forward.

“There may come a point at which this is no longer feasible and profitable because the cost of paper and postage continues to go up,” Olsen said. “But until it does, we ought to use as publishers, as news media, every avenue in creative ways of reaching audiences with journalism that will help them make better decisions … because they’re better informed about the world.”

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at or on Twitter @angelanfu.
Angela Fu

More News

Back to News