Jon Huntsman Sr.’s declared effort to buy the Salt Lake Tribune has stalled, the paper reported over the weekend.
In an anonymously sourced story, the Tribune wrote that its Joint Operating Agreement partner, the Mormon church-owned Deseret News has exercised an option to block the deal.
I wrote in July about the contentious fight over the Tribune’s future. Huntsman, father of the 2012 presidential candidate and believed to be the richest man in Utah, declared in July 2014 that he hoped to acquire the paper and put it under local control.
Meanwhile, Deseret renegotiated the terms of the JOA, paying the Tribune about $20 million in exchange for a higher percentage of any future profits and veto power over any potential buyer. A citizens’ group has filed suit seeking to invalidate the new agreement.
It further complicates matters that the Tribune is owned by Digital First Media, whose 75 papers were on the market for more than a year before the company pulled back in June to regroup under a new CEO, with Steve Rossi succeeding John Paton.
Huntsman is a Mormon, but independent of the LDS Church governing structure.
My speculation (with neither side willing to comment even on background) is that Deseret is comfortable with a weakened Tribune as a partner but less so with a local owner like Huntsman who might infuse resources to strengthen the Tribune’s editorial voice as John Henry has done in Boston and Glen Taylor in Minneapolis.
Unusual among the five surviving JOAs, the Tribune is the bigger paper in circulation — and I presume advertising. But with church backing Deseret is much stronger financially, thus able to become the lead partner. Also in recent years Deseret has launched a number of digital initiatives, aimed at building an audience of Mormons worldwide and syndicating coverage of faith and family values.