2 Years Into Nonprofit Status, 'Salt Lake Tribune' Editor Says Paper In Sound Financial Shape

There’s a growing conversation around conversion to nonprofit status as a business model for newspapers, in effect becoming community assets and relying less on ad revenue and more on donors in the same way that NPR, Pro Publica, and other publicly supported media organizations do.

At least two major newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Salt Lake Tribune, have become nonprofits in recent years. And earlier this year, the hotel magnate Stewart Bainum, Jr., sought to buy the Baltimore Sun in a $65 million deal and take it to nonprofit. The trend appears to be accelerating among local media.



Now comes a report card for one of them, the Salt Lake Tribune, via Harvard University’s Neiman Lab and the newspaper itself. Happily for the Tribune, its marks are high. The paper is financially sustainable, says Executive Editor Lauren Gustus, and, after years of layoffs and cuts, is expanding its newsroom staff.

“The Tribune newsroom is 23% larger than it was a year ago,” she said in a note to readers earlier this month. “We’ve welcomed a three-member Innovation Lab reporting team, a west Salt Lake Valley reporter and a second southern Utah reporter. We’ve also added to our digital team and our editing ranks. We’ve invested in long-overdue cameras and lenses for photographers, and provided a 401(k) match and parental leave for our employees.”

“We have no plans to return to a previously precarious position,” she added.

The 150-year-old brand has experienced a rough half decade. It had been owned by the notorious Alden Global Capital. Then it was acquired in 2016 by Paul Huntsman, scion of a prominent and powerful Utah family and son of the billionaire industrialist John Huntsman Jr.

But it was out of the frying pan and into the fire. The Tribune’s weekday circulation had declined precipitously between 2014 and 2019, from 61,000 to 32,000. It once had a daily circulation of close to 200,000. Ad revenue collapsed during Huntsman’s first two years, declining by 40%. In 2018, the paper laid off 34 of its 90 journalists.

It shifted to nonprofit status in 2019. And last year, the Tribune ended a 149-year run of printing a daily paper, shifting instead to daily online news and a Sunday printed edition.

That will change for 2022. “Starting in January," Gustus said in her note, “we will offer an additional e-edition on Sunday. Many of you have told us you enjoy the Sunday newspaper, but our in-depth reporting leaves you wanting for the day’s news. Look for a small Sunday e-edition, in addition to the weekend paper that is available in print and via e-edition, with 'live' news, sports results and more."

What’s more, a second printed edition will be added each week, delivered by mail on Wednesdays.

In the end, Gustus said in her note, “The Tribune will welcome more journalists in 2022, because you’ve told us many times over that this is what you want, and because if we are not holding those in public office to account, there are few others who will. The paper will include more accountability reporting, more state and local news, things to do, and additional puzzles and comics.”

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