Ex-Salt Lake Tribune staffers say joint operating agreement's new terms violate antitrust law

SALT LAKE CITY – A group of former employees of The Salt Lake Tribune has filed a lawsuit to suspend the newspaper’s joint operating agreement with the Deseret News, arguing the terms violate federal antitrust laws and undermine the Tribune’s role as an independent voice.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Utah, the group called the Utah Newspaper Project argues the recently revised agreement between Salt Lake City’s two daily newspapers gives too much control to the Deseret News, which is owned by a for-profit arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The six-decade-old agreement was changed in October.

Under the new terms, the Deseret News purchased the Tribune’s share of a printing plant and gets 70 per cent of the profits from the newspapers’ joint print advertising and circulation businesses. The money from the sale of the printing plant was used to pay off debt for the Tribune’s parent company.

The old profit split was 58 per cent for the Tribune and 42 per cent for the Deseret News.

The terms leave the Tribune “in imminent danger of ceasing publication,” according to the lawsuit.

Terry Orme, editor and publisher of the Tribune, declined to comment on the suit.

Messages seeking comment were not returned Monday by Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of the Deseret News Publishing Co. and Deseret Digital Media, or representatives for the Tribune’s New York-based corporate owner, Digital First Media.

The Utah Newspaper Project sent a letter last year asking the U.S. Department of Justice to review the agreement.

Since 1952, the two newspapers have had a joint operating agreement that combines printing, advertising and circulation operations. The editorial functions of both newspapers remain separate.


Follow Michelle L. Price