Cost-saving push by ownership means budget cuts for Salt Lake Tribune

Published: Wednesday, April 2 2014 8:56 p.m. MDT

The Salt Lake Tribune announced that it would make cuts to staff, Wednesday, April 2, 2014.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The corporate owner of the Salt Lake Tribune announced it is shuttering its national, company-wide digital newsgathering operation, part of a move to save $100 million and signaling new budget cuts for the Tribune.

A mandate to trim costs, along with the closure of the Thunderdome Project, were announced Wednesday as part of Digital First Media's "Project Catalyst," aimed at saving money throughout the company.

Thunderdome, introduced in March 2011, brought together a hub of journalists focused on national news gathering for Digital First Media outlets to allow individual organizations to focus on local coverage. On its website, Thunderdome is explained as "central to Digital First Media’s future and will fuel the company's growth."

Terry Orme, Tribune editor and publisher, said Wednesday the Tribune will likely attempt to navigate an estimated 10 percent budget cut by reducing syndication and newsprint costs, and if necessary, by cutting staff.

"You cut in the places where there are expenses to cut," Orme said. "The last place you ever want to go is to people. You do that through attrition and not filling positions, which newspapers have been living with for quite some time now, and layoffs. Hopefully we'll be able to minimize that as much as possible."

Orme acknowledged that layoffs may be necessary for the Tribune, whose parent company, Denver-based MediaNews Group, is managed by Digital First Media. The Tribune went through a 20-percent staff cut and management consolidation in September, after laying off nine newsroom members in May.

The Park Record, published twice weekly in Park City, is also a DFM paper.

Even with the loss of Thunderdome, visitors to sltrib.com likely won't notice a difference, Orme said.

"We didn't run a lot of (Thunderdome content), and quite frankly it wasn't a big traffic generator for us. It wasn't a big draw for our readers," Orme said.

Nevertheless, Orme offered sympathy for the nearly 50 Thunderdome staffers who found themselves out of work Wednesday, and Digital First Media editor-in-chief Jim Brady, who is leaving the company.

For the Tribune, plans to cut costs are currently in "discussion phases" and will be implemented at the latest by July 1, the beginning of Digital First Media's fiscal year.

"It might happen more quickly than that," Orme said.

Some media analysts, including Ken Doctor of the Neiman Journalism Lab, speculated DFM's announcement could signal waning interest by Alden Global Capital, a privately owned hedge fund and majority owner in Digital First Media, and impending newspaper sales.

"They're not yet on the market, but expect regional auctions of DFM properties (with clusters around the Los Angeles area, the Bay Area, New England, Philadelphia, and Texas) — unless Alden can find a single buyer, which is unlikely," Doctor wrote Wednesday.

The Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune share a joint operating agreement, which was established in 1952 by the two daily newspapers to share expenses for publishing, advertising and circulation. The agreement was revised in October, preserving the editorial independence of both publications but expanding the overall investment by the Deseret News in the printing facilities and infrastructure.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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