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Tribune supporters file lawsuit to halt newspaper agreement

Published: Monday, June 16 2014 7:45 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake Tribune.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News Archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — A group that includes former Salt Lake Tribune staff members filed a lawsuit Monday against the owners of the Salt Lake Tribune, Kearns-Tribune, and the Deseret News Publishing Co.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court by the Utah Newspaper Project, or Citizens for Two Voices, argues that a joint operating agreement that was renegotiated by Kearns-Tribune, its owner, Digital First Media and New York-based Alden Global Capital LLC and the Deseret News in October 2013 leaves the Tribune "in imminent danger of ceasing publication."

John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media, said in October the deal "is consistent with our strategy at Digital First Media of focusing on our core competencies of content and sales and is an important step in ensuring the multi-platform future of the Salt Lake Tribune."

The group filing suit asks Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse to find that the agreement is illegal and seeks to halt its implementation.

According to the lawsuit, the Deseret News was approached by the Tribune's corporate owner about renegotiating the terms of the joint operating agreement between the two newspapers.

The joint-operating agreement was first created in 1952 and made the News and Tribune partners that share advertising revenues while keeping the papers' editorial voices separate. It has been amended multiple times.

The lawsuit argues that the latest renegotiated agreement, which makes the Deseret News the dominant partner, is an attempt by the newspaper to create a monopoly in which it is the "sole daily newspaper in the Salt Lake Valley."

Editor Paul Edwards reiterated the Deseret News' position last month:

"The Deseret News is committed to multiple editorial voices in this market. It's demanded by customers and readers in this market, and the new amendments to the joint operating agreement with us and the Salt Lake Tribune preserve that commitment. They actually reflect that commitment."

Edwards noted that the agreement preserves the independence of both newsrooms and offers protections about the frequency of publication and promotion.

"The joint operating agreement as amended provides a huge financial benefit to our partners at the Salt Lake Tribune by giving them rent-free access to the plant and the presses," Edwards said.

The suit takes issue with the sale of assets, namely the printing facilities and real estate, by the Tribune's owner to the Deseret News in exchange for a change in the distribution of shared revenues.

The lawsuit delineates the Tribune's corporate, out-of-state owner from local management and claims the negotiated deal hurts the future viability of the Tribune. It states that the Tribune was profitable prior to the implementation of the new agreement on Jan. 1, but that it is now "hemorrhaging and is no longer self-sustaining."

No financial statements were included with the filing.

The group wants the judge to find that the revised JOA is a violation of interstate trade and various antitrust laws, decree that it is illegal, stop its implementation and award relief to "restore effective competition."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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