HEBER CITY — After nearly two years of publication, the weekly Wasatch County Courier has called it quits.

Dan Stephens, founder and publisher of the paper, confirmed Tuesday that the paper's last published issue was June 13.

The often controversial paper, which employed two full-time writers and six stringers and was mailed free to 7,100 households in Wasatch County, raised the ire of county officials as well as residents with its brand of brazen reporting.

Ironically, in its last issue on June 13, the paper downplayed rumors of its demise as "greatly exaggerated" but acknowledged a shaky financial plan.

"The business model we are using just doesn't work in this small market, with or without a controversial content. . . . So we are looking at other ways to make this work. Consider this a work in progress, not the final chapter," the paper's editorial concluded.

Throughout its run, the Courier had its share of staunch supporters.

Its existence launched a small-scale newspaper war against the valley's longtime paid-circulation paper, the Wasatch Wave.

Vic Orvis, a landowner in the county, said the competition raised the quality of both papers.

"Both were at their best," Orvis said, adding that before the Courier, the Wasatch Wave seemed to be stuck in a "go along to get along" mode.

"There are major changes going on in Wasatch County, and they are not being reported," Orvis said, pointing to the county's development plans for Jordanelle Reservoir and a citizen initiative passed by voters last November that he claims is being stalled by county officials. The initiative changed Wasatch County's three-member commission form of government to a seven-member council.

Laurie Wynn, managing editor of the Wave, said the Courier's existence helped her publication improve.

"Our writers had a lot of wake-up calls, and it allowed us to take a look at our operation, streamline it and make it even better," she said. "You never like to see any business fail, but they brought a lot of it on themselves."

Derek Jensen, managing editor of the Courier, said his time at the paper was a terrific experience.

"There are a lot of problems and issues up there that people don't know about," he said. "We did our best to bring those to light and at the same time provide an objective and aggressive paper."

The Courier's beginnings can be traced to Stephens' determination to take on what he called a "good old boy network" that saturated local government and which, he said, was not held accountable.

Since its first issue in July 1999, the Courier splashed sensational headlines and biting editorials across its pages, not afraid of calling public officials "lawbreakers" or "incompetent."

Wasatch County Commissioner LaRen Provost, often the subject of Courier criticism, declined to make a comment about the paper.

But Bob Wren, chairman of the Wasatch County Republican Party, said the Courier was a positive influence on the community.

"It made for more competition, and I would be happy to see it come back," he said. "I think their news articles were in general fairly objective. They were definitely trying to present a side of the issue that doesn't come out."

Sam Allen, the Courier's first investigative reporter, said his experience was both rewarding and difficult.

"I'm very sad. The citizens no longer have a choice," Allen said. "Unless there is more than one newspaper in a town, newspapers don't have to be honest. They have a monopoly, and they can report what they choose to."

Adding to the stresses of taking on tough issues, Stephens said he faced a $208,000 net loss after his first nine months of publication.

That prompted him to sell the paper to Michael Kearns, president and chief executive officer of Salt Lake-based Silver King Media Group.

Kearns, who declined to comment on the situation, told the Deseret News earlier this month that newspapers are a tough business but expressed optimism over continuing to produce the Courier.

"I think we will be OK once we hook up with a press," Kearns said.

But two weeks have passed since the paper's last issue.

Despite the break, Stephens hinted that a potential buyer of the paper exists but would not offer any details.


E-MAIL: [email protected]