Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
A new poll shows Utahns want to see two papers, both the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, reporting on the state.

SALT LAKE CITY — A new poll shows Utahns want both the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune to continue reporting on the state, a position endorsed by leaders of both daily newspapers.

The poll released Monday by BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy showed that 81 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed Utah needs two daily newspapers.

"We are not surprised by the fact that most Utahns see the need for two viable newspapers in Salt Lake City. The Deseret News totally agrees," said Clark Gilbert, chief executive officer of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media. "To that end, we have included provisions in the revised operating agreement protecting the independence of the Salt Lake Tribune and providing free use of the printing presses."

Tim Fitzpatrick, deputy editor of the Tribune, said Monday the poll is "further confirmation that Utahns want to have two newspapers in Salt Lake City, and that is good news for both the Tribune and the Deseret News."

The poll comes a year after the joint operating agreement between the two media companies was revised. Both Gilbert and Digital First Media CEO John Paton have said the agreement is evidence of a committment by both companies to solidify both operations with the growth of digital publishing.

The poll also showed that a large majority of respondents knew only some, little or nothing about the joint operating agreement between the two papers.

The agreement was revised in Oct. 2013 and is currently under review by the Department of Justice and the Utah Attorney General's Office. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they didn't think the DOJ needed to investigate the agreement, a business partnership begun in 1952.

The survey also revealed that if Salt Lake City were to have only one newspaper, 51 percent would prefer the Deseret News while 40 percent would prefer the Tribune. Forty-eight percent of respondents indicated they don't read either paper regularly.

The poll, which was conducted online over a week earlier this month, drew from a pool of Utahns who voted between 2004 and 2012. Pollsters reported a margin of error of 3.42 percent, though a “design effect” multiplier made the margin of error slightly higher, according to the survey’s methodology.

Respondents were split in their answers about whether they see bias in the two newspapers. Forty-one percent said they believe both papers are biased, while 24 percent reported bias in the Deseret News and 21 percent called the Tribune biased.

When it comes to coverage of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 74 percent of respondents said they believe the Deseret News reports fairly on the church, while 42 percent said the Salt Lake Tribune is fair. Deseret Managment Corp. is owned by the LDS Church in Salt Lake City; MediaNews Group is owned by New York-based hedge fund, Alden Global Capital.

Fitzpatrick praised the findings that 62 percent polled said The Salt Lake Tribune performs the press' role as a watchdog.

"Survey respondents also said they look to the Tribune to perform the press' watchdog role, and we will do our best to maintain Utahns' confidence in us," he said.

Only 40 percent believe the Deseret News acts as a watchdog.

Gilbert reiterated the role of the paper as a watchdog not just for institutions, but also for the family:

"The journalist community nationwide has rightly upheld the traditional role of watchdog journalism, but that effort is often not equally applied across issues," Gilbert said. "The Deseret News often asks other news leaders across the country: 'Who is the watchdog for the family? Who is the watchdog for religious liberty?' The growth and success of the Deseret News is in part related to the fact that we continue to play a key role in these critical issues."

While opponents to the transaction between the two papers argue that the deal hurts the Tribune, the owners of the Tribune have stated that the deal allowed them to pay down debt and invest in their digital future.

In recent months, DeseretNews.com, with its associated websites and apps, set a new all-time high mark of 54.3 million combined page views in September, a 52.8 percent year-over-year growth.

DeseretNews.com is Utah’s largest newspaper website and has consistently been a top 30 newspaper website nationwide, according to Alexa.com, a Web analytics company that tracks digital audience comparisons.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: McKenzieRomero