Mormon journalism pays off

Deseret News — Once upon a time the Deseret News, the Church-owned newspaper in Salt Lake City, carried on a highly entertaining feud with the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune. In these calmer days, the Tribune and the News share the same adverstising office, cooperate on the Sunday edition, and never exchange so much as a snide word. Oddly enough, however, Mormons still get some small rebellious satisfaction out of subscribing to the Tribune, and non-Mormons regard the Church paper with suspicion.

— Orson Scott Card, Saintspeak: A Mormon Dictionary (Orion Books, 1981)

There was an interesting article by Paul Beebe in yesterday’s Salt Lake Tribune about the travails of the Tribune and the Deseret News in today’s tough market for newspapers. However, Beebe buried the real lede, and quite possibly deliberately.

You see, Joe Cannon at the Deseret News has adopted a concious approach to increase LDS coverage and utility to LDS readers, both in the print edition and online, since “research going back a decade shows little interest in the newspaper among non-Mormons” (as per Card’s quip above). Beebe focuses a lot on the internal controvery at the News over the decision, including staff protests and even some demotions:

Last month, 10 News reporters removed their names from stories they had written for the Feb. 23 paper to protest Editor Joe Cannon’s strategy to make the LDS Church-owned paper more pleasing to Mormons — and more profitable. Cannon sees the strategy as a way to allow two daily papers to remain viable in a market of Salt Lake City’s size.

The reporters were also protesting the demotion of two editors who objected to the paper’s drift.

What Beebe later acknowledges — though you have to get halfway through the article to find it out — is that:

Cannon’s strategy appears to be working. Paid circulation increased 2.1 percent in the six months ending Sept. 30. The News was one of a few big-city papers to add readers during the period, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures.

If you have been following newspaper journalism at all for the past few years, you’d know how remarkable that is. I’d be interested to find out what other “big-city papers” have increased in circulation during the last six months; most of the focus these days are on the ones that have already closed up shop (like my town’s own Rocky Mountain News) or are likely to do so soon. So the fact that the News increased its circulation, in a city as relatively small as Salt Lake and with another competing daily newspaper, is major journalistic news indeed.

Oh, and the Tribute, like most other newspapers around the country, lost circulation during the same period:

The larger Salt Lake Tribune is coping with circulation and advertising declines of its own. Paid readership dropped 5 percent in the six-month period, according to ABC. So far this year, revenue for both papers is down 20 percent.

Although the circulation losses are blamed on a cost-saving move to pull Tribunes from numerous hotels in Utah, editors see them as additional confirmation that the newspaper must branch into new areas if it is to keep its leading role.

So the question is: will Salt Lake City be a one-paper town (as Denver now is) in a few more years?  ..bruce..

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