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Utah businessman Paul Huntsman completes purchase of Salt Lake Tribune

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)


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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah businessman Paul Huntsman completed his purchase of the Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday, returning the paper to local ownership after years of out-of-state leadership in Denver and New York.

Upon closing of the sale, a group of former Tribune staffers and supporters dropped a federal antitrust lawsuit against Digital First Media, the newspaper's previous owner, and the Deseret News.

Also, the Department of Justice ended its investigation into the business arrangement between the two newspapers.

Utah Newspaper Project/Citizens for Two Voices sued Salt Lake City's two daily papers in 2014 over their revised joint operating agreement, arguing it would put the Tribune out of business.

Prior to the sale, Kearns-Tribune LLC and Deseret News Publishing Co. signed an amendment to the agreement increasing the Tribune's profit share to 40 percent and giving the Deseret News 60 percent.

In addition, the amended agreement says the two newspapers have a special relationship that must be honored and preserved. As such, language was simplified in the new agreement to note that the Tribune's ownership could not be changed without prior approval of the Deseret News, "which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld."

A restriction on any sale has been in place in corporate documents since 1952, reiterated in 1982, and incorporated into the joint operating agreement in 2001.

Digital First Media announced the pending sale to Huntsman, the CEO of Huntsman Family Investments and the son of billionaire businessman and philanthropist Jon M. Huntsman Sr., in April. Terms were not disclosed.

Huntsman and Digital First Media declined to comment Tuesday.

In a letter on the Tribune website Tuesday, Huntsman said he took interest in buying the Tribune when the paper found itself neglected by its latest owners and what he described as a financially untenable partnership.

"It is crucial to the civic health of any democracy to have a strong, reliable, independent second opinion," he said.

Kearns-Tribune, via its owner Digital First Media, and the Deseret News renegotiated their decades-old joint operating agreement in October 2013 at the Tribune's request. Digital First Media, based in Denver, is owned by New York-based Alden Global Capital LLC.

The Deseret News became the majority partner in a deal that included the multimillion dollar sale of real estate and printing presses to the Deseret News, and guarantees about the independence of both papers.

Under that agreement, the Deseret News received 70 percent of the revenue while also shouldering 70 percent of the costs associated with the business.The Tribune's ownership received 30 percent.

Digital First Media again approached the Deseret News in early 2015, this time in connection with a possible sale of the Tribune to Huntsman, and asked to buy back part of that percentage.

The Deseret News agreed to do so, and at the same time consented to Huntsman as a buyer, said Deseret News editor and publisher Paul Edwards.

The joint operating agreement has been renegotiated more than four times since its inception in 1952 and addendums have been added as the business interests of both parties have changed and evolved. The partnership, authorized by federal law, prints, distributes and sells advertising for both papers.

Although the participation percentages have changed over the years, the ownership and editorial control of each newspaper has remained separate and independent.

"At no time has either paper influenced the operations, opinions or business decisions of the other," Edwards said.

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Dennis Romboy

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