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Salt Lake Tribune lays off 38 percent of newsroom staff

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FILE – The Salt Lake Tribune Monday announced cuts to over one-third of its newsroom staff. The layoffs included 14 reporters, seven editors, five support staffers, three photographers, two web producers, two columnists and one graphic artist.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Tribune cut more than one-third of its newsroom staff on Monday.

Venerable names like columnists Paul Rolly and Michelle Quist, along with veteran reporters Ellen Fagg Weist, Chris Smart, Mike Gorrell and Bob Mims were among 34 of 90 staff members who were let go or took retirement, according to the newspaper.

The layoffs included 14 reporters, seven editors, five support staffers, three photographers, two web producers, two columnists and one graphic artist.

"After almost 35 years at the Salt Lake Tribune, I got an email this morning telling me my services were no longer needed and my position was being eliminated. … It’s not a shock — we knew things were bad — but I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around it," Gorell posted on his Facebook page Monday. "I walked into the Green Sheet Newspaper/Murray Eagle right about 44 years ago now and have known since then I was meant to be a newspaperman. It’s been a great career that I’m sad to leave."

The layoffs come six days after Tribune owner and publisher Paul Huntsman told newsroom staff about "impending changes and financial difficulties" facing the paper.

At the time, he told employees that in the two years since he acquired the paper, advertising revenues had fallen 40 percent as daily and weekend print circulation has declined, adding that he had personally covered losses for eight months after investing over $1 million to upgrade the paper’s online and digital production capabilities.

In addition to the newsroom layoffs, the paper plans to eliminate its Utah news sections on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, having already eliminated its Monday version of the local news section, its website states.

“Laying off talented and dedicated colleagues has been flat-out excruciating and represents a tremendous loss not only for this newsroom but also for our entire community,” Editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce wrote in the paper’s website. “With fewer numbers, we simply can’t be all things to all people or do things the way we used to. But losing a trusted news source, a Pulitzer Prize-winning independent voice in Utah, is absolutely not an option. Those of us who remain will continue to provide the high-quality journalism you’ve come to expect from the Tribune.”

Describing the layoffs as “horrible,” she said the "cuts are to the bone” and reiterated those leaving would receive severance and buyouts of unused vacation.

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For Mims, besides losing a job he loved, he worries that "without a vibrant, independent press, our Republic is in peril. This is true for Utah, and more generally for our nation."

He also lamented the loss of institutional knowledge of so many veteran journalists but said there is hope for the future.

"It could be a deficit initially, but those who remain are bright, dedicated and motivated people," he said. "They are willing to learn, and they will."

Regarding the impact of the Tribune’s decisions on local news journalism, he was a bit less hopeful.

"As with the Deseret News, Standard-Examiner and other news organizations gutted by a changing industry, it will suffer, but I hope only temporarily," Mims said. "We are in the midst of a revolution in how we are informed; technology has outstripped an institution we took for granted. We will find answers; the alternative is unthinkable."

The Ogden Standard-Examiner announced similar layoffs last week as the newspaper let go 29 employees as it undergoes a transfer to new ownership. The northern Utah newspaper reports that the employees were told Thursday their positions weren’t included in the sale by Sandusky Newspaper Group to West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers.

Among the terminated employees are five newsroom staff, 10 people from the circulation and customer service team, seven packagers, four salespeople and the publisher. Five other unfilled positions were also eliminated from the advertising and editorial departments.

The departures account for roughly 19 percent of the newspaper’s staff. Ogden Newspapers own publications in at least 16 states. The sale is expected to close Sunday.

The Deseret News reduced its workforce by 43 percent in 2010.

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