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The Salt Lake Tribune cut eight newsroom jobs Thursday, eliminated its Faith section and announced plans to drop other key print features as part of cost reductions ordered by the newspaper's New York-based corporate owner.
Managers laid off one part-time and seven full-time employees after an all-staff meeting with Tribune Editor and Publisher Terry Orme, who noted the newspaper chain Digital First Media had sought a 10 percent budget cut to bring expenses closer in line with revenues.
"We have good people in every position and a great staff," Orme said. "Making decisions like this is agonizing because there are no good decisions. Nobody in this room deserves this."
The layoffs one each from the news, sports, editorial, photo, copy editing, page design, IT support and administrative departments come after the paper lost four other newsroom positions through attrition in the past six weeks and let 19 staffers go in September.
Workers laid off Thursday will receive severance payments.
Utah's largest newspaper plans to publish its last stand-alone Faith section this Saturday.
Ensuing weeks may bring smaller Tribune offerings of outdoors and business coverage, as well as weather data, comics, TV schedules and puzzles. Decisions on exactly what content gets trimmed will follow staff discussions and input from the public, Orme said.
But the coming weeks will also see a major overhaul of The Tribune's website, with improved visual appeal, easier navigation, more interactivity and multimedia along with upgraded compatibility for mobile devices in what Orme described as a continued push to build online audiences.
The Tribune's Faith section has drawn national acclaim since its 1992 debut, raising the profile of coverage on Utah's dominant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a wealth of other spiritual traditions in the state.
Award-winning religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack retains her job, and her stories will continue to appear prominently on news pages and at sltrib.com. Saturday's column by Robert Kirby will also find a new home.
"This is not about backing away from faith, religion and ethics coverage at all," Orme said, noting the large Web following for Tribune stories on those topics. "We want to focus on that and enhance the digital presence of Faith on our website."
Stack said she felt "a profound sense of loss."
"But I understand the economic reality of our industry," she said, "and I trust that the editors and I will be creative and flexible in finding places in the paper to publish stories of faith."
Digital First Media CEO John Paton said all newspapers in the chain of 280 daily and weekly publications faced similar cuts amid the tectonic shifts posed to print publications by new technology.
"We will continue to invest in digital developments while reducing the ongoing legacy cost structure," Paton said Thursday. The same changes, he said, were underway at every newspaper in America.
Last week, Digital First shut down a 52-member project of reporters, analysts and multimedia producers in New York known as Thunderdome, ending an experiment begun in 2011 that centralized production of national news and Web features for other newspapers in the chain.
Despite Thursday's bad news, Orme pointed to The Tribune's strong coverage in recent months of high-profile stories such as the John Swallow affair, same-sex marriage coming to Utah, the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Sundance Film Festival, air pollution and a host of medical issues as evidence of its vital role to Utah readers.
"Even with these changes," he said, "I am confident we will still be playing that role, we'll still evolve and we'll still be a great newsroom."