Deseret News reporters yank their names from stories

Media » Dispute is over personnel changes, editorial direction of the newspaper
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Nine Deseret News reporters and an intern removed their names from stories they'd written Tuesday to protest the demotion of two editors and policies they believe are reshaping the paper into a specialized publication catering only to Mormons.

The action came after editor Joe Cannon and managing editor Rick Hall announced Chuck Gates, deputy managing editor, would become a special writer and Julianne Basinger, business editor, would become a copy editor.

Gates and Basinger reportedly are critics of the LDS Church-owned paper's increasing embrace of topics thought to please its mostly LDS readership. Cannon has said the strategy makes financial sense at a time when most U.S. papers are struggling. The News and The Salt Lake Tribune , which is owned by MediaNews Group, are partners in a joint operating venture that sells advertising for, prints and distributes both papers.

Cannon and Hall also announced Tad Walch, a Utah County reporter, would become city editor. All changes were effective immediately.

Gates did not return calls seeking comment. Basinger declined to discuss her reassignment.

Most of the reporters who pulled their names cover state government and politics. They were Lee Davidson, Bob Bernick, Lisa Riley Roche, Art Raymond, Amy Joi O'Donohue, Wendy Leonard and James Thalman. Police reporters Ben Winslow and Pat Reavy and legislative intern David Servatius also took part.

The boycott was meant "as a show of support for Chuck and Julianne, and also a protest about how the decision was made and also the fact that the decision was made," said Josh Loftin, state government editor and grandson of Glen Snarr, former chairman of the News .

Loftin said he suggested to his reporters that they withhold their bylines. He said he informed Hall, who did not object.

"If they want to express themselves that way, they certainly can," Hall said.

He said no one who took part will be punished. He said he did not know whether the paper has a policy that forbids reporters from removing their names from stories.

Cannon has been controversial since he was named editor of the News in December 2006. An attorney, lobbyist and former head of the Utah Republican Party, he had no journalism experience before assuming the top editorial job at Utah's second-largest paper.