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The new owner of The Salt Lake Tribune has turned to a familiar face to become the paper's next editor.
Jennifer Napier-Pearce The Tribune's former multimedia specialist who recently left the state's largest daily for a job at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah has been hired for the position.
She replaces Terry Orme, who announced his departure in an email to the staff early Friday.
In a news release on the change, owner and Publisher Paul Huntsman said he is "delighted" to see Napier-Pearce return to The Tribune.
"Jennifer brings a wealth of experience in journalism and an extensive understanding of the digital opportunities associated with how news is distributed to our readers," he said. " ... While I seek a more digitally focused Tribune with an editor who understands and assumes responsibility for that crucial lifeline to The Tribune's future, there always will be a significant journalistic role for Terry at The Tribune should he want it."
Napier-Pearce worked as news director and reporter at KUER 90.1 FM and KCPW 88.3 FM, and joined The Tribune staff in 2013. There, she created Trib Talk, an online video interview show, and "Behind the Headlines," a prize-winning weekly news roundtable that airs Friday mornings on KCPW and Utah Public Radio. She also launched Trib Talk Live, community forums in which important Utah issues are debated.
She has earned numerous journalism awards for print, radio and multimedia work. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Utah and a master's degree from Stanford University.
Napier-Pearce, whose husband, John Pearce, is a Utah Supreme Court justice, said she made the decision to accept the position earlier this week and is excited to build on The Tribune's legacy and strength.
"This is such a tremendous honor to rejoin an institution that I love with all my heart," she said in an interview. "I owe a debt to Terry and think he is the consummate professional and mentor."
Napier-Pearce will become the newspaper's second female editor. Nancy Conway, who led the newsroom for a decade, retired in September 2013.
Deputy Editor Tim Fitzpatrick will serve as interim editor until Sept. 1. He also will continue as editorial page editor.
During a Tribune staff meeting Friday morning, Fitzpatrick remarked on the "roller coaster" the paper has experienced through recent ownership and structural changes. He told reporters and editors that the paper would survive and prosper.
"We will do what we need to do," he said. "Journalism in Utah still needs us."
Current and former Tribune staffers expressed their admiration for Orme's tenure and optimism for Napier-Pearce's selection.
Tribune government editor Dan Harrie said it is comforting that the paper's next leader is not a newsroom outsider.
"Terry has been sort of the rock of The Tribune through so many storms that it's tough to imagine the future without him," he said. "At the same time, Jennifer has got tremendous respect and a lot of friends in this newsroom."
Food writer Kathy Stephenson, who joined The Tribune in 1982, described the announcement as "bittersweet."
"I adore Terry and, like me, he has given years and years of his life to The Tribune."
Joan O'Brien, a former Tribune staffer who led a group challenging the controversial restructuring of a business partnership between the paper and the Deseret News, said she was surprised and "a little distressed" by Orme's departure.
"We just absolutely think Terry is heroic," she said. "I've known him almost as long as he's worked at the paper. I just can't imagine The Tribune without him."
Her group, Citizens for Two Voices, met with Huntsman in the days leading up to and after his purchase of the paper from Digital First Media. She said those conversations focused on The Tribune's financial future rather than specific staffing decisions.
"The guy owns the thing," she said. "It's not surprising he's making his changes."
While sad that Orme no longer is editor, O'Brien said, Napier-Pearce is "a brilliant choice" to succeed him. "She's going to be an amazing editor in a difficult time for newspapers."
Orme, who supported Huntsman's purchase of the paper, had a long and distinguished tenure at The Tribune, spanning four decades and including roles as a reporter, film critic, arts and entertainment editor and managing editor.
"Throughout his career, Terry stepped up and performed ably and admirably," said Huntsman, who bought the paper in May. "Most recently, he led The Tribune through grueling times of bleak finances and staff layoffs. He is a highly competent professional of impeccable integrity, decency and commitment to independent news coverage in Utah qualities synonymous with The Salt Lake Tribune."
Orme said he respects and accepts Huntsman's decision to replace him.
"I have walked through a door marked The Salt Lake Tribune most days for most of the last four decades. Today is the last one," Orme said in the news release. "I have tremendous admiration and affection for each and every member of The Tribune staff. The last three years have been tough, but I am extremely proud of the excellent journalism we produced."
In his email to staffers, Orme said he "never aspired to be editor and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune. I took the job because I was asked, and I did my very best. I have not regretted it for a moment."
Fitzpatrick said he first introduced himself to Orme in 1977, when both worked as copy clerks. At the time, Fitzpatrick recalled, Orme was an English major "fresh from liberal arts college" who frequently spoke of James Joyce and other works.
"This is huge," Fitzpatrick said of the paper's change in leadership. "It was a very rewarding relationship for almost 40 years."
Before it was sold to Huntsman, The Tribune was pursued by a group of potential buyers, including Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City.
On Friday, Dabakis said the selection of Napier-Pearce by Huntsman, both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, could help bridge Utah's cultural tensions.
He didn't expect the religion of the paper's owner and top editor to affect news coverage, but he added that loyal readers will be watchful for signs of outside influence.
"As a wave of friendly caution," he said, "if the tone of the newspaper and the objectivity and the credibility of the newspaper start to suffer, people will notice and they will just stop subscribing."
He also said Napier-Pearce is universally respected and that her multimedia skills put her in a position to make The Tribune competitive.
"I don't know of a soul that doesn't love Jennifer Napier-Pearce," he said. "She is bubbly but she also has a mind like a steel trap."
Ken Doctor, a media analyst for Newsonomics, noted it is not uncommon for media ownership changes to coincide with shifts in staffing.
"It's important to have the kind of leadership who is energetic," he said, "and ready for the future."
Doctor said the digital transformation of media continues to be a challenge for traditional news outlets. The ones that have handled that shift best, he said, are those that embrace the function of convening their communities as Napier-Pearce did with her Trib Talk program and live events.
"Given that experience and what she's done on the radio," he added, "I think that's a great attribute to bring to this."
Roger McDonough, a KCPW producer and host who moderates "Behind the Headlines," said he looks forward to the station's partnership with The Tribune continuing, and to working with Napier-Pearce in her new role.
"All of us here at the station have never been shy with our praise for Jennifer," he said. "She is a dedicated journalist and she's got a deep passion for the work that she does."