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The Salt Lake Tribune's new owner introduced his new editor and unveiled a digital-centered road map Monday for the newspaper's future one focused on dynamic local coverage rendered in a more lively style and delivered on more efficient online and mobile platforms.
Utah businessman Paul Huntsman told a meeting of Tribune staffers that amid dire financial challenges for legacy news outlets, he is seeking to ensure the quality of the Salt Lake City daily's journalism and reporting as well as its integrity.
"We will never, ever capitulate or be beholden to any institution of power here in the community," Huntsman said in his first substantive meeting with the staff as his father, billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr., sat nearby. "We're always going to relish our ability to be independent from any constituency."
Paul Huntsman, now the paper's publisher, debuted his new choice to lead the newsroom, former Tribune multimedia reporter and broadcast personality Jennifer Napier-Pearce. And, in an emotional moment, Huntsman said his dad would be chairman emeritus of The Tribune.
"I'm not exactly sure what that title means," the younger Huntsman said as his eyes filled with tears. "But it's a great honor to have my greatest confidant and my best friend at my side."
Huntsman Sr., who led nearly five years of negotiations for The Tribune purchase, said the paper's main assets are the knowledge, sense of craft and the reputation of its employees.
"You really have terrific, A-plus professional writers and creative people," he said. "We have a great base here."
Napier-Pearce, a 47-year-old journalist who returns to the paper after a short stint at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, stepped into her new role Monday, capping years of ownership upheaval, layoffs and financial uncertainty for Utah's largest newspaper.
She replaces Terry Orme, a 40-year Tribune employee who stepped down as editor July 29.
An award-winning public-radio reporter, anchor and news director, Napier-Pearce began her comments to the paper's 85 reporters, editors and photographers by turning to the Huntsmans and thanking them for buying The Tribune from New York-based Digital First Media in May.
"You put your time, your good name, your money on the line for this institution," she said.
"We care about watchdog journalism. We care about storytelling," Napier-Pearce told a packed meeting at the Tribune's offices. "We know that good stories can change lives and enrich our community in both specific and general ways.
"Thank you for saving this institution," she added. "It is valued. ... We can dream now, which is such a gift."
Several longtime staffers were upbeat about the paper's direction after the morning meeting.
"It was very encouraging to see Jennifer's enthusiasm and optimism about the future," said veteran political reporter and editor Dan Harrie. "She had a lot of praise for the staff, but said that she hopes we can embrace the change that we're going to have to go through to ensure the paper's future."
Paul Huntsman, younger brother of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., said that while the family bought the financially troubled paper primarily to preserve its independent voice for Utahns, he hoped to bring it to full profitability "eventually."
Huntsman and Napier-Pearce said they aim to capitalize on The Tribune's strengths, namely coverage of Utah politics, culture, sports, outdoor recreation, environmental and land-use issues and what Huntsman called "our unique religious dynamic." They also want expanded business and technology reporting.
Huntsman said he is working to restore print space and news pages lost to prior budget cuts and negotiate a better deal with The Tribune's longstanding joint-operating partner, the LDS Church-owned Deseret News.
The two papers maintain a 64-year-old business partnership through a third company, Utah Media Services, which handles print advertising, circulation and production of the rival dailies.
Digital innovation and improvements to The Tribune's website and mobile applications will be top priorities, Huntsman and Napier-Pearce said. Huntsman also said he envisioned more coordination among the newsroom, the ad-sales staff at Utah Digital Services and Utah Media Services.
The Tribune will launch initiatives to revamp its social-media strategies, boost community engagement and improve intra-staff communication and transparency, Napier-Pearce said.
And after ensuring digital platforms are capable of efficiently serving news and other content to a growing audience of young readers, Huntsman said, the paper will consider a pay wall to charge digital readers for access.
"Ultimately, newspapers are all going to have to move in that direction if they're going to survive long term," Huntsman said. "I don't know if it's 12 months away or three years away, but that's something we need to keep in the back of our minds."