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The Deseret News' top managers and The Salt Lake Tribune's corporate owners are asking a federal judge to reject claims that a new business arrangement between Utah's two largest newspapers violates the law and should be undone.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups has scheduled a July 21 hearing on the lawsuit, filed last month by a nonprofit group called Citizens for Two Voices (also known as the Utah Newspaper Project).

The group of former Tribune employees and readers in the community alleges that changes to a long-standing profit-sharing partnership between the dailies have gravely weakened The Tribune's finances and jeopardize its survival. They've sued the Deseret News Publishing Co., which runs the News on behalf of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Kearns-Tribune, the company through which New York-based Digital First Media operates The Tribune.

The group is asking that amendments to the newspapers' joint-operating agreement (JOA) be halted, including provisions that gave the News control over the two dailies' joint operations and cut in half The Tribune's share of profits, generated jointly from print advertising and circulation.

Two separate investigations into the JOA changes, by the U.S. Justice Department and Utah attorney general's office, also are underway.

In a counter-motion filed late Monday, managers at the News and Digital First Media, which runs The Tribune on behalf of New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital, maintain that the JOA revisions last fall were part of a business strategy to help accelerate The Tribune's conversion to the digital era. Undoing those changes, they assert, threatens The Tribune's future.

The lawsuit, they contend, "is an assault on the right of a business owner to decide what makes the most sense for its business."

The News and Digital First also argue they have a legal right under the Newspaper Preservation Act to alter their dealings however they see fit, short of adding another newspaper to their partnership, without outside interference.

They argue that the Utah Newspaper Project lacks proper legal standing to pursue the case, primarily because its members haven't shown how they are injured by the JOA changes, beyond "hypothetical" and "conjectural" allegations of how they or others in Utah might suffer from losing The Tribune's editorial voice if the paper shut down.

But the group offers no proof, they contend, "that there are any plans to close down The Tribune or that it is likely to cease publishing at any time in the foreseeable future."

Claims that the new JOA is ultimately intended to put The Tribune out of business are baseless, they have contended, saying there are no plans to shut down the paper — "not this week, this month, this year, or ever."