SALT LAKE CITY — Careful readers of the Salt Lake Tribune may notice something missing from the paper’s op-ed section starting this week: columnists from the New York Times.
According to deputy editor and editorial page editor Tim Fitzpatrick, the Salt Lake Tribune would run about three pieces from the name-brand New York Times columnists each week. That content, however, came at a cost of more than $40,000 per year in a deal with the New York Times News Service.
If there’s one thing that the Salt Lake Tribune doesn’t have in excess these days, it’s cash. The newspaper has been hamstrung by a joint operation agreement with the Deseret News. That agreement was renegotiated last year by the Tribune’s owners, and it now receives just 30 percent of the papers’ combined profits from print advertising and circulation; prior to the renegotiation, it received 58 percent of that pool. That arrangement is the target of a lawsuit filed early this month as well as a Justice Department inquiry.
“Everything is very tight,” says Fitzpatrick, who started working at the Tribune in 1976 as a copy boy. One of his jobs was to trim the wires, including the New York Times stuff. Just today, Fitzpatrick says, he had a call with the New York Times News Service explaining his decision to bag the feed. “We will not be able to put Paul Krugman on our op-ed page anymore; we won’t be able to put Gail Collins on our op-ed page anymore,” says Fitzpatrick, noting that the Times service is still trying to keep the Tribune’s business.
As with all agonizing decisions in the world of newspaper shrinkage, this one came after consideration of a tradeoff. It came down to keeping the New York Times News Service or keeping a local news staffer. “It’s a decision I respect because local is more important,” says Fitzpatrick, who notes that original reporting on local news fetches more page views than, say, a Krugman column hosted on the New York Times sites and elsewhere.
The Tribune, says Fitzpatrick, used the New York Times News Service primarily for the columnists, less for general news stories. “God bless ’em, they need 20 inches just to get rolling,” says Fitzpatrick.
Over the past couple of years, the Salt Lake Tribune has lost about a third of its editorial staff and this past spring cut its Faith section.