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Staff Cuts Signal Perilous Future For Two Mountain West Newspapers

Taner Pasamemetoglu

Two of the largest regional newspapers in the Mountain West are facing layoffs. It’s the latest in a years-long trend of dropping circulation and ad revenues.

The last decade hasn’t been easy for newspapers. That’s especially true for the Salt Lake Tribune and the Denver Post, both of which recently announced staff cutbacks.

It’s been particularly hard for these two papers to catch up, said author and media analyst Ken Doctor.

“The losses in print advertising have actually deepened over the last couple of years even though they’ve been going down for literally ten years now,” he said.

These days, spending on digital advertising accounts for more than what’s spent on TV and print ads, so why aren’t news websites cashing in?

There’s a “huge amount of money in digital advertising, but 65-70 percent of all of those dollars go to Google and Facebook,” Doctor said.

Salt Lake Tribune owner Paul Huntsman told employees earlier this week to expect layoffs and possible cuts to its print edition. Those announcements are expected to come within the next week.

Earlier this year the Tribune, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017, put up a pay wall. And while the paper reports that online subscription numbers have generally exceeded expectations, so far it hasn’t been enough to offset costs.

Doctor said it didn’t help that the Tribune was late to the pay wall game. The strategy first became popular around 2012 and has proven wildly successful for national publications like The New York Times and Washington Post. Smaller metro papers have had less success, but pay walls have still helped cushion revenue losses.

“And of course, digital subscriptions play to another part of the population” and an untapped source of revenue, Doctor said. “It applies to people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who never developed a print habit.”

“It’s a good move. I hope it’s not too little, too late” for the Salt Lake Tribune, he said.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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