Teri Orr: All the news about the news…
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
~ Thomas Jefferson
When I moved to Park City in 1979 there were about 1,800 residents … and two local newspapers — The Park Record and The Newspaper. There were two literary magazines — The Silver Vein published as a labor of love by Hank Louis, and Lodestar where Dusty Orrell designed beautiful artistic covers. Utah Holiday magazine was THE publication of the state — a beautiful glossy magazine that took on the Mormon church and lost its largest advertisers like Castleon’s because they printed a piece from Sonia Johnson on why she had been excommunicated from that church. It cost the magazine its very existence.
From Logan to St. George there were dozens of weekly and bi-weekly newspapers that reported on local government and high school football games and reviews of community theater productions.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s The Park Record was the most award-winning weekly paper in the Intermountain West. KPCW was fighting dragons and the Utah Press Association’s annual awards dinner was a hotly contested competition for the best journalists in the state.
The news this week that the Salt Lake Tribune will cease to exist in its current form and reinvent itself as a not-for-profit publication — on its face — seems shocking. The ghosts of Gallivans and Kearns and Ivers must be rattling chains somewhere. Or are they? And shouldn’t we all be applauding the Huntsman family for not folding the money-losing paper but reinventing it and keeping the free press alive here.
I grew up in California where the image of newspapers was the legendary Hearst family — San Simon and Rosebud and Herb Caen. Newsrooms were filled with men and cigarettes — banging on their uprights as they transcribed notes form their long skinny reporter’s notebooks. Like most families we had a morning paper, an evening paper and local paper delivered to our front lawn everyday. My single working mother was lots of things crazy, as a flashy divorcee in the ’50s, but one thing she was … was a reader.
She also was civic-minded and attended city council meetings with some regularity. She was actively involved in her party — the old Republican one of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, our former governor. She licked envelopes and knocked on doors. And she read her papers religiously. And so did our neighbors. We looked to Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather to deliver the news on the television each night at 6. I grew up in a newsy household. So did most of my generation.
In raising children here in the ’80s my kids missed out on lots of big city things but we had the Salt Lake Tribune delivered — everyday. They had no choice about The Park Record — I became a reporter and then editor — so they were breathing the news as it unfolded. We would watch “60 Minutes” together most Sunday nights.
Why does this matter? Ask Hamilton … yep that one — Alexander Hamilton and his contemporaries — it matters because a free and fair press has always been the cornerstone to democracy. Erode that and stand back and watch all the other pieces fall.
Given the current state of the state and the state of paid-for newspapers and journalism in whole — I think the Tribune’s move is a bold creative way to keep the news alive. Remember it was just two years ago the paper won a Pulitzer Prize for its brave reporting on sexual assault victims at Brigham Young University.
In 2013 the Bezos family (Jeff/Amazon all that) purchased the venerable Washington Post and we all held our breath in what we expected would be great meddling. We were wrong. Completely. Bezos knew that without a free press — democracy crumbles. One conjuncture it was a kind of internal value proposition he took. Keep the giant at ground zero of democracy — the nation’s capital — functioning in a healthy Pulitzer Prize-winning way (The Post has won the second most of those prizes right next to the New York Times) and you keep the marauders at the gates.
For the past couple of years journalists and just concerned citizens have been watching the shrinking of the New York Times. Reporters and columnists have had their contracts purchased and they have been quietly sidelined. The Old Gray Lady as the Times is known (it was the last major newspaper to put four color photos on its front page) has won more Pulitzer Prizes — 127 — than any other paper. And since 1880s it has been owned by the Sulzberger family. Rumblings have been afoot perhaps a benevolent owner could step in to save it — save that icon of journalism and therefore democracy. Kinda like Bezos did/is doing with the Post. Maybe a Bill Gates. Maybe a Zuckerberg.
But now we know the Zuckerberg model wouldn’t be a nonprofit, caring, philosophically thoughtful publication. Recent reveals — including the one this week in the New York Times by the man who co-founded Facebook with Zuck, Chris Hughes, is a startling look at genius gone mad. He reveals why it is time to break up Facebook because it has become a monopoly — unregulated — which has lead to controlling the very news we see. And share. Add to your reading Roger McNamee’s new book — “Zucked” — and you have a full picture of what it means to be trapped in an info bubble of your own making. Where domination — a word Zuckerberg uses frequently — seems to have sucked up all the air in the room.
The motto of the old gray lady has long been … All the news that’s fit to print. … Rolling Stone magazine, which launched in wildest of times — the ’60s — adapted that to — all the news that fits. What we have to decide — one by one — is how we want to consume our news and as importantly maybe most importantly who we can trust to deliver our news. Every single day. Like this very Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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I must admit that, although I have felt much love wherever I hung my hat during this life, I never felt more at home in a new cultural environment than on my first trip down that coastline.