Utah Attorney General’s Office Investigating Newspaper Agreement

Jun 20, 2014

UPDATE: Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes released a statement since this story aired on Friday, June 20th:

"I believe in the value of diverse editorial viewpoints and independent news-gathering for an informed citizenry, and I asked our antitrust lawyers to investigate the circumstances surrounding the change to the Joint Operating Agreement. We are not trying to duplicate or interfere with the DOJ investigation as it pertains to any area where they have statutory jurisdiction. But, there may be areas of concern outside of or concurrent with that scope, and we have an obligation to look at them more closely."

Deseret News Editor Paul Edwards has also released a statement:

“It is unfortunate that so much misinformation and hyperbole have been shared about the amended joint operating agreement between the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune. As yet, we have not had so much as a simple fact-finding inquiry from the Utah Attorney General’s Office. We are confident that as the attorney general examines the facts more closely, he will recognize that all parties entered into this agreement in good faith. The new agreement preserves our commitment to multiple editorial voices and expands protections for both papers.”

The Utah Attorney General’s office is investigating the new Joint Operating Agreement between the owners of The Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune. Representatives from the group Citizens for Two Voices met with members of the Attorney General’s office Thursday, and the AG’s office confirmed Friday that state antitrust investigators are looking into the agreement. 

The meeting at the Attorney Generals’ Office occurred just three days after the group Citizens for Two Voices filed a federal antitrust lawsuit. The suit alleges that the newspaper agreement violates antitrust law and threatens the future of The Salt Lake Tribune by cutting its revenues in half.

“We’re glad to see the state of Utah looking into this Joint Operating Agreement,” says Karra Porter, an attorney for the citizens group that brought the lawsuit. She met with attorneys in the newly formed Markets and Financial Fraud Division in the state Attorney General’s office. “The state has maybe the most significant interest in making sure that neither of the valleys newspapers is prematurely terminated.”

There is already an ongoing federal Department of Justice investigation, but Porter says the state has different anti-trust laws, and there is a lot the state can do.

“In some cases, the state anti-trust division can move more quickly,” Porter says. “They’re on the ground. They can have face to face contact with people. They understand who the players are, so they can have an effective separate investigation, or sometimes they can even team up with the federal government.”

Spokesperson for the Utah Attorney General’s Office Missy Larsen confirmed that there is an open investigation.