Mormon Media Empire Goes More Digital

The New York Times/September 1, 2010

The Deseret News has been around since the days after Brigham Young led the Mormons to Salt Lake City, and the fastest way to spread news was on a machine called the telegraph.

Now Utah's oldest continuously published daily is trying to embrace a 21st-century media model.

Emphasizing just how forward-looking its new strategy is, the paper explained the reorganization (how else, you ask?) in a virtual press conference on Twitter on Tuesday.

The Deseret News has laid out an ambitious plan to enhance its digital coverage and begin using a collection of freelance contributors to supplement its news report.

The News will combine its staff with reporters from KSL, the television station that is also owned by Deseret Media Companies, a for-profit entity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The new combined newsroom will be responsible for breaking news, while a separate staff will be focused more on investigative and longer-form stories.

The freelance system, which will help offset a reduction of the paper's work force by almost half, is similar to what companies like Demand Media have done to provide content in high volume but at a low cost. Deseret Media will call its service Deseret Connect and describes it as "an innovative system to collect writers and editors who will provide high-quality, relevant stories on a regular basis."

Ken Doctor, a media consultant and author of "Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get," said The News' reorganization was a sign that the paper was following the lead of other media companies that are not just tinkering with their business models but eviscerating them.

"The news business is now blowing itself up, claiming radical reinvention, acknowledging that experimentation around the edges won't get the job done," Mr. Doctor wrote in a blog post on the News' plans.

Still, with such deep staff cuts and a combined print-broadcast newsroom, some local media experts in Utah said they wondered whether the paper's coverage, considered among the best in Utah, would inevitably suffer.

"Whether a new converged news product will continue to provide the kind of aggressive news gathering that any city needs to maintain its vitality and keep its public servants honest remains to be seen," said Edward Pease, a professor at Utah State University's journalism department.

The paper said 57 full-time employees and 28 part-time employees would lose their jobs.

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