Publisher says he’s hearing interest in nonprofit turn

FILE- This April 20, 2016, file photo shows the Salt Lake Tribune sign in Salt Lake City. Tribune publisher Paul Huntsman learned earlier this month that the Internal Revenue Service had approved the papers plan to become a public charity, which lets people claim tax deductions for donations to support its journalism. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
FILE- This April 20, 2016, file photo shows the Salt Lake Tribune sign in Salt Lake City. Tribune publisher Paul Huntsman learned earlier this month that the Internal Revenue Service had approved the papers plan to become a public charity, which lets people claim tax deductions for donations to support its journalism. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW YORK, NY – The publisher of the nation’s first daily newspaper to be granted nonprofit status says he’s since heard from a “few dozen” lawyers and news executives curious about whether the Salt Lake Tribune’s approach could work elsewhere.

Tribune publisher Paul Huntsman learned earlier this month that the Internal Revenue Service had approved the paper’s plan to become a public charity, which lets people claim tax deductions for donations to support its journalism.

It’s an intriguing new option for newspaper owners laid low by the industry’s financial struggles, although there’s some question about how widely the idea can spread.

“I’m surprised, quite frankly, that I’m the first one doing this,” Huntsman said. “I’m not a journalist. I saw how broken the model really was. I was wondering, why isn’t there anybody doing something about this, instead of waiting for someone to come in and rescue us?”

Huntsman, son of the wealthy industrialist Jon Huntsman, bought the Tribune in 2016 from the hedge fund that had been operating it. His chief mission was to keep it alive; the Tribune had a staff of 148 people in 2011, and the paper said earlier this month there were now about 60 employees.

He figured he had about five to 10 years to settle on a strategy but quickly learned that was optimistic.

“This was strictly about trying to figure out a pathway to sustainability, rather than figuring out a rate of return,” he said.

The Tribune’s nonprofit status requires Huntsman to transfer ownership to a public board of directors, with protections built in to ensure donations don’t compromise the independence of its journalism. Besides Huntsman negotiating himself out of a job, the paper will no longer be able to endorse candidates in political races.