Private Eye | You Still Got Seats! But we still don't have a decent daily newspaper. 

Last time we met, I went on and on about giving away City Weekly’s season tickets for Runnin’ Ute basketball. I won’t make that mistake again this week (I’ll make other ones instead). Still, I have to note that the giveaway went only so-so. There were fewer people responding than there were available tickets, so there’s still time to send me an e-mail. Just ask for the tickets, and I’ll send them to you. That simple. Until they run out, that is. n

I got about 15 times the response when I gave away the BYU football tickets. Only three things can explain that. 1. BYU fans are cheaper than Ute fans; they’ll take anything that’s free except advice. 2. Ute fans only care about Ute football (when they win) and Lady Ute gymnastics, and will not return to the Huntsman Center unless Mike Newlin, Andre Miller, Pace Mannion, Wat Misaka and Ticky Burden also return. 3. In just three short months, I’ve finally succeeded in offending enough readers with my bad manners and even worse writing skills that an insufficient number remain to even claim free tickets in the first place.

No matter. The same Christmas spirit of generosity and giving will extend until the tickets are all gone. I’m only generous twice a year, so I hope a few folks take advantage of that. I used to be generous damned near every day of my life, but things have changed. It’s changed so much that I even wonder if we’ll be able to spend any money on our friends over at The Salt Lake Tribune this year. A couple of years ago, we held a deluxe Christmas party for them because their boss, Dean Singleton, only bought them Costco sandwiches and bottled water for their own office Christmas party. We felt so bad that we laid out a nightclub spread of free food and drink for the 20 or so people who came. They all told us what a cheap [insert expletive deleted here] Singleton is—and that was before they started drinking.

We never got around to the party last year, but we did sponsor a minor holiday shindig of beers and nachos on the City Weekly dime to which Tribune employees were invited. Fewer than five joined us, much to the delight of City Weekly publisher Jim Rizzi, who has to pay the bills. I think the invitation was extended to Deseret News staffers, too, but none showed up. Such invites are informal and come via this column. Many people didn’t attend because they didn’t want to be seen with me, which makes perfect sense. But, maybe people weren’t reading even then and missed the invite. Hmmmm … my exit strategy has arrived!

I finally have a clear picture of how to get out of this business—just die on the vine. For years, I thought that someday City Weekly would be worth enough to retire on, and I could sell out. I never sold—despite all the false rumors I started—because if I did, then people would accuse me of selling out. Which they do, anyway. Meanwhile, newspaper valuations, which were soaring just a couple years ago, have tanked. Just like my IRA, my 25-year investment in the newspaper business is currently as solid as a character endorsement from Sen. Orrin Hatch. I’m not crying about it, but if you catch my drift, what it means is that we might not even be able to afford beer for the Tribune and Deseret News staffs this year. Well, maybe the beer, but not the nachos.

Such is the current state of affairs in the newspaper business. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver may cease publication. The New York Times just borrowed nearly a quarter billion dollars against its own building. The Tribune Corporation (publisher of The Chicago Tribune and three alternative newspapers like this one) has filed for bankruptcy protection. I keep waiting to hear of a similar fate for Singleton’s heavily debt-leveraged MediaNews. Actually, I pray for such news, but so far, I haven’t heard back from Zeus, Apollo or Hermes. That’s possibly because they didn’t have newspapers back in their day, but, whatever.

On the other hand, maybe Zeus and friends are giving Salt Lake City back exactly what it asks for (market penetration of Salt Lake City’s daily newspapers is pathetic to start with, indicating people here, don’t read in the first place). Maybe they figure Salt Lake City doesn’t deserve a decent daily newspaper (not counting the Deseret News which is decent more often—but on fewer subjects—than the Tribune). Maybe they are so pissed at the state of affairs around here, they give us Dean Singleton just to spite us. The rumor on Mount Olympus is that it could have been worse but Hera insisted Nancy Conway (who never says a peep) become the Tribune editor, not the equally qualified Nancy Sinatra, who had similarly been under the radar since “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” fell off the charts in 1966.

Even if it could have been worse, it’s bad enough. These are not the halcyon days of Utah print journalism. Just so you know, we’re not really in bad financial shape over here. It’s mostly the dailies that have it bad. If they reported on themselves the same as they do the auto industry, they would have seen it coming. But they were too busy saving money by firing staff while finding ways to make money via their distribution networks (hello Sunday inserts), instead of creating papers people read. Plus, they don’t do gimmicks like ticket giveaways. Next year, we raise the ante—beers for everyone to celebrate our first 25 years. So, keep reading, beer nuts.

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