Surprise! New York Times profiles Paul Huntsman, owner of Salt Lake Tribune, and religion is key

Today’s Daily Religion Headlines email from the Pew Research Center features abortion stories from the New York Times and The Associated Press.

There’s a Washington Post story on the House passing a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a Chicago Tribune story on police boosting their presence at Jewish schools and synagogues after Molotov cocktails were found and a Dallas Morning News story on parishioner reactions to authorities’ recent raid of Dallas Catholic Diocese offices as part of a sexual abuse investigation.

And there are a handful of other headlines with rather obvious religious angles.

But then there’s this one:

Can Paul Huntsman save The Salt Lake Tribune?

Wait, what!? Why exactly is that a religion story?

Well, first of all, Salt Lake City is in Utah. Isn’t every story there a religion story? (I kid. I kid. Mostly.)

But seriously, this is a story that couldn’t be told — or at least couldn’t be told well — without recognizing the crucial religion angle.

Give the New York Times credit for hitting that angle immediately:

SALT LAKE CITY — Life was tranquil for Paul Huntsman, a scion of a rich and powerful Utah family, before he got into the news business.

He spent his workdays managing much of the Huntsman family’s considerable portfolio at the Huntsman building on Huntsman Way. Sundays meant services at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel with his wife, Cheryl Wirthlin Huntsman, and their eight children. There were also skiing excursions to Deer Valley and hiking trips to Snowbird, and the parents were regulars at their children’s ballet performances, cheerleading banquets and lacrosse games.

Then Mr. Huntsman, a son of the billionaire industrialist Jon M. Huntsman Sr., bought The Salt Lake Tribune.

The news peg for the story is Huntsman’s effort to save the Tribune by turning it into a nonprofit entity. I won’t attempt to summarize all those details but will instead urge you to read the Times’ story. On social media, I noticed both positive and negative appraisals of the piece from insiders.

But as far as holy ghosts, I was pleased to see that the Times — again and again — comes back to the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both in Huntsman’s life and in the Tribune’s journalistic role in Utah.

This is crucial material:

Welcome to Journalism

A registered Republican, Mr. Huntsman has refused to go along with loyalists who have embraced or tacitly endorsed President Trump’s anti-press rhetoric.

“To undermine the press is, to me, no different than undermining our houses of worship,” he said during an interview in his father’s old office. “The Mormon Church is a huge and influential institution here, but if we were to accuse the leaders of being, quote-unquote, ‘fake leaders,’ and say all the members were the enemy of the people, politicians would be outraged, and rightfully so. It infuriates me that we don’t have the same amount of outrage when freedom of the press is under attack.”

His faith can also make life tricky, now that he is running a paper that keeps a close watch on the Mormon Church in a state where it holds significant power.

Keep reading, and the story makes clear that Huntsman’s first major decision allowed him to demonstrate his commitment to quality journalism (in a story critical of Brigham Young University) — journalism that won the Tribune a Pulitzer Prize:

“In the back of my mind I thought, ‘Is this just going to be another example of The Tribune going against the church?’” he said. “In my heart, I knew this was in the best interest of the students.”

Left unexplored is what Huntsman meant by “another example of The Tribune going against the church.” I’m curious: Has he had problems with any of the newspaper’s coverage of his church? That would be interesting to know.

Later in the piece, veteran religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack makes a cameo:

Mr. Huntsman said covering the church is personally important to him. “I have daughters, and if they want to go serve a mission, these are things I want to know,” he said.

The religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack said her boss has not backed down in his dealings with the church. When its representatives have called to complain about her stories, she said, “he seems to actually enjoy that.”

Overall, it’s good stuff.

I will say that after reading it all, I’m not certain I have a real good feel for the role that faith actually plays in Huntsman’s life, his business dealings and his approach to journalism. The Times certainly doesn’t ignore the religion angle, but I’m not certain the story really moves beyond the shallow end of the swimming pool, as far as the God angle. For example, there are three or four references to Huntsman’s large immediate and extended families. It would be interesting to learn more about that and how his faith influences that.

But at this point, I’m probably nitpicking.

This story certainly could be better, but it’s pretty good already.

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