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News & Nostalgia: The Slow Death of the Salt Lake Tribune and Hard Reporting

News & Nostalgia: By Ed Kociela, Guest Writer


I was 15 when I earned my first byline.

There was a small daily newspaper in Southern California that was hyper-local in coverage, as they like to say in today’s media world, and I had pretty much set my course in life when I started high school, with the desire to be a newspaperman.

Of course, you had to take journalism classes to become a news person, even though to this day I hate, no, make that, passionately loathe the term journalist. I mean anybody who keeps a diary, which is really nothing more than a journal, is a journalist. Reporters? They are something different, something special.

At least they used to be.

So, I’ve been at it, stringing words together, for a long, long time now, beginning in the days when we banged out stories on old Underwood manual typewriters on lengths of yellow paper torn from rolls that we used to collect the news on from our wire service teletype machines.

We had cut and paste back then, only instead of punching a few keystrokes on a laptop, we cut off sections of that yellow paper using a pica pole as our straightedge guide, and pasted them together in proper order, dipping freely into the rubber cement bottles that were a staple of yesterday’s news rooms, to piece the thing together.

Linotype machine, photo courtesy of wikipedia

Linotype machine, photo courtesy of wikipedia

We would then take our copy back to some cranky guy who sat at a Linotype machine. Usually, at least one of the typesetters had a cigar going to mask the smell of the hot lead as it passed through the machine. He’d set the type, put it in a galley tray, ink it up and roll out a proof for us to read. Of course, these guys were so good, so experienced, that they could read our stories backwards and upside down in the trays as fast as we could on the proof sheet.

Then we went to press. There is still something magical about hearing a newspaper press as it rolls and hums, almost like a sacred hymn echoing in a candle-lit cathedral on Christmas Eve.

Most of the good ones I’ve known in the news business tell a similar story, at least the old-timers, and even though some separate from the job for a short time to pursue things like more money or better benefits, they always come back – or try to come back – to the business.

Of course, this comes from somebody who came up through the ranks in the days when a publisher was successful if his newspaper took in a dollar more than it spent at the end of the fiscal year.

It’s all different now on so many levels, which is why we have seen, recently, more layoffs at Utah’s largest newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune. Unfortunately, this is globally contagious as newspapers fail to conquer the Internet, where information, and sometimes news, is available with just a few keystrokes and, mostly, free.

During the golden age of newspapers, there were a few national chains, but they were miniscule in comparison to today. We had some mammoth newspapers, however. The New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Constitution, Kansas City Star, Dallas Morning News, Portland Oregonian, and my alma mater, the late, great Los Angeles Herald Examiner, were lively, iconic, and interesting reads.

The corporatization of the news industry has turned everything, unfortunately, into a product, a commodity, which is why newsroom numbers are dwindling.

Where newspapers were once a hard, daily habit, they are now the recreational drug of a world that can get the essence of a breaking news story in 140 characters or less on Twitter within seconds of something going down. There’s no waiting until the next day, no slipping a quarter into the newsstand box on the corner, no waiting for the thud of the paper landing in the driveway in the morning. By God, you want news? You’ve got news. Now. Free. On your phone. On your tablet. On your laptop. Not even television or radio can keep up with the speed of delivery that today’s technology offers. And, while it is the best of times for news junkies, it is the worst of times for news professionals. It also plays hell with those who have a genuine interest in the news, but are subject to the wild extremes in reporting that have become part of today’s media landscape.

Photo courtesy of Joke Photos

Photo courtesy of Joke Photos

And, therein lies the problem.

Newspapers are dying off at an alarming rate, but, it’s not because we are no longer interested in the daily events of the world. Quite the contrary, our news appetites are as voracious as ever. Newspapers, however, far too late in the game, discovered that they simply cannot compete with the Internet. No matter how good their reporters are, no matter how deeply they carve into a story, they are still not cut out to go toe-to-toe with Twitter, Facebook, and the online news agencies that are taking greater hold on the news-consuming public. Add to that the tidy – or not so tidy – element of being able to comment on any story that pops up onto your screen and you have a situation totally foreign to the old-school delivery system. As a result, more and more people are turning away from print editions of the news and toward the communication implements of the day. They don’t want to wait until sunrise to find out what happened at the city council meeting; to learn what the President had to say about an emerging world hotspot; to find out if the Red Sox beat the Yankees again; or what some knuckleheaded rancher in the Nevada desert is doing to turn public opinion against the federal government. They want it now.

As they turn away, circulation numbers dwindle. As circulation numbers dwindle, advertising rates take a nosedive. As advertising revenue decreases, so does available money for salaries, equipment, the office light bill. Most importantly, as cash decreases, so does the dividend paid to stockholders who, in corporate America, stand at the head of the line.

So, to keep the investors happy, newsrooms are getting leaner, and leaner, and leaner. Which means the product suffers, and suffers, and suffers. Not staffed well enough to devote time to deeper, more expositional reporting, they turn more and more to fluff, which means less newsworthiness, which means fewer readers. And, of course, there are the advertisers themselves who know they have the upper hand and do not look fondly upon the newspaper if it runs something that may not be terribly flattering to their industry or, perhaps, is at odds with their political, religious, or cultural persuasion. It also means that the veterans of the industry who have held the ideals of solid, credible, integrity-driven reporting are also being shown the door because all of their years of service have resulted in them being at the top of the payroll and, well, they can get a couple of newbies for the price of one grizzled old veteran.

Geoff Chapman, Editor Toronto Star: photo courtesy of

Geoff Chapman, Editor Toronto Star: photo courtesy of

I was actually still in the business when the term citizen-journalist was struck. It was a buzzword for the corporations that decided that all of the training and experience of real-world reporters could be replaced with untrained amateurs who did not have a love affair with the English language or a handle on the meaning of the words integrity, credibility, objectivity.

They were true journalists who would pen little ditties about what they happened upon, complete with passive photographs that looked like they came from Grandma’s family album. They had no idea about the imperatives of the story and, usually, buried the lede – the essential parts of what makes a story newsworthy – as we say, about 12 paragraphs deep, a cardinal sin in the news business.

It becomes relevant today because we have seen the mushrooming evidence that people have lost all ability to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to news gathering. Instead of relying on reliable sources for news, there are all of these offshoots where you can find a story to suit your political, religious, cultural, or other socio-economic position, as journalists piece together poorly researched bits of information in poorly written fashion because to them, it’s simply a job, not a passion.

The beef between whack-job rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management is a classic case in point.

The Internet was filled with all kinds of stuff. There were conspiracy theories linking the situation to a Chinese cabal taking over the little strip of desert for a solar power plant. There were claims of secret government orders and plans to rob the little man of his treasure – in this case, a little less than 1,000 hungry cows – in a show of muscle and contempt for the U.S. Constitution and all, by God, that it stands for, providing a rallying point for all of those with a generations-old hatred for the government, even though they don’t really understand what it is they are hating on.

It proved fodder for vengeful leftists who took umbrage to the outpouring of support for the scofflaw Bundy to the extent that heavily-armed goons in camouflage swept onto the land, ready to snap a round into the chamber at a moment’s notice, bravely taking their stand behind women and children they used as shields. Although they would not have accepted the potential for violent confrontation, they wondered why nobody stood up when they participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests, which resulted in a number of peaceful protesters getting hauled off to jail, being sprayed with mace, and, in some instances, having their heads cracked by jackbooted thugs disguised as local cops.

Meanwhile, in the desert standoff, there were specious stories posted on both sides of the issue by sites patronized by these cliques while any even-handed attempt at news delivery was, generally, scorned, perhaps because it lacked the rhetorical flavor necessary to please their partisan palates.

All of this, of course, put the fear of God into the so-called mainstream media, which ratcheted back its coverage and posed mindless editorial stances of limp neutrality for fear of alienating a readership that was, for the most part, on the side of the Bundy family. Instead of establishing a leadership position within its community, which is its job, and instead of demanding order amid the chaos, we saw some soft-peddling of the issues. As they tiptoed through the cultural, religious, and political minefield – yes, they are inextricably connected here in Utah – we saw one prominent news source try to lay a little blame here, a little blame there, and ask in spineless fashion, if we all just can’t get along. Later, when the public started sorting it out, when case law was established, when the armed militia had packed up and gone home, a little more blame was dropped at Bundy’s feet, but gently so it would not cause backlash among his local supporters – particularly those with advertising dollars to spend.

Meanwhile, the truth be damned, or at least sent to Purgatory until the market is ready to deal with it. Besides, truth isn’t as sexy a sell online or in print as the image of dusty militia guys carrying loaded semiautomatic weapons in the desert, itching to drop the hammer on a federal agent or errant hippie peace protester who ambled through their rifle sites.

In the meantime, the desert was crawling with these citizen journalists who were writing and posting pictures of what was, in their mind, really happening in the confrontation between the BLM, the Bundy family, and the paramilitary forces assembled, each promising a scoop.

In the pre-Internet days, a scoop was something that hung in the air for 24 hours as readers realized that their favorite newspaper had something the other paper missed. It was a horrid situation as editors and reporters had to endure a full day knowing that their competition beat them to an important story. And, most editors were not terribly understanding when they were on the losing end. In fact, if you got scooped once too often, you had better have your book of clippings up to date and be headed out the door to another news room.

Today, however, a scoop is a scoop for maybe five minutes before everybody else starts reporting on it, giving even the far-fetched claims sounder footing than they deserve. We saw plenty of that as extremist reports challenged the mainstream media to report on the various conspiracies and Machiavellian efforts that were, they said, going on behind the scenes.

With few resources to throw at the story, it became a monumental task for the truth-seekers to wade through the detritus and pull together cold, hard facts. We also heard from some correspondents who admitted they were unprepared for the scope of what they were covering and, quite shaken by it all.

And, therein lies the danger we face today.

It takes a certain passion, a certain fearlessness, a certain courage to wade into the tough stories, to endure the intimidation placed upon them by opposing factions, to stand behind their stories as being fair and just when the great unwashed body of readers has already written the story in their own minds.

Hunter S. Thompson "Putting the Bastards of the world on notice, photo courtesy of

Hunter S. Thompson “Putting the Bastards of the world on notice, photo courtesy of

It also takes a real understanding of the power of words one uses when reporting on a situation as volatile as this, and some experience in understanding that, well, nobody really won this round.

Most of all, it takes a passion for the job, a desire that lights a fire in the soul to pursue the absolutes, the truths, if you will, and expose them to the light of day without fear or favor.

We didn’t see a lot of that. We saw, for the most part, half-efforts from most who didn’t like the idea of hanging out in the hot desert sun all day with people they didn’t understand or even want to stand next to under circumstances that could ignite at the slightest provocation.

The outfit I work for, STGnews, did a good job of straight-up reporting on the newsworthy events. It also had columnists who attacked the issue from myriad sides, examining it, chewing it up, digesting it, then presenting it with passionate expression.

You could separate the news from opinion, which you couldn’t always do elsewhere. And, when there was opinion, it wasn’t rooted in fence-sitting.

Even though its delivery is borne of modern-day technology, its roots were purely old-school: here are the facts, here are the opinions, now make a reasonable judgment.

The unfortunate thing is that even valid efforts by mainstream media get lumped in with the other stuff that litters the Web and when the sensationalists out there start spewing wild-eyed conspiracy theories and mix opinion with news, it casts a pall upon us all.

But, that’s what happens with the corporatization of the media.

Dan Rather warned us about this not long ago when he talked about how five or six corporations control the news for the entire nation.

He was right, you know.

But the important aspect of his story is that those five or six corporations are more interested in satisfying the needs of their investors rather than the needs of their readers.

As long as that is the priority, the Salt Lake Tribune, and every other traditional news outlet in the nation, will continue to lose staff and, eventually, close up the shop.

Photo courtesy:

Photo courtesy:

The only solution, of course, is to dig a little deeper into your pockets, reinvest in your product, and reinvent yourself to engage your market in a format that has become comfortable instead of forcing a newsprint product down your readers throat.

I worked with a couple of guys in the print business who were fairly short-sighted.

One guy, in a position of authority, told me seven years ago that newspapers had at least 15 good years of life before the impact of the Internet hit. The guy who ran the show? His vision was so limited that one day while working on developing a Facebook page for the product, he said, “Great…just another thing to distract my employees when they should be working.”

Neither one is still in the business, but the harm done along the way, the reluctance to change and the subservience to budgets rather than owning a real passion for their work, is what will turn newspapers into the fossil fuel for the new technology-driven media.

As news people, it is our job to now make such an impact that our readers can distinguish real news gathering from the amateur and extremist rantings that proliferate.


Ed Kociela

Ed Kociela

Ed Kociela is a veteran newspaperman who has won numerous awards from the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. He has written two books, ‘plygs,’ a journalistic novel about a fundamentalist Mormon sect in southern Utah, and “It Rocked! (Recollections of a Reclusive Rock Critic),” which is a memoir of his days as a rock critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He has also written the play “Downwinders,” which was presented as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s New American Playwright Series. He now works as a freelance writer and weekly columnist for STGnews, an online news outlet, and preparing his sequel to ‘plygs.’  You can find more of Ed @ St. George News


Mob Rule Wins, BLM Averts Bloodshed

Bundy Won, America Lost by Dallas Hyland

Originally published in St. George News

(AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)

(AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)

Mark Twain famously said, “Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government when it deserves it.” Until today I had always been one to lean on the improbability that the government ever really deserves it. But when the government chose to back down to avert the bloodshed of innocent life, while Cliven Bundy shamelessly put innocent life in harms way for his own agenda, I knew to whom loyalty belonged.

As Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie announced the stand-down of the Bureau of Land Management’s round up of Bundy’s cattle from federal land, there was reported to be a collective sigh of relief. It was over.

The round up, which began last week, which was adjudicated by federal court order and was being carried out by the BLM as well as adjoining agencies and civilian contractors, drew supporters for Bundy ranging from sympathetic ranchers and citizens to armed militias who mingled throughout out the crowds in the area.

The spirit of de-escalation was however short lived.

Cliven Bundy came forth after Gillespie, and when he spoke, betrayed the terms of the stand-down announcing a series of demands that included but are not limited to the disarming of federal agents, dismantling the BLM and NPS, and the removal of gates to national parks. This is consistent with the statements made last Wednesday by his son Ryan Bundy on the Perspectives Show with Bryan Hyde and Kate Dalley.

Later, Bundy gave the order to the militia to get his cows back, which led to a tense standoff in a wash with dozens of Las Vegas Metro Police. The militia took their stand surrounded by women and children also in protest and demanded that the cattle be released.

Deputy Chief Tom Roberts, of Las Vegas Metro, then made an agreement with Bundy’s son Ammon, to release the cattle held there within 30 minutes if the crowd agreed to disperse.

Advocates for Bundy are hailing this a victory for not only Bundy, but for America as a whole and inferring that this is in fact a demonstration of the power of peaceful rebellion, of civil disobedience, despite that, there was nothing peaceful about it. In actuality, this has perhaps done something quite different.

The stand-down gave a symbolic victory to radical anti-government militia groups, but more importantly, this event has changed the collective definition of the meaning of civil disobedience in America for the worst.

In an article in The Southwest Journal, a compelling case for the distinctions between criminal behavior for selfish gain and civil disobedience for the greater good of people is made.

Militias Gearing up for Stand-off with Feds

Militias Gearing up for Stand-off with Feds

The main thrust of such distinctions is that a true act of civil disobedience is marked by an emphasis by the disobedient acquiescing to the knowledge that they are breaking the law and accept the penalty for it in the interest of the common good. There is still respect for, and submission to, the law.

Bundy does not think he has done a single thing wrong and furthermore, revealed his true character in the matter when in lieu of not getting his innocuous demands for a version of government take down and overthrow, he simply demanded people take back his cattle. Perhaps his sole motive all along despite alluding to some fashion of patriotism.

But beyond such distinctions, another compelling case can be made for the media’s role in ratcheting up the fanaticism that ultimately was the cause of the breakdown of the agreement made between the BLM and Bundy, as well as the decision to cease the roundup.

Furthermore, Bundy himself is responsible for doing less for the cause of putting into check a presumed-overbearing federal government. Instead, he appealed to the  nature of mob rule and incited potential violence – even when peace had been brokered.

In a 1968 article by Delbert D. Smith, the case for the deterioration of meaningful and effective civil disobedience as well as the media and general public’s culpability thereof, some 35 years later, still holds an almost prophetic weight. Smith writes:

“One difficulty that the courts face with cases of civil disobedience is that the techniques are constantly changing because of the necessity of attracting public attention and notice. The ‘news’ content of the event and its adaptability to television or magazine coverage have become important criteria for determining the nature of civilly disobedient acts. It can be argued that the most undesirable forms of civil disobedience have developed as a result of the irresponsibility of our mass media. However, the alternative course of action, which would be to prescribe some form of news management, seems equally undesirable. News suppression would not be viable in any event since the news media are able to ‘color’ an event simply by their use, non-use or placement of a particular article.

Peaceful Protest and Armed Resistance

Peaceful Protest and Armed Resistance

While it is possible to assert that the mass media manufacture pseudo-events by over-dramatizing incidents involving civil disobedience, and it may be that some racial problems have been accentuated because of uncritical and ‘sensational’ news coverage, it is also true that the frustration of nonviolent demonstrations by denying them press coverage may have the effect of precipitating violent demonstrations. The emotional effect of the newspaper, since it reports events that have occurred in the past in a formal manner that people have come to expect, is minimal compared to live television coverage which many times searches for the most dramatic (and possibly most unrepresentative) incidents that make for interesting visual imagery at the expense of balanced coverage. If obtaining publicity is one of the major inducements to acts of civil disobedience, and violent demonstrations receive more coverage than nonviolent ones, it is probable that the frequency of the latter form of demonstration will increase.

Further, the easy designation of every protest movement as an act of nonviolent civil disobedience by the mass media without any concern for particular factors such as the public nature of the act, its illegality, or its conscientious nature may lead to the creation of a false public impression of the permissible limits of civil disobedience and one that is at variance with that found in the courts. The community standards that result may create difficulties in law enforcement that would not result if these standards accurately reflected a more sophisticated concept of what constituted civil disobedience.

As each act of so-called civil disobedience witnessed on the mass media is struck down by the courts, people will begin to lose faith in the legitimacy of civil disobedience as a socially tolerable form of protest.”

The Bundy Range War was perpetuated by an irresponsible media vying for nothing more than ratings and an ill-informed and willfully ignorant public who, much like a NASCAR attendee, come to the race simply in hopes of seeing a crash.

The militia groups, at least some, may have had noble intentions of some sort in the spirit of constitutionally- laden principles, but ultimately appeared to be the disgruntled and disenfranchised fanatical fringe element looking not for a cause to fight for, but a fight to support and glorify their cause.

The Bundy plea for support in a situation where he clearly had no arguable case in law, was a perfect storm of sorts.

The BLM and adjoining agencies in this situation are to be commended for their prudence and immense restraint shown in the face of outright lawlessness masked as patriotism.

At the standoff in the wash, the true colors of these people was shown when they used for strategical advantage, the presence of women and children while threatening an armed response to the law.

Cliven Bundy, likely a victim to nothing short of his own pride, is no hero. He is certainly no patriot. He used pseudo-American sentiment to quite successfully create an event in history that perhaps once and for all will change how American ranchers in the west are perceived.

Photo Courtesy of Ranching Heritage on

Photo Courtesy of Ranching Heritage on

The stand-down was necessary to prevent bloodshed, but it must be recognized that if Bundy and a multitude of his supporters, militia friends, and even family members who broke the law, are allowed to go unpunished, more like them are sure to follow. Other groups, emboldened by the appearance of forcing a stand-down, will only continue to gain momentum. And furthermore, law enforcement as a whole will be rendered impotent as average people with disputes with current laws begin to wonder if they too can call a militia in to force the police to leave them alone.

And as if to embolden the assertion of the fact, a case in Texas is surfacing that while the facts are just becoming revealed, cannot allow for a repeat of the war Bundy started here.

In the case of Bundy and the Gold Butte designations, the government did it right. They continued to do it right in the face of the lawless behavior of a rancher and his militia henchmen. They earned and deserve our loyalty.

For those who were closest to this event, who were there, who witnessed it first hand,  and for everyone afar who will be affected by it, it is of the utmost importance that you speak up in defiance to allowing this stand-down to be the end of this battle. Equal rights under law were attacked, and ultimately defamed by this rancher. We cannot let that stand.

Citations & Groups

St. George News Article, Column: On Kilter:

To support the Bundy’s:

To Voice Opposition to the Bundy’s:

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