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July 20, 2023, 1:07 p.m.

The Salt Lake Tribune will experiment with a “free-for-all model” after acquiring a Utah weekly

The Moab Times-Independent, owned for generations by the Taylor family, will be donated to the Tribune. The newspaper will transition to free in print for Moab residents and free online for all.

A family-owned weekly newspaper has been donated to The Salt Lake Tribune, the newspaper’s first acquisition since becoming a nonprofit. As part of the transition, The Moab Times-Independent will adopt a “free-for-all model” where anyone can read online and local residents will receive a printed paper every week for free. (Those who want a print paper outside the local 84532 ZIP code will have to pay.)

The Times-Independent has been serving the outdoorsy tourist mecca of Moab, Utah (population 5,321) for more than a century. Starting Thursday, The Tribune will take over “all aspects of operations, from advertising to circulation to audience development” for the Times-Independent, said executive editor Lauren Gustus. Editorial control and coverage decisions will remain with T-I editor Doug McMurdo.

The seeds for this ownership transition were planted months ago. Through the Salt Lake Tribune’s collaborations with other local news organizations — founding the Utah News Collaborative and, later, the Great Salt Lake Collaborative — Gustus heard from many small publications about challenges they faced building digital presences and finding new revenue streams. Some, Gustus said, worried they may need to sell or close. During one of those conversations, the Tribune met with publisher Zane Taylor, whose family has long owned and operated the T-I.

On Thursday, Taylor wrote to readers — his fellow “Moabites” — about transferring the paper to the Tribune:

“For more than 120 years, well ahead of the establishment of Canyonlands or Arches and most businesses in Moab, my family has served this community by publishing an independent voice filled with local reporting,” Taylor wrote. “We’ve told the Moab story: We’ve covered graduations and milestones, held public officials to account, reported on the economy from livestock to uranium to tourism.”

The Times-Independent is a small family-run operation and the paper has been printed on its own presses in the paper’s Moab offices. (“I run the press, I do bookkeeping, public notices, fix the swamp coolers, and act as boss here and do payroll, and just wear all these different hats,” Taylor recently explained. “If something doesn’t fit someone else’s job description or their abilities, it falls to me.”)

As part of its next chapter, every resident in Moab will receive the paper free, once a week, by mail, starting in September.

“A community needs a good newspaper. Journalism has changed, and it is important for the Times-Independent to evolve so it remains essential to all Moabites,” Taylor said in his letter to readers. “The Times-Independent’s first responsibility is to people who live here, not shareholders or private owners. This transition ensures advertising and donation revenues are reinvested in reporting.”

Back in 2019, The Salt Lake Tribune became the first daily newspaper to become a nonprofit. (The Tribune has since moved to a weekly publication schedule.) The acquisition of the Moab Times-Independent by a nonprofit is encouraging, but not unprecedented. In 2022, the Chicago Sun-Times became a nonprofit after being acquired by Chicago Public Media. And the majority of daily and weekly newspapers in Maine will soon operate under nonprofit owner National Trust for Local News after the sale of their parent company is finalized later this month.

Gustus said that though the Taylor family “were keenly aware that the future for local news looks different than what it is today in many communities in Utah and across the country,” they had questions about the nonprofit model and whether it was right for the T-I, which remains profitable.

“Three years into our nonprofit journey, we have a solid foundation. We are always looking for ways to improve and grow,” Gustus said. “The T-I has served Moab since 1896. It is a stable business with strong readership, and providing news for an important region of the state. When the opportunity arose, it felt like the right one.”

The Salt Lake Tribune currently has a paywall — digital subscriptions start at $8/month and $80/year — and the Times-Independent was previously charging $5/month for online access. “As reach grows, we should grow advertising support,” Gustus said. “And we hope subscribers will continue to support its work, as donors. Donations of all sizes are invaluable to us and will directly support the work we do to cover the Moab community.”

The Tribune has been documenting “learnings” from its own transition in a playbook for nonprofits available online. It expects to publish more as it shifts its first acquisition to this new model.

“We are always looking for new ways to bring high quality fact-based journalism to all Utahns, and the free-for-all model will be an opportunity to bring learnings back to The Tribune,” Gustus added.

Moab provides critical services to large swaths of the rural southeastern corner of Utah, including communities in Grand and San Juan counties. Gustus said that she’s been impressed by the T-I’s commitment to the extended Moab community, and highlighted recent T-I reporting on housing and local law enforcement. (In addition to editor Doug McMurdo, reporter Sophia Fisher and circulation manager Tom Taylor will also be staying on. Publisher Zane Taylor will leave his full-time post but remain on the paper’s advisory board. The Tribune has listed a new fellowship position for the T-I and intends to add more full-time reporting in the future.) Gustus shared a note McMurdo sent her before the acquisition was made public:

“[Reporter] Sophia [Fisher] and I take our jobs seriously. We are faithful to the mission, our readers and we strive to be accurate and fair, independent and accountable,” McMurdo wrote. “We are excited to play such key roles in this grand experiment.”

Photo of visitors gathered near Delicate Arch by Ken Cheung. Moab serves as the gateway to Arches National Park.

Sarah Scire is deputy editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (, Twitter DM (@SarahScire), or Signal (+1 617-299-1821).
POSTED     July 20, 2023, 1:07 p.m.
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