SALT LAKE CITY — The Deseret News, Utah's oldest daily newspaper, said Tuesday it will cut nearly half of its staff and consolidate operations with affiliated television and radio operations to emphasize digital delivery of news on websites and mobile devices.
Executives said they planned to keep publishing the newspaper, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Deseret News said it was eliminating 85 newsroom positions, although some staffers will stay on for a transition period as the newspaper consolidates with KSL-TV and KSL Radio, which are also owned by the church.
"Our plan actually expands news coverage and analysis even in the face of the economic realities we face," Deseret News CEO and President Clark Gilbert told The Associated Press. "There isn't a newspaper in the country that is not facing economic pressures. We can make simple cost reductions or innovate and lead."
Gilbert said the 57 full-time and 28 part-time employees laid off were from throughout the newsroom and were given severance packages, although he did not provide details.
The newspaper also announced that Joe Cannon would no longer serve as editor but would join its new editorial advisory board. Jim Wall is stepping down after 10 years as publisher but will serve as an adviser to Gilbert.
Although layoffs had been expected for months, Tuesday's announcement hit hard.
Two people were seen sharing a tearful embrace in the lobby, while cameras and reporters from other outlets camped outside the building. A security guard was posted at the newsroom door.
Staffers met individually with managers to learn their future. Some were released immediately, while others were being asked to stay on during a transition period that's expected to last four months. Several reporters tweeted updates from a staff meeting, and at least one posted on Facebook that he was among the cuts.
Staffers contacted by The AP declined comment.
The newspaper will continue to publish seven days a week with contributions from readers, community figures, experts and TV and radio reporters. The outsiders will bring more opinion and analysis to the paper as well as write news stories that will be edited by staff professionals, Gilbert said.
"We are in a period of massive innovation," said Gilbert, a former Harvard Business School professor and student of "disruptive innovation," or transforming traditional business markets. "Audiences are migrating from traditional newspapers to digital news sources, which allows us to reach more audiences than ever before."
The Deseret News will move to the broadcast networks' building about five blocks away, but the newspaper and KSL will keep separate websites because they have "distinct voices and content strategies," Gilbert said.
The Deseret News has a weekday print circulation of about 72,000. The city's other daily, The Salt Lake Tribune, sells about 114,000 weekday copies.
The reorganization will not affect the joint-operating agreement between the two newspapers, said Tribune publisher Dean Singleton. The JOA has combined the two newspapers' printing, advertising and circulation operations since 1952.
"When you're in a joint operating agreement and your partner makes changes like that, the next question is, 'Will that happen here?' It is not going to happen here," Singleton told The AP. He sent a memo assuring his editors and reporters that he plans no cutbacks.
Singleton is chief executive and vice chairman of Denver-based MediaNews and chairman of The Associated Press, a not-for-profit cooperative owned by its member news organizations.
The Deseret News gets a smaller share of JOA profits but has traditionally had a larger staff than The Salt Lake Tribune, although it has been cut back since 2008.
Still, one newspaper analyst said something had to give.
"Clearly they're feeling the pressure," said John Morton, president of Silver Spring, Md.-based media consulting firm Morton Research Inc. "They're trying to rethink what they're going to be in the future, merging the news operations with radio and television. But I suspect the benefits they get by adding radio and television reporters will be much less than what they're going to lose with the 85 layoffs."
For now, Salt Lake City remains on a short and shrinking list of two-newspaper towns, with Denver and Seattle among the most recent dropouts. Morton said only about 18 U.S. cities or towns have truly competitive newspapers, leaving about 1,420 dailies to their own markets.
The Deseret News began publishing in 1850, three years after Mormon pioneers settled the Salt Lake valley. The newspaper also publishes a weekly insert, the Church News, and recently began publishing a Spanish-language edition. It was not immediately clear how the changes would affect those publications.
Gilbert is one of a group of new executives recruited by the Deseret News' holding company to make major changes. He was hired in May as president and chief executive, a new position overseeing the publisher and editor. He remains president and CEO of Deseret Digital Media, a sister company organized under Deseret Management Corp., and set out to make the newspaper part of the church's digital empire.
Deseret Digital Media oversees the website operations DeseretNews.com, KSL.com, DeseretBook.com, MormonTimes.com and LDSChurchNews.com.
The Deseret News website is unusually active for a news organization its size, claiming 24 million page views a month. Visitors tend to linger, and half of them are from outside Utah.