Sources inside the negotiations over the joint operating agreement between the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune say that talks have stalled over a surprise gambit by the Deseret News. The paper, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said it wants the Salt Lake Tribune to start printing its Sunday edition in the Deseret Alphabet.
“Given our unique arrangement with what has been Salt Lake’s secular voice, we ask under the terms of the new agreement that the Tribune print their Sunday edition in the divinely inspired Deseret script,” an unnamed source for the Deseret News said. “Given that they have been spared by our brethren in the Huntsman family, this would prove a worthy measure to ensure continual cooperation.”
The sale of the financially struggling Tribune to Utah investor Paul Huntsman is contingent on reaching a new agreement on revenue shares between the two papers. Currently, the Deseret News sees 70% of the profit to the Tribune’s 30%. The reasons behind the demand to print in Deseret script aren’t fully clear, but there is plenty of speculation. Since Sunday papers represent a huge stake in these profits, many believe that the Deseret News is trying to leverage profits even further in their favor by essentially making the Tribune unreadable.
The Deseret Alphabet, developed in the mid-nineteenth century at the behest of Mormon Church leader Brigham Young, was devised to simplify English spelling and aid in efforts to create a unique religious community in the Intermountain West.
“It’s a lovely alphabet, full of all kinds of interesting shapes and designs,” the unnamed source said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know why they would be opposed to printing in such a unique, sacrosanct script.”
Notwithstanding this highfalutin appraisal of the Brigham Young-ordered text, linguist Roger Steinholtz, who specializes in alternative writing systems, said that while many people worked at reforming the English language, the Deseret Alphabet simply did not have staying power. “Though a few books were printed in the script, The Book of Mormon being the most obvious example, many Utah pioneers resisted the new system. The structure made it difficult to write fluidly, and frankly, it just looked like something from another planet,” Steinholtz said, who may have been unaware that many LDS adherents are undeterred by the notion of something being from another planet.
In the late 1850s and early 1860s, the Deseret News printed some 70 articles in the script. And though they long abandoned the effort, the unnamed proponent of this recommendation argues it would be a solid strategy for the Salt Lake Tribune to differentiate itself in an increasingly homogenized media landscape. “There are two dailies in this town, and readers are just being confused by diverse opinions.” The source went on to suggest that delivering the Salt Lake Tribune’s Sunday edition in the Deseret Alphabet would make it “stand out” among competitors.
Salt Lake Tribune editors could not be reached for comment. Though a member of the LDS Church himself, Huntsman is reported to have called this “the absolute dumbest idea” he had heard in his successful business career.