(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Great Salt Lake shoreline during ongoing drought conditions.

Our Water Woes

The water levels at the Great Salt Lake hit a new low in 2022, and a key component of its landscape and food web went missing. The lake is known for thick, black clusters of brine flies by the billions, which pupate in its salty water then gather in dense mats to reproduce on shore. Crucially, they provide a nutrient-rich feast for millions of migrating birds. Scientists say their disappearance last year was a sign the lake’s ecological demise is here.

The Tribune also reported one of the largest lake-based businesses, US Magnesium, would not be allowed to continue pumping water from the imperiled Great Salt Lake. US Magnesium needed approval from both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DEQ’s Division of Water Quality to dredge and extend its intake canals a collective 3.7 miles to reach the lake’s receding water. It would have allowed the company to pump up to 100,000 gallons a minute out of the lake. Scientists warned that siphoning away more water would have disastrous consequences for the lake, which has entered a phase of ecological collapse.  Two days after our initial story on US Magnesium published, Governor Spencer Cox’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office walked back its support for the company’s plan.

One water reporter who has been covering the lake for a decade said, “This is the most engaged I’ve seen members of the public on the matter. I don’t know if it’s the collaborative, lawmakers speaking up about it or something else, but it’s nice to see Utahns and the rest of the nation paying attention.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Representatives during the final day of the Utah Legislature’s 2022 general session.

Sexual Harassment in the Legislature

Reporter Emily Anderson Stern used open records to further reporting on sexual harassment of interns at the Utah Legislature. Her records request prompted the removal of the internship coordinator, who told one lawmaker that while “Miss Utah” wasn’t available, he would find him “a good one.” She has also published original reporting on Gene Davis, with Democrats citing Emily’s reporting as a reason to remove him from his position (their statement: Though he denied specifics of the allegations in his interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, we believe the behavior he acknowledged, regardless of context or intent, was unacceptable. We requested he voluntarily step down).

(Tribune and wire photos) A collection of property across the United States owned by The LDS Church.

LDS Church land ownership

In collaboration with the Truth and Transparency foundation, The Tribune revealed church landownership is worldwide. From thousands of acres of farmlands to thousands of places of worship and from shiny commercial enclaves in urban centers to flowing fields in swelling suburbs, a newly released list shows The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns U.S. properties valued at nearly $16 billion and ranks the Utah-based faith among the nation’s top private landholders.
The findings emerge when many Latter-day Saints and church observers are already agog at other recently reported multibillion-dollar figures associated with the faith’s wealth.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) LDS Apostle, Elder Gerrit W. Gong, shakes hands with Senate President Stuart Adams, after giving the opening prayer.

Holding those in power to account

Tribune reporter Bryan Schott in 2022 traveled to the tiny town of Kamas to find Mike Lee, who had not yet answered questions about the text messages he sent Mark Meadows, including the one in which he said he was working “14 hours a day” for then President Trump and he needed the administration to “tell him what to do.” Bryan’s reporting and video were picked up by multiple national outlets, including a long segment on Rachel Maddow.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s reporting on how then-President Donald Trump mistakenly dialed Sen. Mike Lee’s telephone as the attack on the U.S. Capitol unfolded was cited in the House Jan. 6 committee’s final report in December. The report says the committee was given no records of Trump’s phone calls that day, but it gathered several pieces of evidence, including Bryan Schott’s story, to piece together Trump’s calls.

Reporter Jacob Scholl told Utahns which lawmakers own land at the based of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Landowners stand to benefit financially if a gondola is built at the base of the canyon. 

Columnist Robert Gehrke broke the news that on Day 1 of the legislature that Stuart Adams lied about his COVID-19 status, telling the Senate and various visitors he’d tested negative twice earlier in the day when, in fact, he’d tested positive. Adams shook hands with elders and did not wear a mask. This came during a high transmission period in Utah.

Reporter Mark Eddington, who The Tribune welcomed in summer 2022, reported on the St. George council’s decision to force its city manager out, at a cost of $625,000, after he refused to revoke a permit for a drag show. 

We continue to receive feedback like this on our renewed southern Utah focus: “I admire Mark Eddington for doing the extensive work that was clearly necessary to thoroughly and accurately bring this story into public view. Journalism still matters, especially when we have a newspaper like The Salt Lake Tribune and journalists like Eddington. Utah is fortunate to have The Tribune. Southern Utah is fortunate to have Eddington reporting on what happens in our part of the state.”

Sharing the news in Spanish

With support from the American Press Institute, The Tribune published a Spanish-language voter guide that was circulated on the west side of the valley. We originated reporting in concerns the community had shared with us previously, including education, and when we went to pick up a copy on election day, all 11 locations were out of the 5,000 copies that were shared. See our midterm election reporting here.

We regularly publish reporting in English and Spanish, guided by feedback from listening sessions around what issues are important to Spanish speakers in our community – health and politics. You can find our Spanish reporting here.

Pro Bono Legal Support

Increasingly, it’s become more common for Tribune reporters to get the same answer when they ask for a public record: No. With help from 5 local law firms, we launched the Pro Bono GRAMA initiative, in which local lawyers help The Tribune fight for open records. Read about it here.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake Tribune Building.

News in text

The Tribune launched a text-messaging option for receiving election-related news and updates in both English and Spanish, in an effort to reach those people who may not have access to sltrib.com or the printed paper or for those who prefer SMS. We shared reminders for registration deadlines and other key dates and shared important stories. As the election has ended, we continue to send occasional text updates in English on major political news, including updates from the state legislative session.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune)
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune)
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune)
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)