SALT LAKE CITY (RNS)--A newspaper war is brewing between the Salt Lake Tribune and the Mormon-owned Deseret News as Tribune employees urge their company to remain the state's leading independent voice and resist a takeover by the church.

The two papers have operated under a joint operating agreement since 1952, sharing advertising, circulation, printing and distribution costs. The Deseret News is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Tribune is owned by AT&T.

According to an article published in the Tribune on Oct. 5, the newspaper's management wants to resist efforts by the News to buy the Tribune's immediate parent company, Kearns-Tribune, or a controlling interest in the joint operations company, the Newspaper Agency Corp.

In a state where 70% of the population is Mormon and the church is heavily linked to government and media, the Tribune is widely respected as an independent voice. Losing that independence would be bad for Utah, Tribune employees said.

"It would be so disappointing to live in a place where there wouldn't be an objective point of view," Kathy Clark, a non-Mormon Salt Lake City resident, told the Associated Press.

Tribune publisher Dominic Welch said the company managing the paper for AT&T, the Salt Lake Tribune Publishing Co., would like to buy the paper from AT&T rather than surrender ownership to the church-owned News. AT&T has said the newspaper is "not a core asset," Welch told the Associated Press.

The company has told AT&T, "We're available to buy it if you really want to get rid of it, and we're here to try to defend ourselves if you try to get rid of it without us," Welch told the Tribune.

L. Glen Snarr, president of the Deseret News, said his paper has made no attempts to buy the Tribune. "We have made no bid and have not solicited that property," he told the Tribune.

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