Regulars and Shorts

Precipitating Change

By Pax Rasmussen

Without your support, CATALYST, like indie outlets nationwide, could disappear.

This past August, the Village Voice, perhaps one of the most iconic independent media organizations our country has ever had, shut down. The Voice was founded in 1955 (by Norman Mailer, among others) and served as one of the loudest and most incisive voices in the country. Free of the constraints of mainstream papers like the New York Times, the Voice ventured into territory that was largely ignored, underground, and sometimes a little scary. The Voice was aptly named: It provided a voice for many who otherwise had none.

I like to think that CATALYST does something similar (if, admittedly, less edgy than the Voice) for Salt Lake City. And, like the Voice, CATALYST is very much in danger of disappearing. That doesn’t have to happen, though. That’s why we’ve transitioned to a nonprofit organization and, with your help, we can stick around for another 35 years.

Support CATALYST by becoming a member! ($10-20/month). To learn more, visit, or contact me directly at if you’d like to discuss making a larger gift, or if you have ideas or suggestions. I’m always open and eager to hear from our readers!

Whether we like it or not, the media landscape in our country has changed. Consolidation and focus on profit above all else has meant the demise of countless small outlets around the country. This is exactly what’s happened with the Village Voice. The current owner of the paper, Peter D. Barbey, is a member of the 48th richest family in the United States. When he bought the Voice in 2015, he vowed to invest heavily in the paper, promising its survival and growth. Instead, because the Voice didn’t earn enough money, he’s closing the paper down. The man is worth $6 billion, and because the paper doesn’t bring in enough money to pad his already overflowing wallet, he’s deep-sixing it. This reality shows us how much folks like Barbey actually value the assets they acquire: Not at all, unless they bring in the dough.

The Village Voice isn’t an isolated example. Since 2009, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s list of member publications has dwindled 20%. In the early part of the 20th century, there were thousands of small, independent papers all around the country. By the 1980s, 50 corporations owned the majority of all media outlets in the United States. Now, six companies own more than 90%.

You can see this playing out in Salt Lake City, too. The Salt Lake Tribune, once a thriving family-owned paper, ended up being owned by AT&T in 1997 and then MediaNews Group (now Digital First Media), one of the largest newspaper companies in the U.S. In 2016, the Tribune was purchased by the billionaire Huntsman family, and in May, laid off more than a third of its staff.

When a paper is independently owned, revenues are reinvested in the paper, through salaries, distribution, etc. By contrast, paying the bills and meeting payroll is not enough for a media corporation: They need profit for their investors. We’ve seen the consequences of that: layoffs, shrinking distribution and, perhaps worst of all, the transition of reporters from well-paid salary positions to pay-per-piece and/or quota systems. This means that a reporter can often no longer dive deep into a critical story. Instead, reporters are forced to pump out the pieces, and the paper gets shallower and shallower.

The rise of social media and online advertising has taken a huge toll, too, even though  print editorial is often repurposed for the internet.

Take a look at our local alternative publications: Once thick papers, most have dwindled to slivers of their former size, as advertisers feel more and more like the internet is where it’s at.

Luckily for us, CATALYST has a solid group of advertisers who understand not only the value of what we bring to the community, both through the internet and in print, but the value of associating with us and the thoughtful, engaged and conscious folks that read our magazine—that means you.

After 35 years as solely an advertiser-supported publication, CATALYST transitioned to a nonprofit organization in December 2015. With your help, we can continue to evolve for another 35 years.

In reality, we’d operated as a nonprofit since the beginning, anyway, with the owner sinking her own money into the publication many years. From the beginning, the magazine has been a labor of love. But the problem with being independent is, simply, that without the support of the community, we will not survive. Advertising alone has sustained CATALYST for more than 35 years, but if we are to continue into the future, that won’t be the case.

I’ve been involved with CATALYST since 2006, and a reader for 10 years before that. Even as a kid, I remember seeing it lying around the house, brought home by my mom.

When I came on board in my mid-20s, I was excited to be a part of something that had provided so much to Salt Lake.

While CATALYST has never specifically been known for investigative journalism, its environmental stories have had clout. Its 1998 report on  Kennecott’s heavy metal runoff into an unlined reservoir, which contaminated Bingham Creek and nearby wells on the valley’s southwest side resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in remediation, saving who knows how many people from being exposed to those toxic chemicals. Also in the late ’90s, CATALYST put six months’ worth of work into reporting on safety concerns at the Tooele nerve gas incinerator.

But more than breaking news, we’ve given light and voice to topics and trends that Salt Lakers aren’t exposed to through mainstream news. In the ’80s and ’90s, nobody else in town was talking about yoga, meditation and bodywork.  CATALYST brought the mainstream conception of massage from ‘seedy’ to wholesome and holistic. We’ve been the voice in Salt Lake discussing organic food, advocating for clean air, and giving much needed recognition to individuals and groups working hard to solve problems and improve our community.

In recent years we’ve started providing unique spaces for Salt Lakers to come together and discuss, learn and experience together, through the Clean Air Solutions Fair and Bee Fest. We very much want to continue these projects, and more!

We are dedicated to providing a unique, eclectic and creative publishing presence in Salt Lake City, both in print and online, but we need your help. If you’re reading this, you already know what CATALYST provides the community. We continue to work hard, because we know that what we do is important, and valued, even needed, in Salt Lake.

If you value CATALYST, we need your support. Every dollar we raise from readers like you goes directly to providing the unique, catalytic voice to Salt Lake. Please, consider becoming a CATALYST Member ($10/month!), and encourage your friends to do so, as well. Maybe you have the capacity for a larger gift. If you know someone with the means to help support us into the future, please encourage them to contact us, or help us get in touch. We’re excited about several challenges for the future. We would like to put together a Writers Fund, from which we could assign a couple of skilled, talented writers to delve deeply into a list of catalytic issues.

It’s readers like you who will help decide the future of CATALYST. We look forward to hearing from you!

The quickest and easiest way to support CATALYST right away is to become a member ($10-20/month). There are a number of pretty neat perks to being a member, such as invitations to our yearly parties. To learn more about membership, go to, or contact me directly at Also, please feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss making a larger gift, or if you have other ideas or suggestions. I’m always open and eager to hear from our readers!







This article was originally published on October 3, 2018.