Mormon journalism — SL Tribune “Big Love” update

[NOTE: I’ve made a few updates and edits below.]

I wrote yesterday about how the Deseret News has managed to actually increase its paid circulation by focusing more on a specific target audience — Mormons — while the Salt Lake Tribune declined in paid circulation at the same time.

This editorial choice at the Tribune certainly isn’t going to help matters much (the column is by Connie Coyne, the ‘Reader Advocate’ at the Trib; emphasis is mine):

I talked to many faithful LDS Church members this week after a story about “Big Love,” HBO’s polygamy drama, appeared in The Tribune alongside a photo of one of the characters wearing temple clothing known only to devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Trust me, Pandora’s box is ajar and the bad feelings are in the ether. . . .

By Friday afternoon, 1,111 readers had commented on the online version of the story at www.sltrib.com.

Although a tightly cropped version of the photo appeared in the print edition, the larger shot was pulled from the Web site and the photo archives as soon as Tribune Editor Nancy Conway saw it. She believes the photo added nothing to the story by Vince Horiuchi about the controversy surrounding the episode that airs Sunday evening. That episode reportedly will depict a rite that members consider sacred and private. . . .

But I can assure Mormons that The Tribune did not intend to offend members of the LDS Church. We should have more carefully considered what using the photos would mean to Latter-day Saints.

Yep, you read that right. The Tribune ran in its print edition and on its web site a photo (from “Big Love”) of an actress in LDS temple robes to accompany an article by Vince Horiuchi about the “Big Love” flap. (NOTE: it’s unclear exactly which article Coyne is talking about; I found three by Horiuchi on the “Big Love” flap [here, here and here], but none has the 1,000+ reader comments that Coyne references.  Of course, that raises the issue of whether the Tribune pulled down the corresponding reader comments after pulling the photo from the web site.)

I’m trying to figure out how Coyne can say with any credibility that the Trib‘s editorial staff “did not intend to offend members of the LDS Church” by running that photo.  It’s hard to see it as anything but a deliberate poke in the eye to Utah Mormons. It would be like running one of the (in)famous Mohammed editorial cartoons in a heavily Muslim city and then saying, “We didn’t intend to offend Muslims!” You may have editorial reasons for running the cartoon, but you can’t claim after the fact that you didn’t understand how it would upset people. (Note, however, that there have not been, to my knowledge, any death threats, fire bombings, or massive street demonstrations in the wake of the Tribune‘s actions.)

Note, by the way, that I think that the Tribune had every right (under the 1st Amendment, etc.) to run that photograph; in that, I happen to agree with Vince Horiuchi (though not with his snarky tone). But as we like to remind ourselves in the Church, you are free to choose your actions; you are not always free to choose the consequences.  And given the Tribune‘s circulation struggles, this may not have been the wisest course of action.  ..bruce..

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