Category Archives: Press

Did you know that LDS women “flock”, “swarm”, and “buzz”?

This morning’s Salt Lake Tribune has the following story headline and opening sentence:

LDS women flock to upcoming BYU Women’s Conference

More than 20,000 Mormon women will swarm the campus of Brigham Young University next week, buzzing about mothering, marriage, the media and dozens of other spiritual and secular topics.

It prompted me to write Peggy Stack (the author of the piece) this e-mail:

“LDS Women Flock”? Would you (or the Trib) use that verb to describe (a) a NOW or Emily’s List conference,  (b) an LDS Priesthood conference, or (c) any non-religious gathering of men (or, for that matter, women)? The headline has a whiff of religious and/or sexist condescension. Same question for the use of the verbs “swarm” and “buzz” in the first sentence.

What do you think?  ..bruce..

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

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..

Mormon journalism pays off

Deseret News — Once upon a time the Deseret News, the Church-owned newspaper in Salt Lake City, carried on a highly entertaining feud with the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune. In these calmer days, the Tribune and the News share the same adverstising office, cooperate on the Sunday edition, and never exchange so much as a snide word. Oddly enough, however, Mormons still get some small rebellious satisfaction out of subscribing to the Tribune, and non-Mormons regard the Church paper with suspicion.

— Orson Scott Card, Saintspeak: A Mormon Dictionary (Orion Books, 1981)

There was an interesting article by Paul Beebe in yesterday’s Salt Lake Tribune about the travails of the Tribune and the Deseret News in today’s tough market for newspapers. However, Beebe buried the real lede, and quite possibly deliberately.

You see, Joe Cannon at the Deseret News has adopted a concious approach to increase LDS coverage and utility to LDS readers, both in the print edition and online, since “research going back a decade shows little interest in the newspaper among non-Mormons” (as per Card’s quip above). Beebe focuses a lot on the internal controvery at the News over the decision, including staff protests and even some demotions:

Last month, 10 News reporters removed their names from stories they had written for the Feb. 23 paper to protest Editor Joe Cannon’s strategy to make the LDS Church-owned paper more pleasing to Mormons — and more profitable. Cannon sees the strategy as a way to allow two daily papers to remain viable in a market of Salt Lake City’s size.

The reporters were also protesting the demotion of two editors who objected to the paper’s drift.

What Beebe later acknowledges — though you have to get halfway through the article to find it out — is that:

Cannon’s strategy appears to be working. Paid circulation increased 2.1 percent in the six months ending Sept. 30. The News was one of a few big-city papers to add readers during the period, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures.

If you have been following newspaper journalism at all for the past few years, you’d know how remarkable that is. I’d be interested to find out what other “big-city papers” have increased in circulation during the last six months; most of the focus these days are on the ones that have already closed up shop (like my town’s own Rocky Mountain News) or are likely to do so soon. So the fact that the News increased its circulation, in a city as relatively small as Salt Lake and with another competing daily newspaper, is major journalistic news indeed.

Oh, and the Tribute, like most other newspapers around the country, lost circulation during the same period:

The larger Salt Lake Tribune is coping with circulation and advertising declines of its own. Paid readership dropped 5 percent in the six-month period, according to ABC. So far this year, revenue for both papers is down 20 percent.

Although the circulation losses are blamed on a cost-saving move to pull Tribunes from numerous hotels in Utah, editors see them as additional confirmation that the newspaper must branch into new areas if it is to keep its leading role.

So the question is: will Salt Lake City be a one-paper town (as Denver now is) in a few more years?  ..bruce..

Ignorance at work

UPDATED 01/12/07: A more general critique of Feldman’s article can be found over at GetReligion.

Noah Feldman, in today’s New York Times Magazine, puts forth a thesis about “Mormon secrecy” that just is ill-informed. Feldman clearly has access to certain bits of historical information about the Church, but in his effort to establish his main thesis — that the LDS Church is committed to “secrecy” regarding its beliefs — he displays a significant lack of knowledge about the Church itself. To wit:

Like Mormon ritual, much of Mormon theology remains relatively inaccessible to outsiders. The text of the Book of Mormon has always been spread to a broad audience, but the text is not a sufficient guide to understanding the details of Mormon teaching. Joseph Smith received extensive further revelation in the nature of sacred secrets to be shared with only a handful of close associates and initiates within the newly forming church.

First, of course, is the long-standing issue (within LDS circles) as to whether a “Mormon theology” even exists (since, for the most part, there are no “Mormon theologians” nor a “school of Mormon theology”). But setting that aside, I would suspect that Feldman has not spent much time inside an LDS church or a Deseret Book bookstore; I suspect that he has not searched the online “Gospel Topics” section at, nor its on-line “Gospel Library“, including archives of LDS General Conference Addresses, various current lesson manuals, and the online version of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. All these are freely and publicly available to anyone; indeed, the Church works very hard to promote all these sections. In short, while claiming an LDS effort at doctrinal secrecy, he appears to have failed to actually reviewed what the LDS Church says and promotes about its own doctrine.

He also appears to gloss over the fact that the LDS Church has sent out over one million missionaries to preach its message of the Restoration since its founding in 1830, with over 50,000 serving worldwide currently. My experience is that most people outside of the LDS Church complain that we try to tell them too much about our religion, rather than too little.

Beyond that, Feldman’s particulars regarding “Mormon secrecy” — a concept that comes straight out of evangelical anti-Mormon literature — are wrong and could have been easily refuted had he bothered to do a modicum of research. For example, he states:

The course was set for the Mormon religious practice of the 20th century: a process of mainstreaming, both political and theological. The less said the better about the particular teachings of the church, including such practices as the baptism of the dead and the doctrine of the perfectibility of mankind into divine form.

Actually, those two “particular teachings” have always been a key part of the missionary discussions (under “Plan of Salvation”), at least since I served my own full-time mission back in 1972-74. If Feldman had actually looked through Preach My Gospel, the standard LDS missionary discussion guide used by 50,000+ LDS missionaries in teaching investigators worldwide — publicly and cheaply ($6-$9) available via LDS Distribution Services, Deseret Book, and the BYU Bookstore, as well as downloadable as a free PDF file — he would have found the following:

The Savior loves all people and desires their salvation. Yet millions of people have died without having any opportunity to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ or receive saving ordinances. Through His loving grace and mercy the Lord makes salvation possible for everyone who did not have the opportunity to receive, understand, and obey the gospel during their mortal lives. The gospel is preached to those deceased people in the spirit world. Members of the Church on earth perform the saving ordinances in behalf of their deceased ancestors and others. Deceased persons living in the spirit world have the opportunity to accept or reject the gospel and the ordinances performed in their behalf.

For this reason, Church members search for information about their ancestors. They complete pedigree charts and family group records and submit the names of deceased relatives who need to have saving ordinances performed on their behalf in sacred temples, This is family history work. Worthy members ages 12 and over, including new members, may receive from their bishop a recommend to perform baptisms for the dead. (p. 86)

And again:

Those who have repented of their sins and received the ordinances of the gosepl and kept the associated covenants will be cleansed by the Atonement of Christ. They will receive exaltation in the highest kingdom, also known as the celestial kingdom. They will live in God’s presence, become like Him, and receive a fullness of joy. (p. 53)

* Exaltation: Eternal life in God’s presence; to become like our Father in Heaven and live in His presence. The greatest of all the gifts of God. Exaltation comes through the Atonement of Christ and through obedience to all the laws and ordinances of the gospel. (p. 58)

So much for the “secret” doctrines.

Beyond that, Feldman appears to commit a version of the Pauline Kael fallacy (“How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him!”). He assumes LDS secrecy, probably because he — unlike literally millions and millions of people worldwide — has never actually had the missionary discussions, and he probably doesn’t know anyone who has, so he just doesn’t know what LDS missionaries actually teach. He takes the one area of LDS sacred ritual, the temple, and attempts to conflate it — without any real evidence or justification — into a general Mormon tendency towards secrecy. His unsupported (and unsupportable) thesis drives his article, when instead he should have done actual research first and spared himself some embarrassment.

I would recommend that Feldman pick up Preach My Gospel (or download the PDF version) as well as this year’s LDS Relief Society/Priesthood Study Guide, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (also available on-line), and read them both. Then maybe he’ll be a bit more qualified to talk about LDS doctrine and its public availability. ..bruce..

[UPDATED 01/06/08 1922 MST — Welcome visitors from the Deseret News LDS Newsline! Feel free to look around. ]

Grading press coverage

Joel Campbell — an assistant professor of journalism at BYU, who blogs at the LDS Newsline site — has graded (A-F) some recent efforts at press coverage of the LDS Church and its beliefs. He’s pretty blunt and not afraid to name names:

“D” Work: In news reporting classes that I teach I talk a lot about “relevance” and a “news peg.” I couldn’t find much of either in this very long piece about Mitt Romney’s involvement in the building of the Boston Temple in Belmont, Mass. Based on the article’s sheer verbosity, you would think Romney played some leading role in building the temple and selecting the site. Although it is framed with the sinister headline, “Mormon Temple Casts a Shadow,” the article doesn’t make that case. It was written by WaPo Style writer Sridhar Pappu, who appears to be assigned to provide some meaningful narratives on the candidates. This one is a dull story and not too meaningful at that. Maybe Pappu felt like he had more to write after his novella on Romney ran in the September 2005 Atlantic, in which he asked Romney “How Mormon are you?” and then quizzed him about his undergarments. It was certainly one of the low points of the coverage of the presidential campaign.

Read the whole thing. ..bruce..