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Archive for October, 2009

Hug A Reporter

Media Matters: Biased Deseret News story on Dallin Oaks speech made it to print over the howls of many. Plus, a call to arms for readers.

There was apparently swearing, shouting, and multiple attempts from among the Deseret News staffers to work in some sort of balance into the story about the speech made by Dallin Oaks, a member of the LDS Church’s Quorom of the Twelve In that speech, Oaks compared the criticism of Mormons for their Prop. 8 support to the violent, and often deadly, acts taken against blacks in the South during the civil rights fight.

That story, which I blogged about Wednesday on cityweekly.net and reposted here, was essentially a one-source (Oaks himself) rehash of the speech. The Trib, on the other hand, focused on whether the analogy was appropriate (no) or offensive, especially to blacks (yes).

Following my blog, I have been contacted by about a half-dozen D-News staffers giving me behind-the-scenes details—some of them were observers, some of them actually work in other departments, and some of them were actually part of the fray. All of them say that there was a lot of noise made in the newsroom by both editors and reporters, and the language employed fell well outside the bounds people might expect from an LDS Church-owned business.

I’ve also been told, by multiple people, that there was a push to get comment from, at the very least, a group like the NAACP and a gay rights group because, after all, they are the people beating and firehosing the Mormons. That was not allowed by upper management. When the final product was “put to bed,” more than a few staffers went home a little less proud to be working for a prominent daily newspaper.

On the flipside, I also heard from a couple of staffers who told me that only a few reporters were openly angry about the censorship, which was disappointing to them. In truth, it did not surprise me, because this fight has been had so many times that drawing swords over a foregone conclusion only puts you on the wrong-side of your boss, something most people tend to try and avoid doing.

Additionally, in the last couple of days, I have been contacted in many different ways by staffers from almost every department at the newspaper, telling me how frustrated they are. Thus, I am reposting that post on this, my personal blog, to further update.

What to take out of this? Foremost, Deseret News staffers still care about the product they are putting out and are willing to fight for it. Secondly, it’s important to note that people actually do swear at the Deseret News, and not softly.

Finally, it reinforces the point I made in the previous post. This was a case of deliberate censorship on the part of the Deseret News leadership, and a direct violation of what should be the compact every media outlet makes with its readers: fairness and transparency. This was simply propoganda.

A newspaper is a vibrant part of any community, and in Salt Lake City we are extremely lucky to have two daily newspapers. Very few cities can boast that, including many cities much, much bigger than SLC. However, as part of that community, newspapers need support just like any other civic institution.

No, I’m not suggesting financial bailouts, but moral support for those fighting for objectivity in one of the primary local media outlets. There a few simple yet effective ways to do this:

    • Letters to the Editor: Flood the D-News at letters@desnews.com with commentary about the Oaks speech, positive or negative. If you want, specifically criticize or applaud the way they handled the story. Write what you genuinely feel, in your own words.• Comment on the story: There are hundreds of comments about this story online, which shows people care. Add your voice to the din.

    • Hug a reporter, editor, copy editor, whatever. In other words, let them know that you support them. This could be an e-mail to somebody you know at the paper, it could be a phone call, it could be a word of encouragement when you see them scribbling in their notebook on a story assignment. Because even if they aren’t vocal about their concerns, trust me—most people at the D-News, in every department (except Mormon Times or Church News), are very concerned.

    •Finally, let the two people actually making these decisions know what you think: Rick Hall, and Pulitzer Prize-winning reader Joe Cannon (also editor-in-chief).

Disclosure: I worked at the Deseret News for almost a decade as a reporter and editor, and my grandfather was the chairman of the board from 1996-2006. Although I was a vocal critic of Cannon’s “More Mormon” emphasis in the last couple of years, I was not fired or forced out, but left willingly to work for City Weekly a couple of months ago.

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Persecuted Mormons

Two front-page stories in Salt Lake City’s daily newspapers on a speech by LDS elder Dallin Oaks provides a stark example of the failures of the Deseret News as a news organization.

In the Trib’s story, they zero in (appropriately) on a comparison that Oaks made to the backlash against Mormons for the anti-gay rights positions to the bloody, and often deadly, abuse blacks suffered during the civil rights fight.

In the Deseret News advertorial, the speech is essentially reprinted with transitions added to give it the semblance of a news story. There is no balance, no response. Even more interestingly, the article does not even mention the comparison to the persecution of blacks in the South, nor does the sidebar reprinting of his summary where he made the comparison.

The article was written by Scott Taylor, a veteran reporter at the Deseret News who, until relocating to the newsroom and the religion beat a few months ago, was writing for Church News. A quick tip for readers, quite frankly, is to simply read anything written by Taylor with a skeptical eye.

While disappointing, this is what readers should now expect from the Deseret News on certain issues, most notably gay rights and the LDS Church. Their coverage will be slanted.

This is not to say the Deseret News will be slanted. On 95 percent of the issues, they will be balanced and, in my opinion, often a better newspaper (especially with lots of anecdotal leads!). But on 5 percent of the issues, they will not be balanced, which sullies the respect for the other 95 percent of the news.

Oh, and that 95/5 split mentioned above? Not my numbers, but the numbers told to me and others by Editor-in-Chief and Pulitzer Prize-winning READER of the Deseret News, Joe Cannon, and managing editor Rick Hall. It was an oft-repeated defense for their censorship of Prop 8 news when I was at the Deseret News as an editor.

A small irony in all of this is that the LDS Church’s Bureau of Righteous Thought, in their press release summary of the speech, highlights the comparison of criticism of the LDS Church to persecution of blacks in the South. Besides further proving the idiocy of the Deseret News advertorial, it emphasizes that the new Deseret News editorial mission is truly coming from within the newspaper, and not from their owners at the LDS Church.

Disclosure: I worked at the Deseret News for almost a decade as a reporter and editor, and my grandfather was the chairman of the board from 1996-2006. Although I was a vocal critic of Cannon’s “More Mormon” emphasis in the last couple of years, I was not fired or forced out, but left willingly to work for City Weekly a couple of months ago.

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