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Posts Tagged ‘media’

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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One Year Ago, Something Happened

News happens every day. Somedays, it is life-changing, such as a Moon landing, the start of a war, or terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Some days, it is horrible tragedy that reminds us how often humans are at the mercy of nature.  And some days, it is just news.

There has to be front page stories every day.  That’s a simple fact.  And one year after that front page story, it will be the one year anniversary of that story.  So what do most people do?  Read the news of the day, not the news about the news one year ago.

More and more, however, that news from one year ago, or five or ten years, is becoming the news. It’s an insipid trend, especially at the local level.  On an almost weekly basis, there are stories about stories from the past billed as current news. (Note: Instead of holding one story out as example, I have decided to paint a broader swath. My intent is to not implicate any particular people or specific story, but to condemn pretty much every anniversary story).

Until August, I was an editor at the Deseret News, and yes, I edited some of these anniversary stories. The creep of these stories, however, was noticeable this year, a symptom I blamed on the reduction of the news staff. While it may seem counter-intuitive to devote time to anniversary stories when actual news is not being covered, it makes sense from a management stand-point.

With a dwindling staff, beats are spread more widely, and reporters have a tough time really delving into an issue they cover in a way that pushes the conversation forward. So to get a grasp on a big issue, they look backwards to try to gather lessons learned. Editors, who are usually stretched thin as well, tend to not complain much about these stories because they have the luxury of time when handling them. Photographers like them because, no matter what the story, a good photographer can shoot a great picture. Designers like them because the page can be laid out in advance, and copy editors like them because they can read them well before deadline. In short, these anniversary stories are crutches used by every single person putting together a paper.

This is especially true for the Sunday paper’s front page, the weekly money shot for journalists. This used to be the slot reserved for investigative pieces, issue stories written by beat reporters with a deep knowledge of a current debate, or actual big news from the previous day. But now, papers have basically eliminated investigative journalism, employ skeleton (and often inexperienced) staffs on Saturdays, and lack beat reporters with the ability and time to really delve into a story. So, they foist anniversary stories on an unknowing reader, hoping the semblance of news fills the void created by the lack of real news.

The problem, however, is that these stories are almost never legitimate news. Instead, they are puff pastries, filled with pretty words and decorated with pretty pictures that are, in the end, empty calories.

End note: This post was inspired by #1 on a great list by Don Gilmour at the Mediactive blog. For the most part, I agree with every suggestion of his, and I really like the idea of rewarding commenters who will identify themselves.

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