12 Questions for the LDS Newsroom, Part One

Representatives from LDS Public Affairs who manage and direct the Newsroom site at LDS.org agreed to respond to a dozen questions submitted by the T&S permabloggers. We are pleased to post the first six questions and answers below, with the second set of six to follow shortly. We appreciate the time and effort that went into preparing these detailed responses. They should help make the Newsroom an even more useful resource for LDS readers.

1. First, tell us how the Newsroom site at LDS.org got started and what the initial goals for the site were. Was LDS Public Affairs assigned the task of developing and managing the site from the very beginning? The site description at the Newsroom homepage identifies it as “the official resource for news media, opinion leaders, and the public.” Was that the original mission of the Newsroom?

Newsroom.lds.org began as media.lds.org a few years prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics. The primary goal was to provide resources to the thousands of journalists who covered the Church during the Olympic period. That original site was translated daily into 14 languages and included about 100 pre-written “story packages” for the international media to use when covering the Church. While the main focus was the Olympics, the site was created at a time when the Church was starting to develop a strong Internet presence.

The media site was and has always been a Public Affairs project. It’s unique among Church sites in that its primary audience is not necessarily Church members or those who are considering joining the Church, but “news media, opinion leaders, and the public.” The original media.lds.org site was directed more exclusively towards the news media than other opinion leaders and the public. Newsroom.lds.org tries to reach a broader audience to adapt to the Web 2.0 world and the emergence of social media, recognizing that those technologies have enabled many more people to shape opinion.

2. The term “official resource” in the Newsroom site description raises the question of just how official the content of the Newsroom is for members of the Church. It certainly offers journalists, for example, a reliable and quotable source providing an LDS perspective and response to issues and events that concern the Church. On the other hand, apart from quotations attributed to LDS leaders in many of the posts, there is no statement of who is authoring the posts or who has reviewed or approved them.

Newsroom.lds.org is an official source for information about the Church. Like Church publications, such as the Ensign, Newsroom accurately represents the beliefs, policies and practices of the Church. Even though attribution is not given for articles on Newsroom.lds.org, all items posted on the site follow a thorough review process so they can be reliable and official information. The focus for Newsroom content is to help “news media, opinion leaders and the public” understand the Church. It is written specifically with those audiences in mind. Newsroom content should be helpful to Church members in understanding and explaining public issues related to the Church. But there are other, excellent Church sites that provide gospel-related information specifically for Church members.

3. Some posts at the Newsroom, such as “The Religious Experience of Mormonism” (June 6, 2008) and “The Grand Enterprise of Mormonism” (July 8, 2008), seem to offer interpretation and guidance concerning scriptures and doctrine, as well as more general commentary concerning the mission of the Church. That sounds a lot like the role traditionally filled by First Presidency features in the Church News or the Ensign, or even by General Conference talks. Is this an intended role for the Newsroom?

The role of Newsroom is to help the news media and other audiences better understand the Church, its practices and doctrine. One of the great things about new media and the Internet is that it allows organizations (and individuals) to provide additional context and clarity on an issue or story that is often lacking in mainstream media news stories, because of space and other constraints. We’ve created the “Commentary” section on Newsroom, for example, to give more background on issues where just a quote or sound bite in the news doesn’t fully explain the issue. Posts on Newsroom do provide a Church perspective and an official voice helping to explain an issue, but they can be different than an authoritative statement from Church leaders. For example, Newsroom commentaries might explain existing positions and doctrine in terms the news media and public understand. Going back to the Ensign example, it’s like an Ensign article authored by staff or a Church member compared to an Ensign article authored by a General Authority. Because they’re both published in the Ensign, they both accurately represent the positions of the Church. The difference, of course, is that the General Authority article comes from an ordained Church leader. Some content posted on Newsroom is clearly labeled as being an official statement from the Church in general or from the First Presidency in particular. Other content, such as the “Divine Institution of Marriage,” is carefully reviewed and sometimes edited by the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve, but not labeled as such.

4. Recent posts at the Newsroom have dealt with very general topics like LDS theology (“Approaching Mormon Doctrine,” May 4, 2007) and the role of Mormon history (“Approaching Mormon History,” July 5, 2007). Other posts clearly respond to confusing or inaccurate statements on a particular topic addressed by the media in the current news cycle (“Answering Media Questions About Jesus and Satan,” December 12, 2007). How do you decide what topics or stories to address by way of Newsroom posts?

Public Affairs periodically addresses an issue when a story breaks in the news media that requires an official response or simply more context and clarification. “Answering Media Questions About Jesus and Satan” is an example of that. Other commentary topics cover issues that arise repeatedly and are not necessarily driven by current news events. These are intended to remain on Newsroom as background for journalists, bloggers and others who visit the site.

5. How are the positions that LDS Public Affairs takes in the posts at the Newsroom actually coordinated? Is there a senior LDS leader or a committee of leaders that reviews and approves posts, or does the supervising individual or committee merely establish policies that guide the Newsroom managers, who then make independent publishing decisions? A related process question is how — given what some might assume to be a slow-paced bureaucratic management structure — you seem to be able to regularly post substantive responses to media stories within a short 24-hour news cycle window.

The level of approval required depends on the nature of the item being posted. Routine stories are approved within the department. All content is also reviewed by Church Correlation, the same body that reviews other Church publications such as magazines, curriculum, etc. There’s an understanding at all levels that the process needs to move quickly to accommodate the speed at which news and other information is traveling.

6. Please comment on how the mission of the Newsroom has evolved since its inception several years ago. For example, the site seems to have become an important resource for quickly disseminating authoritative statements of senior LDS leaders to the general membership of the Church, such as the statements on political neutrality or stem-cell research posted in the “Public Issues” section or the February 21, 2007 post “Missionary Safety.” It seems like that use of the site was not one that was originally anticipated.

Public Affairs can now provide more public information about the Church because we are not constrained by the filter of the news media. The Internet, and specifically the Newsroom site, allows us to post additional contextual and background information, even entire interviews that wouldn’t be included in a news story. The interview Public Affairs conducted with Elder Oaks and Wickman on same-gender attraction is a good example of that. The Church wanted to provide an exhaustive interview on that subject to help readers understand the Church’s stance on the issue. While a news story would have reduced the interview to a few quotes, we were able to provide 15 single-spaced pages on Newsroom. So one of the ways the site is changing is that, in addition to providing resources for the news media to use in their stories, Newsroom has become a news source in itself, which is just as accessible as any news website.

20 comments for “12 Questions for the LDS Newsroom, Part One

  1. A classic T&S scoop. Well done, Dave.

    “Representatives from LDS Public Affairs.” We want names, darnit!

  2. This is fantastic work. Thanks to my cobloggers and the Newsroom people who put this together.

  3. Let me just say that it is great that the folks at the Newsroom are willing to field these questions and answer candidly. I really appreciate this stance of openness.

  4. “One of the great things about new media and the Internet is that it allows organizations (and individuals) to provide additional context and clarity on an issue or story that is often lacking in mainstream media news stories, because of space and other constraints.”

    Absolutely. I’ve praised LDS Public Affairs before (I think even here at T&S), but trust me: what the Newsroom has been doing over the past 2-3 years is top notch, cutting edge PR. And it’s where most of us practitioners knew we had to go. At my previous job, we recognized that we needed tell our own stories several years ago and launched a news site in 2004. But what we never really figured out was how much to address editorial issues, esp. negative coverage — and the best way to do so. What’s fascinating about the Newsroom is that LDS Public Affairs has waded in to some tough issues as well as writing some smart commentary about the nature of certain debates and media representations.

    What’s more I admire the fact that there have been a broad variety of topics addressed in the commentaries — everything from the value of education and Mormon studies to missionary safety to reverence for the Bible to political neutrality.

    All that said: we’ll see what part II brings, but I’m still not sure that how church members are supposed to take what the newsroom writes as completely authoritative/doctrinal. There references to the Ensign further muddles things because the same issues arise with that publication. This doesn’t really bug me. I relish in the interplay between bureaucratic, marketing/pr, media and “official” discourses.

  5. In addition to everything else already said, it is very encouraging to see this type of collaboration between the LDS Newsroom site and the bloggernacle. Very interesting and helpful.

  6. The good thing about the Newsroom is that its only tentatively official. Disavowable and changeable, its like a beta revelation.

  7. Thanks for the reminder, Ronan. After careful review, I stand by my comments there. Please note, though, that nothing that I say is authoritative unless it’s issued in (possibly rhyming) manifesto format.

  8. Excellent work. There have been lots of questions around the Bloggernaccle about the authority behind the Newsroom Commentary material, and I’m glad that the Public Affairs folks took the time to put this material in context. One observation:

    Some content posted on Newsroom [Commentary] is clearly labeled as being an official statement from the Church in general or from the First Presidency in particular. Other content . . . is carefully reviewed and sometimes edited by the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve, but not labeled as such.

    So does all Commentary material fit under one of these two categories, or is there a third category of material that is not reviewed by the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve? This still leaves some ambiguity about whether all Commentary material is reviewed by and represents the views of the First Presidency/Quorum of the Twelve.

  9. I am thrilled that my church has a newsroom that, in addition to all the other great work it does, will thoughtfully address these very important questions, and I’m thrilled to blog with people who can formulate these key questions so well! This is very helpful.

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