This is Part Two of responses provided by representatives of the LDS Newsroom to a set of questions submitted by T&S permabloggers. See Part One for the first six questions and responses.
7. It seems like the Newsroom came online just in time to deal with heightened media interest in the Church generated by the 2002 Olympics, polygamous groups claiming a historical connection to Mormonism, and the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. Was that just fortunate timing, or was there an earlier plan in place to beef up LDS Public Affairs and to use a site like the Newsroom to coordinate rapid and authoritative LDS responses to media questions and stories?
The Olympics certainly drove the rapid development of the Newsroom (originally media.lds.org). However, like all organizations, the Church certainly would have developed a media site anyway, but a significant amount of resources were poured into it to prepare for the Olympics. That content became the foundation the site was built on. Since that time, an increasing amount of emphasis has been placed on Newsroom due to both news events and the growing role of the Internet in disseminating information during the past decade.
8. A Pew Research Center report published in December 2007 revealed, somewhat to the surprise of many members of the Church, widespread misconceptions and unfavorable views of the LDS Church and its members. These results were widely reported in the press. Does LDS Public Affairs have any initiatives in place, using the Newsroom or other resources, to address those misconceptions and unfavorable views?
Correcting misperceptions about the Church is a primary ongoing function of Public Affairs, but nothing new is being driven specifically by the Pew study.
9. In posts and discussion at Times & Seasons it often becomes clear that the issues and challenges facing members of the international Church are entirely different than those facing members of the Church in the United States. What sort of challenges confront LDS Public Affairs when trying to respond to questions from the international media?
Public Affairs has offices in areas of the Church throughout the world that respond to questions from the news media in their own areas. One of the primary challenges is that, generally speaking, media outside the United States are less familiar with the Church than U.S. media. The Church has established many Country Web sites to engage with the media locally.
10. To what extent does LDS Public Affairs reach out to LDS and non-LDS scholars as a resource for responding to issues discussed in the media? For example, “Looking Beyond the Surface: A Scholar’s View of Mormonism” (October 5, 2007) and “A Mormon Worldview” (January 8, 2008) both include substantial commentary by scholars.
Often the Church will refer journalists who call to scholars who are knowledgeable about specific or general topics relating to Mormonism. From time to time Public Affairs also quotes scholars who have a deep understanding of certain subjects and can clearly articulate a subject from an objective viewpoint. And since a large segment of our audience is not familiar with the terminology used by Church members, certain scholars, both Mormon and non-Mormon, have widely-recognized credibility and possess a unique ability to communicate to outside audiences. Particularly when Church history is the topic of discussion, scholars can provide depth and context from an objective viewpoint, which helps journalists get an accurate picture of the story.
11. The PBS series “The Mormons” (aired as a pair of two-hour documentaries) received a lot of media attention in Utah and continues to generate discussion in LDS circles. The Newsroom post “Opinions on PBS Programs Broad and Diverse” (May 2, 2007) gave high marks to the series for its “serious treatment of a serious subject.” What does LDS Public Affairs think of the overall media response to that landmark PBS series? Does that response give rise to hope or concern about how the media will cover LDS media events in the future?
These two posts on Newsroom adequately answer that question:
12. As a final question, please share what expanded future role LDS Public Affairs sees for the Newsroom or other online resources. Is there a Newsroom 2.0 on the drawing board? Are the short videos posted at the Newsroom (which can be linked to or embedded in weblogs or other sites) seen as the wave of the future? Elder Ballard’s December 2007 speech at BYU-Hawaii (“Using New Media to Support the Work of the Church,” December 15, 2007) urging members of the Church to share their faith in online forums understandably generated a lot of discussion on LDS weblogs. When should we expect the first official General Authority blog?
Public Affairs has been watching social media closely since it emerged. We are constantly working on adapting Newsroom to better function in a new media environment. Weâ€™re currently working on some specific changes to the site, in addition to some we have made recently, which have included adding social media sharing features. Video will be incredibly important in the future, thereâ€™s no question about that. We intend to produce more of it and to continue to make it downloadable and sharable. Youâ€™ll likely see more in-depth, video-rich stories like we produced about Church members in Texas. We also anticipate the site will become more â€œconversational.â€ Elder Ballardâ€™s emphasis on Church members using new media is having an impact. For instance, according to Blogpulse, President Hinckley was the 3rd most mentioned individual in the blogosphere the day after he passed away. Weâ€™re also seeing thousands of blogs that are linking back to the newsroom site. One of our new Newsroom audiences is Church members who are using new media. We try to provide content that helps them to discuss the Church with their own audiences. How and when the Church will begin blogging officially has been discussed, but is yet to be determined.
We are constantly trying to improve Newsroom. We invite Times & Seasons readers to send us feedback and to register to receive email updates from Newsroom.
Note: Here is a link to the video of Elder Ballard’s “New Media” talk referenced above.