Monday, October 26, 2009

New Media and Missionary Work

A lot has been said in the past few days/weeks about the LDS Church, amid storms of spitfire arguments and controversial discourses. Whether you're on one side of the fence or the other, there is at least one thing all parties can agree on: new and social media are changing that way we converse in today's society.

It started with a few postings on a personal blog. It then elevated to a back-and-forth Twitter battle and a series of Facebook wall posts. A columnist at decided to show off their private battle to many in the uninformed, disconnected world we call "offline."

But Elder Oaks' controversial comments (as well as a recent column by a favorite MoTimes columnist) have got me thinking about new media. And how I engage in this medium as I branch out into the world on my own, a young, quiet Mormon attempting to make a name for himself in journalism and the City of Sin.

Today's lesson in Elder's Quorum involved Missionary Work. As one Elder in my ward called it, "today's lesson is 'Pump Up the Missionaries Day.'" I've recently realized how incredibly difficult it truly is to share the Gospel. As a missionary for two years, it seemed easy; then again, I was required to wear the identifying markers (white shirt, dark slacks, black name badge, etc.) while proselyting among the people of Venezuela every day. Here, in Las Vegas, a city where I don't hardly know anyone (Mormon and non-Mormon alike), a city where my beliefs are mocked by every billboard, every casino and a myriad other sources, I don't have that same luxury.

So I'm turning to the Internet. The World-Wide Web. Cyberspace: the Final Frontier.

While I know I am far from the first to join in this conversation (rather, I'm probably closer to the end of the line on this matter), I want this blog to also become a place where subjects pertaining to the Gospel can be discussed, debated, asked, answered and researched by inquisitive folks who happen upon this site in their latest Google searches.

After all, I am a living, breathing Mormon journalist living in Las Vegas.

Elder Ballard said, "There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time."

So here I am, a willing participant. Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Fire away.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Journalistic Practices and Biases

You've probably heard about this issue by now, if you're LDS or follow statements by LDS church leaders. Last week, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body in the church) delivered a speech at Brigham Young University-Idaho (formerly Rick's College — the No. 1 Junior College football program in the nation before it was disbanded) outlining the cause of religious freedom and what Latter-day Saints (or Mormons) can do to uphold it in modern times.

In the speech, he made numerous references to contemporary examples of Latter-day Saints in politics, and — because of its prevalence in mainstream America — church member's participation in the Proposition 8 passage, which limited California residents to marriage "between a man and a woman only."

In the speech, Elder Oaks allegedly "compared the backlash against those who voted for Prop 8 to the African American struggle for civil rights in the south." In his speech, Elder Oaks called for Latter-day Saints to stand up for their right to participate in the political arena and let their voices be heard in the public forum. I guess, in a sense, he issued a call for us to be active in our communities. He said,
"The greatest infringements of religious freedom occur when the exercise of religion collides with other powerful forces in society. Among the most threatening collisions in the United States today are (1) the rising strength of those who seek to silence religious voices in public debates, and (2) perceived conflicts between religious freedom and the popular appeal of newly alleged civil rights."
If you can't tell, here is where he began to focus on the reaction of Prop 8 opposers to positions held by many Latter-day Saints. But no matter the conflicts and silencers that raise themselves against us, Mormons should stand strong in defending their beliefs and rights to the public arena, just as any other race, culture, religion or people. Elder Oaks continued,
"Any such effort to have governments invade religion to override religious doctrines or practices should be resisted by all believers. At the same time, all who conduct such resistance should frame their advocacy and their personal relations so that they are never seen as being doctrinaire opponents of the very real civil rights (such as free speech) of their adversaries or any other disadvantaged group... We must insist on our constitutional right and duty to exercise our religion, to vote our consciences on public issues and to participate in elections and debates in the public square and the halls of justice. These are the rights of all citizens and they are also the rights of religious leaders."

Now, normally I don't get involved in issues and statements like this. Those who know me know the extreme agony I felt while contemplating the church's dialogue regarding Proposition 8 and my own relationships with those attracted to the same gender.

But I cannot sit by as my church leaders are vehemently attacked by opponents claiming to "know what he's trying to say." On Tuesday, I discovered a link to a blog by Fox 13 (Salt Lake City) executive producer Monica Bielanko that did little more than belittle the LDS church and attack it's leaders and representatives, with little rational argument. Bielanko establishes her "objectivity," as any well-meaning professional journalist would, at the beginning of her post:
"I will give you this. I still have issues. Always will. But my lingering rage anger doesn't negate that when the church is full of shit, the church is full of shit."
Such blatant use of profanity in introducing her feelings, followed by a tiresome diatribe of how she balled to her editors when "the big bad LDS PR people" made her delete a recent tweet.

You see, Bielanko broke a long-established tradition in the journalism-public relations/love-hate relationship: the media embargo. This embargo states that when an issue of pressing importance is released early to various media outlets, they should be extremely careful not to divulge the privy information before a reasonable time (usually 24 hours later). The embargo goes both ways; when I worked with a college PR entity, we received a set of rankings and statistics from BusinessWeek magazine with an attached embargo for that Friday at 4 p.m. We were given the rankings so we could prepare a release of our own to show our viewers, but nothing should be posted before the embargo was lifted.

Bielanko strictly broke the embargo by tweeting information pertaining to the speech 15 minutes before 3 p.m., the established embargo date. Although she later deleted it, I have obtained a copy of the tweet, which read:
"LDS apostle gives speech at BYU-Idaho. The contents of which has my head exploding and FOX seeking a response from the NAACP. More at Five."
Bielanko later explained on her blog her "reasoning" for publishing the info:
"As the Associated Press story was embargoed until the ol' boy finished his speech I was careful not to divulge details, only that I was working on a story about a speech delivered by an LDS apostle and had sent a reporter to get reaction from the NAACP."

Representatives from LDS Public Affairs immediately contacted her and asked her to remove the tweet. While I do agree that these PR representatives were unnecessarily enraged by a 15 minute embargo-leak via Twitter, Bielanko nevertheless committed an act that is dishonest and unethical in journalistic circles. She sacrificed her ethics for a 15 minute scoop and her anger at the LDS church.

I understand her disaffection with the church; having grown up a Mormon, Bielanko discovered an unwanted pregnancy in her teenage years and terminated it, a practice discouraged by LDS church leaders and even condemned by some members. A former blog post elaborates,
"Before this I haven't talked about it at all. My friend ... is pregnant and getting married. Her bridal shower was yesterday. I'm jealous that she is having a baby. I am jealous because she chose the right way. I'm not really jealous, but I wish I would have done that. You know? I don't know what else to say. I'm so lost in life."

After learnign of this issue, I understand a little more while this reporter is sincerely disaffected with the church. But because of this irrational rage and anger against all things Mormon, her editors and producers should not allow her to report or cover (in any way) anything that has to do with the LDS church. At a media outlet in Salt Lake City, that may relegate her to doing nothing but sound bites for high school soccer. But such is the apparent choice she made when she decided to voice her opinions "when the church is full of shit, the church is full of shit."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October Conference Goodness

Mormon Tabernacle Choir general conference - October 2009, Saturday morning session.
This past weekend marked my first General Conference viewing from outside of Utah (not counting those two years I spent in Venezuela... what we're they called?... oh yeah, a mission). I couldn't make it to the local meetinghouse to view the satellite broadcasts so most of my weekend was spent sitting on my bed in front of my computer. How is that different than any other weekend? This time, I was watching Conference proceedings on For those who don't know about this site, I would highly recommend it. It provides any programming currently airing or that has aired on BYU Television, and it's absolutely free. Instead of paying cable fees and dues, you can watch it here, with streaming available at about 900 KBS. The quality isn't perfect, but free stuff doesn't usually come packaged in HD.

So here are some of the key notes of each session.

Saturday AM
News: President Monson announced new temples for Brigham City, Utah; Concepcion, Chile; Fortaleza, Brazil; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Sapporo, Japan.
Quote: "Relying on the Spirit means putting your personal knowledge in the backseat. The Lord does not need scriptorians; he needs scripturally-minded Saints." (Richard G. Scott)

Saturday PM
Quote: "When family members are not united in keeping God's commandments, there will be divisions. But those divisions do not detract from our love for each other nor His love for us." (Dallin H. Oaks)
Quote: "Don't exchange your absolute certainty for a doubt. There will always be intellectual crises and issues. But there will likewise always be truth" (Tad R. Callister)

Saturday Night (Priesthood session)
Quote: "It's not enough to just hang out. The Church will need your leadership in the future." (M. Russell Ballard)
Quote: "Retirement is not part of the Lord's plan. 'I've already done that' is not an excuse to avoid work in the church. Such an attitude is not one of a disciple of Christ." (Deiter F. Uchtdorf)

Sunday AM
Quote: "Power and position is not given to man to build him up in fame or prestige; man is made leader to bless and serve others." (Russell M. Nelson)
Quote: "Man's greatest happiness comes from losing himself in the service of others." (David O. McKay, as quoted by Thomas S. Monson)

Sunday PM
Quote: "Joseph and Hyrum were willing to die rather than deny the veracity of the Book of Mormon; no other answer has been able to withstand time like the one Joseph gave as the book's unlearned translator."
"One cannot come to the fullness of this work without a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon." (Jeffrey R. Holland)
Quote: "Rationalizations are an enemy to God and his commands." (Quentin L. Cook)