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Utah's Deseret News Takes Final Steps to End Run as Mainstream Newspaper

The Deseret News, Utah’s second-largest newspaper, published continually since 1850, has taken the final steps to transition from being a mainstream media publication to become a communications and publicity tool of the Mormon Church.

Last week’s appointment of an editorial board headed by anti-gay activists from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) ends the paper’s long run as a reliable news source.  Additionally, today’s announcement that the paper is laying off nearly half of its staff reflects the paper’s movement away from fair journalism.

Last week, the Deseret News appointed a new “Editorial Advisory Board” to “help provide insight and story development for the Deseret News.”  These individuals presented their goals by promising to “align our organization to honor the principles espoused by our ownership (the Mormon Church).”

This effort to mold “news” in accordance with the principles of the Mormon Church will be led by the 12-member advisory board consisting of some of the most prominent anti-gay leaders in the nation:  Matthew Holland and Robert George, both from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).  Holland was a former board member at NOM, and George is the current chairman of the board at NOM.

Today, the Deseret News also announced that it was cutting the paper’s staff by 43 percent, laying off many of the newsroom personnel.  The paper plans to effectively merge with the staff at KSL TV/radio, which is, like the Deseret News, wholly owned by the Mormon Church.  They plan to supplement their content through KSL’s staff and outside sources.

The announcements about the new editorial board and today’s massive lay-offs demonstrate what we can expect in the future from the Deseret News.  In both cases, the “story” in the Deseret News about these events was simply re-printing the press release.  Re-printing press releases is not journalism.  (The press release for the editorial board versus the Deseret News story; and the press release for the lay-offs versus the Deseret News story.)

GLAAD blogged about the Deseret News’ transition from mainstream to advocacy media in the past.  The transition began when a new editor, Joe Cannon, was named in 2007.  Cannon was then the sitting chairman of the Utah Republican Party.

A short time later in January 2008, The Deseret News introduced a regular section called “The Mormon Times” as part of the publication.  One of the primary columnists at “The Mormon Times” is anti-gay science fiction novelist Orson Scott Card.  Mr. Card also serves on NOM’s board.  He has written scathingly anti-gay columns, one even calling for government overthrow if gay people are allowed to marry:

“How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.”

The Deseret News’ recent actions, as well their addition of two outspoken leaders from NOM on an editorial advisory board makes it clear to GLAAD that the Deseret News has ceased to be a mainstream media organization.  NOM is a politically extreme, anti-gay organization – and has no credibility for fair or accurate representations of gay people or issues.  The Deseret News is choosing to align itself under the direction of this anti-gay organization.

Although the Deseret News has always been owned by the Mormon Church, throughout the 20th century the paper had a series of non-Mormon editors, reporters, columnists.  Until recently, the paper strived to present itself as a mainstream media outlet.

As we reported on this blog, in January 2009, immediately following the Proposition 8 campaign, which had the strong backing of the paper’s owners, the Mormon Church, a group of reporters and editors pulled their bylines in the paper to protest what they considered – internally – as censorship of objective articles that didn’t paint the Mormon Church in a favorable light.

The leader of that byline strike, then-Deseret News Government and Politics Editor Josh Loftin has since left the paper to become managing editor of The City Weekly, Salt Lake’s alternative weekly paper.  He blogs frequently about the changes at the Deseret News.

The Deseret News, through the past several years has begun a transition into being the publicity arm of the Mormon Church leaving only one mainstream major daily newspaper in Utah:  The Salt Lake Tribune.