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What the LDS Church does in Utah is news, even if you are not a member, George Pyle writes

A friend of The Tribune is upset with all the coverage of LDS matters.

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) This April 20, 2016, file photo shows copies of The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper in Salt Lake City.

A friend writes,

Dear Mr. Pyle,

Having read you for years, I know you must be as concerned about this new editor’s preoccupation with anything Mormon. It is the top news every day!

Someone, perhaps the board, must reign this zealot in! Who can be enlisted to talk to her? Her crusade for BYU news must be very offensive to a large portion of your readers.

I have resubscribed, but enough is enough. Every day a trivial matter. She is obsessed.

Can you help. Who should I contact?

Bill

Dear Bill,

Thanks for reaching out to me.

I appreciate that you are a faithful reader of The Salt Lake Tribune and care enough to tell us when you think we have gone astray.

But the fact is that The Tribune’s devotion to covering The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and related institutions, such as Brigham Young University, far predates the regime of our current editor and board members, going back to the founding of the newspaper 151 years ago.

The undeniable fact is that the LDS Church is to Salt Lake City as General Motors is to Detroit, Wall Street is to New York and Hollywood is to Los Angeles. If done right, news coverage of those important local institutions holds the powerful to account. I think The Tribune has acquitted itself admirably in that regard, as readers and the board of the Pulitzer Prizes agree.

I submit the recent Tribune articles you refer to are not about “trivial matters.” Our reporters have been diligently investigating how the church and BYU use their considerable power over the lives of their members, their students and their money. When the power of such influential people and institutions appears to be abused in ways that are harmful to people, as it is in these cases, that’s the proper business of local journalists and of the community, in and out of the church.

Harmful misbehavior by all who hold power, spiritual or temporal, is always top news.

It is my belief, unsupported by any objective research, that the outpouring of support for The Tribune’s nonprofit model has come in large part because the vision of Salt Lake City being left only with the church-owned Deseret News — which also publishes a great deal of information about the church but seldom if ever holds it to account for wrongdoing or questionable behavior — is more frightening to many than the image of the city having no newspaper at all.

Any edition of any newspaper is likely to have many articles and features — news, sports, opinion, puzzles, food and entertainment — that are of great interest to some of our readers and of no interest at all to others. It is up to the reader to skip over the things he or she has no interest in and concentrate on the others.

I once worked for an editor who did not read the comics, thought covering professional and big-time college sports was a waste of the newspaper’s time and money and was downright offended by the whole concept of devoting expensive newsprint to an pseudo-scientific astrology column.

But he also said that if he liked everything in a day’s newspaper, that would mean there would be others who would like nothing in the paper.

One of the interesting aspects of the shift from print to online is whether it changes how readers interact with the news - do they read items they already know they want to read and ignore everything else? Are readers more or less likely to accidentally encounter things they didn’t know they were interested in, but would benefit from reading?

I sincerely hope, and fully expect, that if you skip over the LDS-related news in The Tribune you will find much else that you appreciate and enjoy. Just as others may home in on the news about the church and find the features you like irrelevant to their lives.

Thanks for reading, and caring about, The Salt Lake Tribune.

Best,

George

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, remembers reading newspapers cover to cover when he was 5 years old. Now, though, he can’t always remember what he read 10 minutes ago.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter, @debatestate

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