Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commended reporters this past weekend for doing their jobs — for researching and investigating and reporting on far-reaching and meaningful stories. While Christofferson was addressing Latin journalists of the Inter American Press Association, we presume such remarks would also apply to journalists here in Utah.
Christofferson told the reporters, “Your privilege and calling as a journalist is to facilitate discussion and debate between people who have different beliefs, races, nationalities and political opinions. … The basic principles of journalistic integrity — objectivity in reporting, detachment from personal bias, and disinterested duty to the truth — are essential in facilitating public trust and civil discourse.”
It’s admirable that the Mormon church recognizes that journalism is an essential function of a democratic society, especially here in Utah where the church plays such a dominant role in social and political affairs. Utah has been home to two dominant newspapers since the 19th century. The Mormon church owns the Deseret News; The Salt Lake Tribune is known as “Utah’s Independent voice.”
That independence was on full display this year when The Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for its hard-hitting coverage of sexual assault at Brigham Young University.
We trust that Christofferson’s encouragement to journalists applies even when the Mormon church is the subject of such zealous and diligent investigation, including its church-owned school BYU.
The church has been trying to narrow a “trust gap” with its membership regarding some of its difficult history. A few years ago it published 11 essays that attempted to explain previously-disputed topics, like polygamy, Heavenly Mother and the priesthood.
The increased transparency is laudable, but the church sourced those essays. It is crucial that independent journalists continue to investigate and report on issues surrounding the church, its policies and its leaders in an effort to “shine light on the difficulties of our world,” as Christofferson said.
One recent Tribune story detailed how a former Utah lawmaker complained about church lobbyists who work behind the scenes, often secretly, to influence the outcome of state legislation. Another article about church finances was one of the most popular stories for multiple days. As Christofferson said, such reporting forms the “bulwark of democracy.”
We appreciate Christofferson’s encouragement. As Utah’s independent voice, we will continue “to give voice to the voiceless, to shine light on difficulties of our [state], and to bestow dignity on the human experience.”