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By summer's end, there will be a new face — and a new accent — atop the LDS Church's vast and massive media operation.

Richard Eyring Turley Jr., assistant LDS Church historian and recorder, was named Tuesday as the new managing director of public affairs for the Utah-based faith.

Turley, a U.S.-born attorney and co-author of the acclaimed "Massacre at Mountain Meadows," succeeds Michael Otterson, a British convert and journalist who is retiring after holding the position for eight years.

The soft-spoken Turley, 60, has spent his entire career working for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He co-wrote "Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case," a defense of Mormon leaders' actions during the 1980s after the infamous forger murdered two people to cover up his peddling of fake church documents.

In subsequent decades, Turley supervised the Church History Department as it merged with the Family History Department. He pushed the team to digitize many documents, helped guide the highly regarded Joseph Smith Papers Project (including the groundbreaking release of rare texts from Mormonism's founder) and assisted in the revision and renovation of the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City.

As LDS Church historian, Steven E. Snow has worked daily with Turley for 4½ years and applauds this move.

"Rick has done a lot of television and radio interviews about church history, so he's comfortable and brilliant in doing that," said Snow, an LDS general authority. "Historical issues will continue to be an important part of public affairs' responsibility so Rick's knowledge of these issues will be extremely helpful in his future role."

For several years, Turley has been deeply involved in the writing and release of a series of essays exploring and explaining the sometimes sticky aspects of Mormon theology and history.

"We worked together off and on over a 12-year period," said retired church historian Marlin K. Jensen. "I found him to be brilliant, well read and well informed, not just about the church and its history, but about life generally."

Jensen's former associate is "very good under fire and can discourse on any subject," the emeritus general authority said Tuesday. "He can be given any tough assignment where they need a calm spokesperson. I can see why he would fit this job description."

Added Jensen: "I am a big fan."

Turley advanced to his current history department position in 2008, the same year Otterson was picked to head the public affairs wing.

An LDS Church PR man for more than 40 years, Otterson brought a breadth of experience to the highly visible assignment, including writing frequent blog posts on Mormonism for The Washington Post and handling an onslaught of media inquiries during Mitt Romney's historic run for the White House in 2012. The former Massachusetts governor became the first Latter-day Saint to win a major party's presidential nomination, giving rise to the so-called "Mormon moment."

The articulate Brit has overseen a department that includes 49 domestic staffers and 24 international ones, as well as dozens of missionaries and couples around the globe who work to explain the American-born faith to the world.

During Otterson's tenure, the LDS Church unveiled its "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign, expanded its online presence and produced the "Meet the Mormons" feature film.

Otterson also penned defenses for the faith's refusal to ordain women to its all-male priesthood and responded to questions about gay rights, polygamy and Mormonism's origins. He once scathingly critiqued a best-selling book, "Under the Banner of Heaven," by journalist Jon Krakauer.

Otterson also was in charge when his department issued its response to the raunchy satirical "Book of Mormon" musical, the Broadway megahit that went on to win numerous Tony Awards.

"The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening," the church's statement said, "but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."

That playful plug has been hailed as a brilliant PR move.

Otterson, 67, plans to work side by side with Turley until retiring formally Aug. 31.

"We are thrilled to welcome Rick Turley to the public affairs department and look forward to serving with him," Von G. Keetch, of the faith's Seventy and executive director for public affairs, said in a news release, "and benefiting from his leadership, knowledge and experience."

For her part, Mormon podcaster Lindsay Hansen Park is encouraged by this appointment.

Turley's "scholarship has embraced a refreshing transparency that encourages me to believe that he will be committed to building trust in and outside of the Mormon community," said Park, assistant director of Sunstone Education Foundation and producer of the "Year of Polygamy" podcast. "His work is solid and important."

If that is any indication of how the historian will run the church's public affairs, she added, "we can look forward to a public affairs department that departs from the sometimes Orwellian messaging that has made dialogue so difficult in past years."

Twitter: @religiongal

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