This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A few months ago, a professional acquaintance told me about a meeting in which an LDS Church general authority stated that The Salt Lake Tribune was anti-Mormon.
This isn't new. We've heard it for decades. But it still bothers me, because I thought and hoped that we had evolved past those notions of historical bias long ago. Sure, The Tribune was founded by angry ex-Mormons. But in the past half-century, The Tribune has operated under the maxim that we are the newspaper for all Utahns, no matter who you are or what you believe.
Last week, a poll from Brigham Young University suggested the same conclusion as that expressed by the general authority. Almost 45 percent of respondents said The Tribune reports fairly about Mormon issues, while 74 percent felt that way about the LDS Church-owned Deseret News.
So, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is covered more fairly by the newspaper it controls than by the paper it doesn't? Does that mean the News is more balanced, more analytical, more relevant in covering Mormonism?
If it does, that raises my hackles. Then I got to another question in the poll: Only 18 percent of respondents regularly read The Tribune, and only 19 percent regularly read the Deseret News. Fifteen percent said they regularly read both papers, while just under 50 percent said they read neither paper.
In short, these opinions come largely from people who read neither paper. When asked if Utah could have only one daily, 40 percent favored The Tribune and 51 percent picked the Deseret News. Again, half these people don't read the Trib or the News.
After fretting over these numbers, I came to two conclusions: The pollsters should have screened for respondents better informed about Utah's newspapers; and, second, many Utahns form opinions about The Tribune without actually reading our paper.
If the LDS general authority were to ask me about balance in our reporting, I would first show him our extensive coverage of General Conference during the past two decades, and then I would share with him the emails I get from readers concerned that we are "turning into the Deseret News" when we write about Mormon issues on our front page.
Yes, we aggressively cover issues that are undoubtedly uncomfortable for LDS officials: alcohol laws, same-sex marriage, the movement to give women the priesthood. We include points of view that are supportive and critical of the church in those stories. We get the church's position and response. And we treat theological topics with sensitivity, recognizing that faith is deeply personal.
When those who find fault in your coverage come from different directions, all alleging bias well, that's one sign you're playing things right, that you are getting multiple perspectives on important issues. The general authority believes we are anti-Mormon; a few readers think we are becoming the church's mouthpiece. When you offend both ends of the spectrum, you likely are achieving a reasonable balance.
There were bright spots in the BYU poll. Respondents gave The Tribune credit for fulfilling the watchdog role of the press, the news outlet that holds public officials and other powerful people accountable. Our role in that regard extends to the LDS Church, as it is arguably Utah's most powerful institution.
The other good news was the sentiment that Utah needs two daily statewide papers. I couldn't agree more readers benefit when newsrooms compete.
When it comes to news about the LDS Church, there's one independent, trustworthy source that stands above all others. I'll let you decide which it is.
The Tribune played central roles in two productions that recently won awards from the Utah Broadcasters Association.
"The Utah Bucket List," produced by KUED and featuring Tribune outdoors and public lands reporter Brett Prettyman, received a gold award for best lifestyle program.
Two news radio programs produced by The Tribune and broadcast on KCPW took silver awards. The Tribune's weekly news roundup, "Behind the Headlines," and the broadcast of a debate on federal ownership of public lands were honored by the association. Both programs were produced and hosted by Tribune multimedia journalist Jennifer Napier-Pearce.
It's not every day that we receive honors from broadcast organizations, but it is indicative of our ventures onto other platforms to give the fine journalism produced in our newsroom the widest audience possible.
In writing about awards won by Tribune staff several weeks ago, I mentioned Steve Mohlman, the leader of our sports production staff. Steve died Monday at age 41 after a 90-day battle with pancreatic cancer. We miss him terribly. He was a big man with a gentle soul.
In a recent column, sports reporter Matthew Piper summed up Steve, and his work ethic, with this sentence: "Steve has the frame of an ideal left tackle, but instead became an ideal newspaperman: sharp, skeptical, compassionate and unaware, apparently, that you can finish out a shift playing solitaire."
Terry Orme is editor and publisher. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org