“Does anyone see the irony here?” Joel Campbell asked in reference to The Associated Press’ coverage this week of changes in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Me! Me! Me!
As Campbell noted, both the AP headline and lede seemed full of irony — or is there any chance it was mockery?
Here’s the deal: The story concerned new developments in the church’s effort to drop the name “Mormon.”
If you need a refresher on that subject, this 2018 post by Richard Ostling is a must read. Ostling was the co-author with his late wife, Joan, of the book “Mormon America: The Power and the Promise.” And our own tmatt wrote a national column on this topic: “Escaping the M-word: Trying to go back to the Latter-day Saint future.”
Back to AP: This is the headline:
Mormon websites renamed in push to end use of nicknames
This is the lede:
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church said Tuesday it will rename websites, social media accounts and employee email addresses to get rid of “Mormon” and “LDS” as the faith continues a push to be known by the religion’s full name and not shorthand nicknames it previously embraced and promoted.
So in a story about how the church doesn’t want to be known as “Mormon” anymore, AP uses that description in both the headline and the lede.
The journalistic question: Is that the best, most impartial approach?
Interestingly, the AP Stylebook — “the journalist’s bible” — offers this guidance that predates the church leaders’ push for a change:
Acceptable in references to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the official name is preferred in first reference in a story dealing primarily with church activities.
So why not follow style — particularly given the subject matter of this story — and use the church’s, full preferred name on first reference?
Instead, AP saves that for the second paragraph:
The changes mark the latest step to implement a shift ordered last year by Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nelson, 94, has said the Lord impressed upon the importance of the full name and that removing the name from titles is “a major victory for Satan.”
I thought the Salt Lake Tribune handled the story much better.
The Tribune’s headline:
LDS Church, de-emphasizing those three letters, unveils a new internet address with more changes on the way
And its lede:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continued its move away from the monikers “Mormon” and “LDS” on Tuesday by introducing its new web address.
See how easy that was?
Unlike AP, Campbell said other journalists are attempting to make the new language work:
As Ostling noted in his post that I referenced earlier, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a mouthful and not anything that would fit into most headlines. But there are other ways that journalists can try to cover this story in an accurate and respectful way.
Certainly, it seems that AP could work harder to adhere to its standards of fairness and impartiality on this subject matter.