On Feb. 24, the Deseret News demoted two editors, reportedly for their resistance to pulling or editing stories about controversial topics—including Proposition 8 and gay rights—to be more “acceptable” to LDS readers.
According to reports from Tribune blogger Glen Warchol, assistant managing news editor Chuck Gates and business editor Julianne Basinger were demoted to the post of “special writer” and copy editor, respectively.
Deseret News state government editor Josh Loftin told KCPW host Jeff Robinson that Joe Cannon, the paper’s Editor in Chief, had enacted a policy several months ago to slant or pull controversial stories for “financial reasons, not political reasons.” LDS Church leadership, he added, had no part in his decision.
“Basically, he believes the Mormon reader wants news that is sensitive to their beliefs, and if it is not through a Mormon filter necessarily, it’s definitely written with the Mormon reader in mind,” he said. “It only applies to a small, but significant, portion of the news we cover.”
This portion, said Loftin, included such hot button topics as gay rights, Proposition 8 and state liquor laws. The changes, he added, could come in the form of comments (for stories on liquor laws) on how to “rephrase the church’s position on these things—their often cryptic position” to actually not running a story “because it as not written with the proper tone.”
“Or as in the case of Proposition 8 [not running a story] because it [reported on] accusations or criticism of the LDS Church’s stance on that,” he said.
Loftin told Robinson that he did not doubt that Cannon was acting strictly to keep the newspaper financially viable in a time when newspapers across the country are facing financial hardship.
“He honestly believes this is the way to save the newspaper,” he said. “But in doing so, he has made the decision that saving the newspaper means sacrificing the value of the newspaper.”
Cannon’s take over of the paper in 2006 stirred controversy because of his past as a former Republican state party chairman and lobbyist and his lack of any newspaper experience.
When asked how the Deseret News’ staff had responded to these policies, Loftin said there had been “significant battles with Joe Cannon … about journalistic ethics and standards.” And when the announcement of the editors’ demotions hit the news office, Loftin’s government reporters and political editor Bob Bernick decided to pull their bylines — the information identifying the writer of an article — from their stories. The bylines were replaced with “By Deseret News Staff.”
“We decided as a show of support for Chuck and Julianne, as well as a protest of the decision [to demote them],” said Loftin.
He noted that reporters were not punished for the move.
Although the paper is owned by the LDS Church, the Deseret News has long been regarded by many as an unbiased daily newspaper. And Loftin said he was sad to see that changing.
“I think we were carving out our inches as the best daily newspaper in the city, and that is being undone to become the best Mormon newspaper in the city,” he said.
“We all have the goal of making it a respectable newspaper … and part of that is reporting news that maybe isn’t something Mormon readers necessarily want to see or read, but it’s probably important that they do,” he added.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said that Cannon’s policies could harm the paper in the long run.
“In a move that could lead to the stifling of fair, accurate and inclusive coverage of LGBT and other issues, the Deseret News runs the risk of abandoning basic journalistic standards necessary to remain recognizable as a credible media source,” wrote Western Media Field Strategist Adam Bass on the organization’s blog.