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a silent salute: The audience "claps" at Joke Night during Deaf Awareness week. Click Arts&Life for a link to story. / Photo by Leah Lopshire

Today's word on journalism

December 15, 2008

As part of my own personal "war on Christmas" (which a Utah state senator has offered legislation to outlaw), the WORD celebrates the season by going on hiatus until January. May all out days be merry and bright, and here’s to a safe, healthy and saner New Year. HoHoHo!

Empty Minds: "Of all the people expressing their mental vacuity, none has a better excuse for an empty head than the newspaperman: If he pauses to restock his brain, he invites onrushing deadlines to trample him flat. Broadcasting the contents of empty minds is what most of us do most of the time, and nobody more relentlessly than I."

--Russell Baker, Pulitzer-winning columnist

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Behold! The power of gatekeepers!

By April Larsen

November 11, 2008 | Last Thursday, a couple of hours after the rally started at the L.A. Mormon Temple, I found myself glued to the L.A. Times online article of the event.

I lived on the L.A. temple grounds for eight months, so I wanted to soak up the details of the breaking news. Over four or five hours I refreshed the article, observing its evolution. I was surprised by the way the changing content changed the general sway of the article, and I wondered what was contributing to the choices the writers were making in altering the content.

The first version of the article read:

Soon after the rally got under way at 2 p.m., men and woman hoisting signs shouted down about a half-dozen men in suits from the church, yelling "Shame on you!" and pointing at them. The men in suits and a groundskeeper stood looking at them impassively.

I liked this lead. I think the word "impassively" really hit the spot. Those who are frustrated with the church could resent the idea of temple patrons looking impassively, and members of the church, like me, could be amused by the lack of impact the protesters were having.

A couple of hours after I read that lead and chuckled to myself, the writers of the Times article changed it. (At least the typo was removed.) It now reads:

Outside the Los Angeles temple Thursday, dozens of protestors screamed "Bigots" and "Shame on You" at half a dozen men in button-down shirts and ties who looked out at the demonstration from behind the temple's closed gates. The men did not respond.

Now all I hear is "Bigots looked out from behind closed gates." The extra framing really drew a more thorough profile.

There's also the "no comment" or "did not repond" effect we talked about in a journalism class today. It's got to be the quickest way to make someone sound like a bozo. The line that was receptive to perception had become lop-sided.

They also framed the church statement by what it doesn't say, by writing this:

Church officials made few public statements during the campaign. On Thursday, they issued a statement asking for "a spirit of mutual respect and civility." "The Church acknowledges that such an emotionally charged issue concerning the most personal and cherished aspects of life -- family and marriage -- stirs fervent and deep feelings," church spokeswoman Kim Farah wrote in an e-mail. "No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information." She did not elaborate.

Finally, they chose to add an outline of what takes place in a very pointed, (offensive and unreasonable) anti-LDS anti-Prop 8 ad, and they featured the story of a former member-RM who is practicing gay now. They currently end the article with a quote from an active member from Corona (an hour southeast of L.A.! How's that for proximity?), which doesn't give much information or interest. It ends with his quote on persecution toward the Church being nothing new, but the way it's dumped at the end makes it sound like church members play the victim card.

They also added a tag to the bottom of the article, "Times staff writer Tami Abdollah contributed to this article." I wondered how much of the changes had to do with her. What did she contribute?

I find it interesting the way all of these more revealing tidbits that give the sense that the church is unreasonable were added to the article later. It might be too much involvement to add more about what other churches donated and how they were involved in the campaign, how the church was singled out, how other increased minority votes contributed a large amount . . . but they could have added more detail from a stronger, active, pro-LDS source -- perhaps a reaction to the protests.

I actually emailed the writers, as a proactive journalism student, suggesting they balance the content. I got responses from the writer who was on location while she was at the protest. She said she had nothing to do with what was being published online other than calling in information. (Maybe I should say, "She did not explain the lack of LDS representation in the article. . . ." bozo.) She also told me the Times does not preserve former versions of articles, which I found odd because they might need it in the case of proving accountability for something.

Anyway . . . gatekeeping! It's interesting how much you can say from the heart without saying anything personal at all.

MS
MS

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