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
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
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
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
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