There is a cadre of people among our readership who call or e-mail every time the Mormon Church or LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley appears on our front page [The Salt Lake Tribune – AWH]. That group does not believe the church or the man should be on The Tribune front page under any circumstances.
But a different kind of complaint was expressed by one reader this last week:
“All right, I heard the news, Gordie B. visited Chile and opened up a temple. Now, do you think you can come up with something else to write about. In my opinion, this isn’t even newsworthy outside of the LDS church, let alone make the front page three days in a row. That’s right, this story made front page news for three days. I am beginning to think that I am in my own version of the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ What will The Tribune and its incompetent staff have in store for tomorrow? And by the way, what makes you think that we even care about this temple? This story belongs in the church news section, not the front page, for three days!”
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Tribune Managing Editor for News and Business Terry Orme offered a definitive answer for this and other readers who question why news of the Mormon Church would be A1 news:
“Gordon B. Hinckley is the symbol of the LDS Church’s explosive worldwide growth. His extensive travels – perhaps best represented by an ambitious tour through Africa in 1998 – will stand as one of his legacies. This trip to Chile, by his own admission, will be among the last of such journeys. He underwent cancer surgery in January. He is almost 96 years old. There were doubts that he would make the trip, perhaps apprehension over whether he should.
“The events in Chile, centered around the rededication of the Santiago Temple, provided the first tangible evidence that Hinckley is firmly in place as the church’s leader. It was the first time he had appeared in public since his surgery, the first time he spoke in public. It was an opportunity to tell Mormons here and, thanks to the Internet, around the world how their leader is faring in the aftermath of his cancer surgery.”
Summing up the consensus of editors in the afternoon news huddles each day, Orme said, “The story as it unfolded a hemisphere away, in a country that is home to a half-million Mormons, was front page news. The Tribune is the news source for Utah and the Intermountain West, territory that is home to the LDS Church. The church is big news here. Our readers rightfully expect us to cover it. And we do so aggressively. That said, we are aware of the sensitivities of our readers who aren’t Mormons, and who want a balance on our front page.
“As we decided each day where the Hinckley story should play, that issue was part of the discussion. Hence the stories leading up to the temple rededication were played smaller, with the top-of-the-page, lead-story play reserved for the major event where Hinckley participated in three hours of dedicatory prayers.”
More than 60 percent of the Utah population is at least nominally Mormon. Certainly, a significant proportion of The Tribune’s readership is as well.