The Salt Lake Tribune hosts a packed town hall on the LDS Church’s policy change

Annie Anderson
Engagement and Inclusion Manager
Public Insight Network

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of posts about inclusive journalism — journalism that is done with communities not for communities.  |  Follow the conversation here.


Matt Canham, an investigative reporter at The Salt Lake Tribune, who specializes in politics

Matt Canham, an investigative reporter at The Salt Lake Tribune, who specializes in politics

The Salt Lake Tribune covers religion more frequently, and in more depth, than many news outlets. So they immediately knew they had to jump into action to cover the LDS Church’s policy change about gay families. But, they wanted to make sure they heard directly from Mormons themselves on how this policy impacts them or their views of the Church.

They quickly posted a query, which garnered almost 500 responses within a week, most of them from Mormons. From these responses they gained insight into how to cover this unfolding story. They also hosted a packed town hall to hear from churchgoers what the affect of this policy change has been, if any.

Peggy Fletcher Stack, the Tribune’s long-time religion reporter, had this to say about utilizing PIN while covering this specific topic: “In our coverage of the LDS Church’s recent gay policy, which dubs Mormon same-sex couples are “apostates” and bans their children from baptism and other rites, we had plenty of quotes from observers, leaders and experts. But PIN helped us find Mormons across the nation, whose thoughtful opinions, perspectives and questions we could not have found on our own. It has really enhanced and enriched our religion coverage, the beat I know best, beyond my imagining.”

Matt Canham, an investigative reporter, shares how their coverage and event has transpired over the last month.

What was the project and what was your role in it?

Actually on this project, I came in as a backup. Our talented religion reporter, Peggy Fletcher Stack, was on a well deserved vacation when news broke that LDS Church leaders issued a new policy focused on gay couples and their children. The policy says Mormons in a gay relationship are now apostates, requiring church discipline and maybe excommunication. It also said that their children would be ineligible for many church blessings or assignments, including missions, until they are 18. At that time, they would have to denounce gay relationships and move out of their parents’ home.
I wrote a follow-up story on this change and encouraged the use of PIN as a way to quickly get a wide variety of opinions on this hot topic. We also decided to host a town hall to hear from churchgoers what the impact of this policy change has been so far. We invited the PIN sources who responded to our first query on this topic, which resulted in packed town hall. PIN allowed us to get a feel for how church members have — or haven’t — been affected by the recent policy change, and to use their feelings to drive discussion at the packed town-hall event we held, with some of them reading their responses out loud.

Where did the idea for this topic come from?

Religious issues are big news in Salt Lake City and this policy change resulted in an explosion of conversation on social media. We knew we needed to host a town hall to gather churchgoers for their perspectives and learn from that community first-hand.

Temple Square Lights lh 179

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune
Christmas season on Temple Square officially opens each year when the millions of Christmas lights are turned on for the the first time, Friday, November 28, 2014 in Salt Lake City.

What communities or groups did you focus on engaging with? Why?

What we wanted to explore was how active church-going Mormons were wrestling with this change. PIN allowed them an outlet to collect their thoughts. The Tribune received hundreds of responses and a high percentage of them were thoughtful and interesting.

How did you engage with your audience around this topic? What did they find compelling about these stories?

We used the PIN responses in a variety of ways. First, we used some of the comments as quotes in regular news stories. Second, we had a quote rail of some interesting responses. And third, we used them in a town hall meeting, as both a slideshow and as an audio element. We asked a few respondents to record their comments for us.

What are you hoping the impact of this project will be?

The point was to immediately take the emotional temperature of Mormons and the larger community and after that, we used it to track changes in thought. We wanted to be inclusive of a variety of viewpoints and PIN made reaching that goal far easier than it would have been otherwise.

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Annie Anderson Engagement and Inclusion Manager
Public Insight Network

Annie Anderson has the privilege of working with PIN partners around the country, providing training, coaching and support. In the last two years she has focused on diversifying and growing the Network. She specializes in community engagement opportunities and counseling.

While earning a master’s in public policy from the Humphrey School, she yearned for journalism by the people that could inform and respond to policy. Enter PIN: journalistic civic agency at its finest. She deeply believes that everyone is an expert and knows their own experience better than anyone else.