Merging Religious and Secular News(papers)

deseret_news_private_collecThe Church News is moving. It has just announced that stories from the Church News will be posted on DeseretNews.com, that LDSChurchNews.com will redirect to the DN site, and that eventually the archives will be moved as well.

Which is fine and good, I suppose. Apparently, the Church News was hosted on a platform that couldn’t be supported or upgraded.[fn1] So the consolidation seems to make sense from a technical point of view. 

It may not make as much sense from a tax point of view, though. As I’ve explained before, churches cannot campaign for or against a candidate for office; if they do so, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.

LDS Sidebar

Sidebar on DeseretNews.com

And what does that have to do with moving the Church News to the Deseret News site? Just this: the Church News, according to the sidebar to the article, is an official LDS publication. And the endorsement of opposition of candidates in an official church publication can be attributed to the Church. As the IRS illustrates in its Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations:

Example 3 Minister C is the minister of Church I, a section 501(c)(3) organization. Church I publishes a monthly church newsletter that is distributed to all church members. In each issue, Minister C has a column titled “My Views.” The month before the election, Minister C states in the “My Views” column, “It is my personal opinion that Candidate U should be reelected.” For that one issue, Minister C pays from his personal funds the portion of the cost of the newsletter attributable to the “My Views” column. Even though he paid part of the cost of the newsletter, the newsletter is an official publication of the church. Because the endorsement appeared in an official publication of Church I, it constitutes political campaign intervention by Church I. [fn2]

So far, the Church News shouldn’t have any problem with this. It doesn’t endorse candidates or, as far as I know, discuss politics at all. If the Church News is the same as it was when I last read it, it gives news about what Church members and units are doing, spiritual thoughts, and the like.

Interlude

At this point, I was going to say that the Deseret News, on the other hand, can endorse candidates. Then I did a quick Google search and discovered that it has a policy of not endorsing candidates, and, in despair, I gave up on this post. And then, a few hours later, I realized that the Deseret News can, in fact, endorse candidates, whether or not it currently chooses to. And, in fact, newspaper endorsements are valuable. Not in the big-ticket races, of course, but local newspapers often have the ability to provide valuable information about lower-profile local races, like judicial elections. So even though the Deseret News may currently choose not to endorse candidates, it could change its mind.

End Interlude

Unless somehow, by hosting the Church News, the Deseret News gets infected (as it were) by the Church News’s official status. I don’t know that that will happen, of course: the internet is new enough, and the confluence between standard editorializing newspaper and official religious publication rare enough, that there are no clear standards.

Still, it’s probably advisable that the Deseret News work to maintain actual independence from the Church News, somehow establishing standards and signals to readers to indicate that the Church News, even with a Deseret News url, is a completely separate entity.

[fn1] I’m really not sure what that means–maybe it’s somehow Windows XP-related?

[fn2] This is from p. 8. Emphasis added.

 

Comments

  1. David T says:

    Wasn’t the Church News always printed and published through Deseret News? Isn’t this just a change from one web platform to the integrated one used by the rest of DN? I guess I’m not sure how big a change this actually is, apart from aesthetically.

  2. Huh. With news cameras banned from #LDSConf, will Church News staff be allowed on temple square still? And would that mean Deseret News can have articles with pictures etc.?

  3. This is just a web hosting and content publishing consolidation where content is now being presented under a single Church owned banner. Consider it an act of efficiency where the Church realized they have an effective and modern publishing system already in place and they’re reducing costs by consolidating rather than investing in a new publishing system for Church News.

    This is one of those moments where people ought to be thinking, “Wow, they really are being conscientious about how they expend Church funds and acting like prudent stewards.”

  4. Maybe the church news being more closely associated with the DN will encourage DN editors to be a little more circumspect about publishing articles filled with right-wing, evangelical, and neocon talking points lest they be mistaken for having the imprimatur of the institutional church in the minds of people who post those articles on Facebook. Well, a guy can dream, anyway.

  5. OD, I realize that and, in fact (running back and checking), yep, I acknowledged that the change makes sense *from a technical point of view*.

    I suspect, though, that nobody thought, Could this impact our exempt status under 501(c)(3). Because normal human beings don’t think about that. But that is the first thing I think about when I see a transaction, and it’s a risk probably worth flagging. Although the consolidation saves money, carelessness could be supremely expensive (as in, costing the Church’s exemption), while compliance seems relatively cheap.

    I’d think the best thing, regardless of platforms, would be to keep separate URLs, but, short of that, it’s probably safest to clearly delineate that, even under the same URL, they’re separate publications. (And David T, even if DN previously published CN, flying under the same URL seems to implicate merger more than just a contract publisher.)

  6. Actually Sam, given that Clark Gilbert is the President and CEO of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media (which includes oversight of the Church News website) and he has deep expertise with the evolution of journalism in the internet era, I doubt they’re flying into this blindly. Happy to be proven wrong but given my interactions with Clark, you’re not identifying something he hasn’t already considered.

  7. With no facts to confuse my opinions, I took this move in a slightly different way, as demonstration or confirmation that the Deseret News is actually a church publication. I suspect that’s a not uncommon view anyway, in a non-technical “on the street” sense (that glosses niceties of legal ownership and the locus of editorial decisions). And not inconsistent with the OP, if it does take a further step. But I’d like to know more.

  8. However, if I were to comment on the motivations of the merger of content, I would say it fits within the mission of trying to own “faith and the family” in the world of journalism. Something which appears to be leading to actions like the inclusion of Deseret News National print in the February Ensign, and not exactly what I would call a virtuous endeavor. As others have stated, it begins to feel more than a little like money exchangers in the temple.

  9. I will be anxious to see whether this move tempers or amplifies the DN’s recent turn towards more stridently partisan editorializing, which, as far as I’m concerned, puts it about as close to endorsement as you can get without calling it “endorsement.”

  10. Note that DN qua DN can, unquestionably, endorse candidates without risking the Church’s tax status at all. I’m more or less indifferent to the DN’s political leanings (largely because my news diet focuses on the NYT, WSJ, Reuters, and the Chicago Tribune). Its editorial leanings may or may not be problematic as an objective matter, but they’re fine, unless somehow they’re attributed to the CN and, as a result, to the Church.

  11. Angela C says:

    “Maybe the church news being more closely associated with the DN will encourage DN editors to be a little more circumspect about publishing articles filled with right-wing, evangelical, and neocon talking points lest they be mistaken for having the imprimatur of the institutional church in the minds of people who post those articles on Facebook. Well, a guy can dream, anyway.” My thoughts exactly, Casey. From your mouth to God’s ears.

    Unfortunately, I suspect it’s more like marrying your pool boy. If the pool boy is hawt, people will chuckle a bit at your foolishness perhaps but realize you are getting something out of it. But if your pool boy is an unattractive dolt, it does you no credit. In this scenario, the Church News is marrying down. Big time. The DN is the sole beneficiary of this marriage of convenience.

  12. GSBartholomew says:

    Amen Casey

  13. Longer memory than some of you? says:

    I don’t understand why anyone things anything has changed. The Church News is and always has been a section of the Deseret News, edited, published, printed and distributed by the Deseret News. For decades you couldn’t get the Church News unless you were a Deseret News subscriber if you lived in Utah; if you lived outside of Utah you could subscribe to the Church News separately.

    The Church News website carried on that tradition of access: You had to pay for access, either by paying a fee or by getting a password as a Deseret News dead tree edition subscriber. It’s only been a very recent thing that the Church News website was opened to public unpaid access. That history of a paywall is probably why the technical platforms are different, and why there is no need for the Church News to update a system that is no longer relevant to their distribution.

    But really, the Church News as a section of the Deseret News is no different than the sports section or the classified ads as sections of the Deseret News. Why you think this merger of websites could possibly affect the Church’s tax status, when the always-existing apparatus of dead tree publication did not, mystifies me.

  14. Morris Thurston says:

    Isn’t the Deseret News owned by the Church? If so, I don’t see much difference between it and the Church News from a tax standpoint, but I’m not a tax lawyer.

    I think the more interesting aspect of this conversation is the fact that the Deseret News doesn’t endorse candidates. Clearly the reason it doesn’t is that it would never take an editorial position that was not approved by the brethren. (If it did, there would be a new editor.) So if the Deseret News endorsed a candidate it would be seen as an endorsement by the Church, regardless of the tax consequences. The brethren want to maintain the image of political neutrality, so they’re not going to go there. It would be a huge mistake to do so. Moreover, it is unnecessary because by focusing their editorials on issues (such as gay marriage, religious freedom, liquor, abortion) they already signal to “the faithful” which party to vote for.

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