A quick note to the new Newsroom

ilovethisjobAs the Church Newsroom undergoes leadership changes, I have some completely unsolicited advice for the PR team:

Stop talking so much. Please. The kingdom of God on the Earth already has mouthpieces, called Prophets and Apostles. You are not the face or the voice of the Church, they are! Help them be effective in their role.

God wouldn’t have called them to be Prophets and Apostles if He didn’t trust them to speak in public. Set them up with the biggest possible platforms on which to speak for our Savior.

I would love to read their columns in newspapers. I’d love to see them on TV more. I’d love to follow an actual Twitter feed from an actual Apostle. Enough with the canned quotes. It doesn’t have to be that hard…

“I had a fresh insight during scripture study this morning…”

“The Wasatch Front looks beautiful in the Spring.”

“We sang ‘Abide with Me’ in Sacrament Meeting today—my mother loved this hymn.”

“This Sodalicious is amazing-licious!”

“I’m in Ghana for the first time this week, and the spirit of the faithful Saints here is the best possible cure for jet lag.”

“It’s hard being old sometimes—thank you for your constant prayers.”

Anyway, you get what I mean.

I’d fully expect some of the Brethren to resist this kind of openness. Executives hate it! And that’s OK! You’re there to help them see why honesty, transparency, and humanity are so important in today’s world.

And welcome to the world of corporate communications. We’re all rooting for you, and you’re going to love it!

Comments

  1. At the same time, they need to be able to act as a filter when necessary. “Elder so-and-so, that reaction to the BSA change is a little strong; let’s tone it down a little.” And they need to understand how things work in the 21st century so they can be prevent and/or prepare appropriately (like they failed to do with the “policy” and the current BYU fiasco).

  2. Clark Goble says:

    Everyone says they want more spontaneity and less canned responses until there’s something said they don’t like. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from using Twitter it’s that you can never underestimate the ability of people to get roused up with anger and even minor mistakes on Twitter. Honestly I’d encourage them to stay away and I’m sure everyone with PR training would say the same thing.

  3. I have PR training (quite a lot) and I’m not saying that.

  4. Clark Goble says:

    Well I’ll bow to a real PR person then. You don’t think there’s inherent dangers of using Twitter? Especially by people of a generation that really don’t get the strengths or dangers of social media?

  5. Clark Goble says:

    Somehow the comments deleted the smiley after I’ll bow… So that first sentence was meant to be a joke and acknowledging my ignorance. While I’m being a bit humorous about it I am actually curious as to what you see the dangers as being. Twitter always seems like a pile of dried tinder waiting for a spark. The thick skinned seem much more able to function there. And even the most careful seem to end up saying something they wished they hadn’t with a firestorm accompanying the mistake.

  6. No offense taken!

    I see the role of the head of comms being to train them on the limitations and potential and dangers of each platform, help them with their messaging if necessary, and then set them free to be the spokespeople of the Savior that I consider them to be.

    Speaking and talking and communicating is their primary function. I was always a bit perplexed by The Newsroom acting as a middleman between the media/members/world and the prophets/apostles. Why would the Lord’s mouthpieces need mouthpieces?

  7. Caveat that this is all bald unsupported opinion . . .
    It won’t happen. I understand the impulse. But the current tensions as I see them make it impossible. There is an overwhelming institutional desire (some would say need) to speak with one voice, to portray unity, to always be “we” or “the Church.” At the same time there are at least 15 men who feel (by calling, and by decades of experience with extemporaneous speaking at pulpits all over the world) that their opinions are sanctioned by God, but who in fact have significant differences of opinion.

  8. “to train them on the limitations and potential and dangers of each platform”

    This runs against the corporate culture of the Church, unfortunately. It seems well established by now that General Authorities, in particular the Q15, don’t view themselves as in need of “training” by a mere corporate underling. They don’t get trained. They train. And those in the Q15’s advising circles don’t object, argue, or offer countervailing perspectives to the proposals the Q15 make on any given subject. Can you imagine a staffer telling Elder Bednar something he said or proposed seems a little off or inadvisable? Does Elder Oaks seek out the opinions of staffers and analysts for responses or reactions to his latest political opinions in the culture wars? No.

    The Q15 see it as their divine right to command in these things. They train and everyone else listens. It is the only way they know. And right now, the way they see the Newsroom is not to train them on savvy PR but to be the corporate face of the Church, relieving the Q15 of the responsibility to provide that role and to provide cover or plausible deniability as to any given statement made by the Church in its official capacity (via the Newsroom).

    In sum, the Newsroom gives the Q15 the ability to make statements without attaching the name of any Q15 author to such a statement, thereby also attaching accountability.

  9. Bro. Turley seems like a decent choice. Advice I would add is bring in real help in understanding how to talk about gender issues. The Otterson led PR department was simply horrendous and tin-eared on this account, struggling even when giving easy messages and failing spectaculary on the hard ones. The church deserves better PR service on this front.

  10. I quite Pope Francis’s tweets. They are topical, personal, and dignified. For example, the Pope recently issued an essay on family life, and his tweets have focused on this subject lately. And IIRC, on the eve of his recent visit to Mexico and Cuba, he tweeted, “Pray for me.” He is building meaningful connections with this kind of thing.

  11. Clark Goble says:

    Kyle (2:51) Why would the Lord’s mouthpieces need mouthpieces?

    Well Moses and Aaron set the pattern. LOL.

    That said I think society has been changing at a remarkable pace. While I love the guy, imagine Pres. Packer if he decided to tweet unrestrained the way Donald Trump does. It’d enrage people. On the other hand, maybe that’s not a bad thing if we look at many prophets like Jeremiah or Samuel the Lamanite. The worst Twitter firestorm isn’t as bad as Samuel got. Still I like to imagine we’re still largely in that Pres. Hinkley phase where we worry where the chips will fall. Maybe that won’t always be appropriate but it’s been the case for much of my life. (From the 70’s when Pres. Hinkley arguably started running things until today when his media savvy influence has started to fade)

  12. Clark Goble says:

    Trond (3:02), honest question. How do you know Pres. Oaks doesn’t consult people as part of the “study it out in your mind”? You seem pretty sure with that statement. Upon what evidence are you basing it?

    I ask because while I can’t say I know the brethren well, it sure doesn’t fit those I’ve had encounters with. They all seemed very thoughtful and listened well. I’m not saying all of them are like that. (It’d be unlikely) But I bet it’s not as you portray.

  13. What’s interesting is that the objection to your perfectly rational proprosal is that it would be tantamount to priestcraft. Building a following of one’s own, even on Facebook, seems to some at HQ to be formally denounced by the Book of Mormon. It’s the best objection, but I still think that unvarnished, unfiltered short form content is long overdue in building the faith of our people in both God and our leaders.

  14. True Blue says:

    I agree that it would be good to hear the authentic unsanitised Apostles. It would be healthy to have difference, and if their real selves are a problem, let them deal with it.

    I can not find out how old Otterson is. Perhaps 70? To me it again raises the question of a retirement age for Apostles.

  15. Michael Otterson is 67. Rick Turley is 60.

  16. I’m definitely not saying they should remove all filters…nobody wants them to become oversharing millennial Snapchatters. Nor am I saying they shouldn’t watch their words in public. They’re leading a huge organization, of course they should!

    What I’m saying is that some of the roles that the Newsroom has filled over the past few years seem to overlap with the “core competencies” of the prophets/apostles themselves.

    I think it’s cynical to believe that they’re using the Newsroom as a human shield, or for plausible deniability. I’d much rather believe that the Newsroom simply overexpanded in its scope, and now with this leadership change comes the chance to assess the landscape and adjust accordingly.

  17. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    President Monson – 7 million followers
    President Uchtdorf – 12 million followers
    Elder Bednar – 46 followers

    …awkward.

  18. Mortimer says:

    Kyle M,
    From your lips to G— ears. Amen.
    The PR dept has been censoring the brethren since the Benson years. It’s couched in corporate formality and a paranoid drive to overcome our history of persecution. This environment is filled with insincerity and obscurity- and people feel it. It causes suspicion, distance, and mistrust.

    I’d also like to pint out that Aaron communicated Moses’ words, he didn’t create the “message” or filter Moses’ communication that wasn’t on-message. Also, We were never given the chance to officially sustain Otterson- he wasn’t a GA. (I know, there is a “policy” that GA employ yes and delegates are sustained by proxy, but it have problems with this type of loyalty without ordination.

    On the plus side, Isn’t Turley a 70?

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    No, Rick Turley is not a 70.

  20. At first, I thought it was wonderful that Trond has such insight into exactly what goes on in the council meetings of the First Presidency and the Twelve–and in their meetings with other officers and leaders of the church. After a moment’s reflection, though, I realized that as usual there’s an inverse relationship between the certainty with which he speaks and his actual knowledge of the facts.

  21. Mortimer says:

    Drat.

  22. “Why would the Lord’s mouthpieces need mouthpieces?”

    Moses did.

  23. your food allergy is fake says:

    Turtle, thanks for the morning laugh!

  24. Seth R., are you saying that Aaron’s remit (or Sydney Rigdon’s, for example) is the same as Otterson’s?

  25. Mark B., do you feel that the Q15 work differently than as described? That they seek out corporate-style training? That staffers feel at liberty to offer criticisms of their ideas, statements, proposals instead of merely giving feedback that the staffers feel the Q15 member wants to hear? That they are teachable?

    If so, I think that would be wonderful. I truly hope and pray you are right.

  26. Clark Goble says:

    Kyle, I definitely think the PR department has had undue influence. Which wouldn’t have been a problem had they been a little better in messaging. It was the poor messaging with their influence that was a problem and which I think most people assume is a big part of the shakeup.

    Regarding the brethren on Twitter, it’s easy to say they should still filter but you’re simultaneously saying they should be the ones filtering. (If I’m reading you right) I think what I’m saying is that they are already extremely busy and there’s a huge generation gap even for those who have more academic backgrounds (Eyring, Oaks, Holland, etc.) Expecting them to know what people on Twitter would find offensive might be a bit much.

    The example someone brought up of the pope is interesting. I wonder how many of those tweets he actually writes.

  27. Clark Goble says:

    Kyle, raising Sidney Rigdon is quite interesting since arguably a big problem was Rigdon doing too much theologically. Even if one doesn’t find the Lectures on Faith problematic (I actually like them myself) I think it’s not hard to find a big difference between Rigdon and Joseph. How to take Rigdon as a analogy though makes me think. It’s a great example that this is hardly new. It’s making me think but I’m not quite at the conclusions phase. How do you see the implications of that parallel?

  28. John Mansfield says:

    LDS blog writers have the sort of relationship with Public Affairs that normal members have with Facilities Management.

  29. Oh, I just brought up Sydney as a clumsy corollary to Aaron. I honestly haven’t fully thought it through, either, but I do think Aaron and Sydney’s remits were VERY different from the Newsroom’s…they were apostles/prophets/religious leaders in their own right. Moses’ “spokesperson” has a priesthood named after him!

  30. that got me laughing, JM!

  31. Clark Goble says:

    True. There’s nothing quite like Aaron. I just initially raised him as prophets are not always good communicators. Aaron’s gift was acting as that communicator. I’m not sure I’d portray Aaron as an apostle though. And most of the people in the PR department do have the priesthood. (grin)

    You’re right that Sidney’s position wasn’t anything like PR. But there are some parallels there nonetheless. His parallel might be more to apostles through history who have been outspoken but not always represented what the quorum or especially the President thought.

    I definitely get why people want more unfettered speaking by the apostles. I’d love to have a GA like J. Golden Kimball come out and offend everyone. However can you imagine the reaction in todays era?

    I think my only point is that there’s a decrying of “corporate messaging” among the brethren without looking at the incentives that create this situation. Saying the wrong thing is dangerous. My gut instinct is that people wanting more unfettered speaking assume that what’s missing is the speech they like. That’s almost certainly not the only thing being self-censored. The same people who dislike McConkie, Packer or others speaking forthright are often the same ones decrying the brethren being more careful in what they say. We can’t have it both ways.

  32. Sometimes when the mouthpiece uses a mouthpiece, the result is a golden calf.

  33. Last Lemming says:

    I definitely get why people want more unfettered speaking by the apostles.

    Right. Like one of them could publish an uncorrelated book. He could call it “Mormon Doctrine.” I can hardly wait.

  34. Clark Goble says:

    Last Lemming, while I’m actually a big fan of McConkie, warts and all, I think that’s exactly what drove the church to the current situation. There’s tremendous pressure on apostles to not speak out of turn and not go off on their own. It’s precisely because when people like McConkie did it people couldn’t distinguish McConkie as McConkie from McConkie as apostle. You go back earlier and people were much more open to that and there was more diversity of opinion because people could have some grasp it was opinion. McConkie’s writings took on a life of their own. Not just McConkie too. While Pres. Kimball in my view is one of the great prophets of the church, let’s be honest. Miracle of Forgiveness however well intentioned had just as problematic a place as Mormon Doctrine. There’s a reason it’s out of print. (Although I notice Deseret Books does have it as an ebook now)

  35. Mortimer says:

    We shouldn’t forget that most messages not only have to pass through PR, but through correlation too.

    News reporters love the Pope because like Joe Biden, evidently he goes rogue. He talks freely and openly. President Hinckley loved talking to the press, but he did so with enthusiastic preparation. President Monson is introverted, and you’ll notice that he is known for doing work at an individual or small-group level (widows, committees, etc.) Monson is someone who doesn’t know a stranger, but he isn’t in front of the cameras or mics.

    The Pope surely has an assistant tweeting for him, but all his tweets are in his stylistic voice and they cover his current issues. It’s HIM. On the other hand, most GA tweets look and feel like someone in the CoB is randomly picking fuzzy past conference quotes for their daily posting duty the same way the ward program coordinator picks a quote for the Sunday program. It’s inauthentic. Knowing that this work is delegated, I have concerns that past quotes can be misapplied to current events by underlings (perhaps even those without a calling) and be presented as though a GA or the Prophet himself had made a pronouncement. (An over-reach for sure). Sometimes I just want to faceplam because we HAVE continuing revelation, yet in today’s social media world we don’t use the platform to speak, we regurgitate the past without Prophetic authority. If that’s all that is needed, then we might as well all say- a bible a bible- we have a bible.

  36. Clark Goble says:

    Apostles are and have been for a while now much more open in smaller venues when they talk. Even then I frequently hear them preface their remarks with, “now I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and hear this requoted all over Facebook.” Elder Eyring in particular is pretty funny in that regard – still cautious in what he says but a little more open – yet the mere fact he’s so aware he has to say that even when he is so guarded probably shows well the problem as they see it.

    The problem is that, as Mitt Romney found in 2011, even when you think you’re talking privately to a small group there are enough people with smartphones that you’re never private. I’m actually surprised we don’t see more surreptitiously recorded video or audio. Although perhaps they are cognizant enough of the problem so as to be more guarded now even in small groups. Unlike the 90’s and the early naughts when you could hear them being pretty frank and talk about things you’d never hear in general conference.

  37. I’m kind of fascinated by the back and forth in the comments between people wanting more social engagement from the Q15, and those pleading for less (or at least not more than current). I wonder if some of the difficulty here is that church’s top governing body is so small?

    With only 15 positions in the top governing body, having all 15 of those people free-wheeling it on social media would make it really easy to identify (and then magnify) differences of opinion between them. Even a relatively unengaged follower would quickly notice the awkward areas of tension between them.

    Compare that with the Catholic Church, which many in the comments seem to wish we would emulate. They have nearly 200 Cardinals. Disagreements among a body that large are both harder to follow and tease apart, and expected to exist in the first place.

    Does the small size of the Mormon church’s governing body create a uniquely difficult challenge for it to operate in a social media world? Would we be better able to communicate on social media if the Q15 were much larger? (Perhaps a better way to ask that is: would there be less risk to having a larger Q15 communicating on social media?)

  38. There are no unique challenges here, Larry2. Just the same challenges faced by every celebrity, business executive, politician, sports team, government, and company all over the world. Almost all of them are bad at it, and a few are good at it. Because of the massive potential to reach a big global audience, I’m hoping we’ll someday be good at it.

  39. Marjorie Conder says:

    I know for a fact that Rick Turley is about the most knowledgeable and sympathetic person at his level in the bureaucracy to gender issues of anyone I ever met at Church headquarters.

  40. Kyle, I think you’re too quick to dismiss the possibility of there actually being a unique challenge here. And I think the examples you give in your response actually illustrate the difference.

    You are totally right that celebrities, politicians, business executives and companies have frequent challenges with social media. That’s because they’re all individual people (or are speaking as a sole voice for a group of people) and are solely responsible for anything stupid.

    I completely disagree, however, that governments have problems with social media. I think this actually highlights what I was getting at. The US federal government has about 570 people in its highest governing bodies (House, Senate, Pres + Cabinet). Individually, many of those 570 people have done completely boneheaded things on social media. But none of those individual incidents has created any kind of actual, serious trouble for the government. It’s a huge group. People expect that you’re going to have something dumb come out of a group that large. When it does, it doesn’t jeopardize the entire institution.

    You’ll notice I left SCOTUS off my list of highest federal governing bodies. That was intentional, and I think it illustrates my point exactly. At least part of the reason why SCOTUS is allergic to social media is because it’s such a small body. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s legal issues that also complicate things here, but I’m pretty sure that if SCOTUS were the size of the Senate, we’d feel *much* differently about tweeting Justices than we do now.

  41. EnglishTeacher says:

    Re: the comments on Aaron and Moses. Don’t most LDS interpretations of their relationship identify Aaron as a first counselor and Moses as the prophet, with Hur as the second counselor in a presidency? I seem to recall this from my Old Testament seminary class. So, the modern correlation would be Monson/Moses, Eyring/Aaron, Uchtdorf/Hur (assuming this is a widespread LDS belief). The PR department seems a distinctly modern, corporate creation for latter-day purposes.

    And yes, a thousand times yes to the sentiments of this post!

  42. Clark Goble says:

    Kyle (2:38) while in some ways these are the problems celebrities, CEOs or politicians face in very real ways the stakes are quite different. I’d add that CEOs with a few exceptions like Trump find they end up in hot water if they use social media too much. Even over ridiculous things. (Remember Tim Cook’s tweet during the Super Bowl and the ridiculous uproar that took place?) The risks for a politician being stupid on Twitter can be costly. Yet typically it’s just their political career and often the rewards are just as good when they leave office. (K Street here they come)

    With the brethren it’s a whole different ball game. You’re talking not of twitter flame wars and often insincere group signaling by way of contrived outrage on social media. You’re talking of real people becoming offended and leaving the church. You’re talking of investigators not listening. I mean I think the PR department last fall did an pretty underwhelming job on the whole gay marriage issue. But if it was individual GAs tweeting their thoughts on the issue? Geeze.

    Again I think there may be ways to improve their engagement. But let’s at least be upfront about the risks. Look at the uproar when they were trying to be careful and using the PR department. Heck, the outrage here on BCC was pretty over the top. Do we really think that if we removed the PR department, gave all the apostles twitter accounts and redid the fall that the results would be better rather than worse? Really?

  43. Clark Goble says:

    EnglishTeacher (5:41) I always found attempts to read back into the Torah current presiding structures and processes to be somewhat dubious. Of course in some ways Aaron and Hur are counselors. Exactly what that means isn’t clear. (I’d add that Hur is pretty sketchy in the Torah. Most of what is thought about him comes from later Rabbinical commentary and expansion)

    That said Exodus 17:12 is often uses as a type and especially as a metaphor for Presiding organizations. As a type and a metaphor it’s great. As history I’m a bit more cautious.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’d not be at all shocked to find out the idea of a Presiding group of three and then twelve others was common. Yet the evidence for that seems a bit dubious. (Add in the problem that the Torah in its present form was largely a post-exilic construction out of unknown texts and oral traditions by uninspired scribes with competing political aims and things get complex fast) The more interesting issue that is speculative is the issue of the sons of Aaron and the sons of Moses as two different priesthoods. This gets mentioned in D&C 84 in a fashion that might parallel the admittedly fragmentary and somewhat speculative history of pre-exilic priesthood traditions.

    Larry2 (5:40) That’s a great point about SCOTUS and social media. On the other hand SCOTUS has traditionally been slow and extremely cautious about using new technology. There simply aren’t the incentives in place that there are for politicians who have to get elected and re-elected. On the other hand that means the incentives for SCOTUS are to see it as negative with few (if any) positive reasons to embrace the technology.

    However SCOTUS is largely about making decisions and making judgements with texts designed to be read by law students and a certain set of judges. They rarely seemed designed to communicate or persuade the public at large. (Even if SCOTUS necessarily recognizes the political aspect of what they do) In that way SCOTUS is pretty unlike the brethren who have a duty to the membership unlike what SCOTUS has.

  44. From the original post: “Stop talking so much. Please. The kingdom of God on the Earth already has mouthpieces, called Prophets and Apostles. You are not the face or the voice of the Church, they are!”

    By Common Consent should take its own advice here.

  45. Sick burn, Leo!

  46. Paxton says:

    LOL