Mormon leaders quiz followers on reading habits

October 27, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY

Mormon leaders are surveying church members about their readership of key websites and Mormon writers, a move that reflects the faith’s growing interest in managing its public image as two Mormon candidates compete for the White House.

Church officials confirmed that the survey on a range of social, political and doctrinal matters ― including the trustworthiness of specific journalists ― is partly intended to gauge how and where Mormons get their information.

“This kind of survey is one way church leaders have to hear from members,” church spokesman Scott Trotter said in a statement. He declined to say specifically what would be done with the results.

The confidential online poll, sent to at least 1,000 Mormons, asks about access to the church’s weekly television and radio broadcasts, as well as the frequency and purpose of visits to Mormon-oriented websites.

The survey also seeks members’ reasons for using various media outlets and asks if they find seven specific journalists and bloggers “trustworthy, consistent with church positions and teachings, enjoyable, candid and honest (or) thoughtful.”

The list of writers includes, among others, conservative radio host Glenn Beck; popular LDS bloggers Joanna Brooks of religiondispatches.org and Jana Riess of Beliefnet; and religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack of The Salt Lake Tribune.

A national media observer said the survey prompts questions about stewardship of church resources, and how results might guide future contacts with news outlets.

“Are they trolling for favorites or people to avoid?” asked Al Tompkins, who teaches journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute, the St. Petersburg, FL-based school for journalists. “It’s their right to do both of those, but if I were a member, I would wonder why they are spending resources and energy on it.”

Tony Semerad writes for The Salt Lake Tribune.

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