“The Church in the Headlines,” Ensign, Aug. 1977, 75
Whether it’s a missionary winning a Korean oratorical contest or a visit by a Chicago columnist to Nauvoo, the Church has been very much in the public eye recently.
Of course, one of the biggest boosts was through Alex Haley’s book, Roots, and his favorable mention of the Church Genealogical Department on national television. Since then, some of America’s major newspapers have featured articles on the Latter-day Saint genealogy program—as well as the welfare program and attitudes toward the family.
Media coverage of the Church can have a tremendous impact. For example, in Spain, where the Church has only relatively recently begun full-time proselyting work, national newspaper and magazine articles, television and radio programs have had a noticeable effect on people’s attitudes toward the Church, in part because they have heard of “Los Mormones.”
Alan Whicker, Britain’s counterpart to America’s Walter Cronkite, with his producer and director and a camera crew of five, has been working on a one-hour documentary on “Salt Lake City and the Mormons,” scheduled for telecasting on “Whicker’s World,” one of Britain’s five most popular TV programs. With audiences not only in Great Britain and Ireland, but also in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, and other English-speaking countries, it will be seen by about 40 million people.
British news media have also brought favorable attention to the Church in such programs as BBC’s “Nationwide,” which included a four-minute report on the Mormons; an intensive interview with President Otterson of the Liverpool England Stake on Britain’s ATV network, in which President Otterson explained the Latter-day Saint view of Christ to an audience of several million; an interview on BBC’s “Midlands Today” with John H. Cox, a former vice-president of one of the world’s largest airlines, British Airways, who is now serving as Presiding Bishopric Area Supervisor for Great Britain; and a great deal of favorable coverage relating to the BYU ballroom dance team, which won first place in international competition in May in Blackpool, England.
And perhaps it was not just coincidence that England London South Mission baptisms were three times the number of the year before—right after the London Evening Standard and the Bournemouth Evening Echo ran articles on the results of an opinion poll on parenthood conducted under the direction of President Richard M. Eyre of that mission. Headlines like “Happy to Be a Family” and “Help! Says the Family Man” were seen by a combined circulation of more than 586,000.
Jack Mabley, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, wrote glowingly of the Nauvoo visitors center missionaries, who were “unwaveringly pleasant.” He praised early Mormon handiwork. Even in those early days of Church history Mormons were “making do”: Brigham Young very skillfully finished pine to look like oak! And Jack Mabley also included a brief history of the Church in the Midwest.
And the Korea Herald printed English and Korean language accounts of Elder Ernest W. Spriggs’s victory in the Herald’s Korean language oratorical contest for foreign nationals. Elder Spriggs received a trophy and citation from Korea President Park Chung Hee. Three other Latter-day Saint missionaries did well in the competition.
The impression the Church transmits through the media can make a big difference when nonmembers are approached by a Latter-day Saint. When they know who the Mormons are because they have heard of the Church in a favorable light, people are much more inclined to listen to the message of salvation entrusted to all of us by the Lord and his prophets.