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News Blog

Tweet, Ye Shall Not

by Josh Loftin
- Posted // 2009-10-16 -

Media Matters: LDS Church PR takes umbrage to Fox 13 for hyper-tweeting, plus a helping hand for breaking idiotic embargos.

Even though it wasn't really news (my previous blogs on this topic are here and here,) the LDS Church's Bureau of Righteous Thought was apparently super-duper vigilant in suppressing any pre-mature news about the Dallin Oaks speech. They went so far, in fact, as to ask a Fox 13 executive news producer*, Monica Bielanko, to take down a tweet alerting viewers/readers to a developing story on the Oaks speech that they could watch on the evening newscast.

Specifically, the tweet (provided to me, ironically, by LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah, not by Bielanko) read:

LDS apostle gives speech at BYU-Idaho. The contents of which has my head exploding and FOX seeking a response from the NAACP. More at Five.

In short, after what she describes in a later blog posting as a pretty rough lecture from the Bureau of Righteous Thought, Bielanko took it down, then sent another tweet saying she broke the embargo. That caught the attention of many people, including the uber-popular Mommy blogger, Heather Armstrong, aka "dooce."

As for the LDS Church's side, who actually did respond to City Weekly (that almost never happens), Farah said, "Our call was simply to remind Fox of the embargo. The original tweet was more than just 'advertising the story as upcoming.'" She also said, in an e-mailed response, that it was Fox's decision to take it down.

Actually, Ms. Farah -- who I hope continues to respond to our questions, even if City Weekly and the LDS Church are not exactly a happily married heterosexual couple -- what Fox 13 did is common, with the biggest exception being it was posted on Twitter. It's called a "tease," and it gives readers or viewers an indication of why they should care about an embargoed story. While Farah might disagree, this tweet from Fox 13 gave no indication as to why they were getting reaction from NAACP or what made Bielanko's head spin, only that it was newsworthy.

As most news people in Utah know, almost any call from the Bureau of Righteous Thought to Utah media -- if they even get a call, as opposed to being publicly humiliated -- is not done "simply to remind." It is to smack-down the reporter for a perceived wrong, whether that wrong is using the term Mormons or questioning one of their leader's opinions.

Bielanko deserves at least a shot of whiskey or a gold star for her courage, even if she did take the original tweet down. It's very hard to stare down the Bureau of Righteous Thought, especially for news organizations that need to work with the church on a semi-daily basis. But the follow-up tweet to tell people what happened and the risky blog posting -- it's the kind of challenge to authority that few people are brave enough to write -- proves she has the cajones needed for good journalism.

In light of Bielanko's struggles, I would like to make an offer to everyone in local media who face similar situations: send the embargoed materials to me, jloftin@cityweekly.net or call me at 801-413-0940. I'll put the damn thing up, because City Weekly is almost never important enough to get embargoed stuff in the first place. And if I haven't agreed to an embargo, I have no responsibility to honor an embargo. (Obviously, that means if I actually have agreed to the embargo, then I will not put the stuff up.)

And for anyone who does send me something, be assured that nobody will ever know where I got it. So you run no risk of pissing off the wrong people. And yes, the big downside is that little ol' City Weekly scoops you. But sometimes, there are bigger victories to consider.

* I initially titled Bielanko wrong. The irony is I checked her Twitter bio, which lists her right title, about 18 times to make sure I spelled her name correctly. And then, I misspelled her name in my own tweet after this blog. It's Friday, right?

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