Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Church News has filled 'unique role' for 60 years

Published: Saturday, April 6, 1991

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For 60 years, the Church News has been a window on the Church.

On April 4, 1931, a new section was added to the Deseret News: the Church Section - which would later become the Church News - and it has been publishing uplifting and faith-promoting news and features of the Church for six decades.To commemorate the anniversary, President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency and chairman of the Deseret News board of directors, cut a commemorative cake in his office during a photo session. (See statement by President Monson on this page.)

An open house in commemoration of the event was held April 3 in the Deseret News building.

"The Church News plays a unique role as one of the country's more unusual newspaper publications," said Wm. James Mortimer, president and publisher of the Deseret News.

"It grew out of a need for readers of the Deseret News to be informed about the leaders and the activities of the Church. Through the years it has met that need well, but it has also been the chronicle of the rapid growth of the Church throughout the world.

"Week by week it has represented accurately the actions of Church leaders and their world-wide efforts to fulfill the mission of the Church in perfecting the saints, preaching the gospel, and redeeming the dead.

"Few newspapers in the country have been able to sustain a section such as this for so long without advertising support.

It is a tribute to the entire Deseret News operation that the Church News can be published with the support of the rest of the newspaper.

"The Church News adds great strength to the Deseret News. We are proud of its staff and are pleased with the quality product that we are able to present to our readers ever week."

The Deseret News, founded in 1850 - three years after the Pioneers arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake - contained a rich mixture of Church coverage along with reports of the day's secular happenings.

By the early 1930s, it became prudent to contain coverage of day-to-day Church events in a single section of the newspaper, although major events such as general conference still received prominent play elsewhere in the paper.

Even before 1931, LDS news was packaged in a Saturday section called "Church Department." But on April 4 of that year, the new "Church Section" appeared. Its tabloid size gave greater identity to the self-contained section; hence, April 4 is regarded as the birthday of the Church News.

The front-page headline of that first edition, "Eastertide in the Western Hemisphere 34 A.D." was printed above a drawing of Christ visiting the Nephites and Lamanites. Also on Page 1 was an article Elder B.H. Roberts of the First Council of Seventy about the visit of Christ to the American continent. A verbatim text of a radio sermon by Elder Bryant S. Hinckley, father of President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, was also included on the page.

Texts of sermons were a staple of the eight-page Church Section in the early days, as were notices about new bishoprics and stake presidencies, news from the missions, and events such as the landscaping of the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, N.Y.

In October 1931, Henry A. Smith, a Deseret News general assignment reporter, became the first full-time editor of the Church Section. Under his direction, the section flourished, increasing in size to as many as 24 pages.

The name was changed to "Weekly Church Edition" on March 28, 1942, and to "Church News" on June 5, 1943. It was known after that as "Church News" or "Church Section" at different times. By the early 1940s, it became available by subscription outside Utah, although it has always continued as a weekly supplement to the Deseret News. With the outside subscriptions, circulation quickly increased to 12,000 beyond the regular Saturday Deseret News run.

Changes in journalistic style had their impact on the Church News. By the late 1940s its appearance was much livelier, with full-page cover photos, innovative page design, center-spread photo layouts, graphic devices and the occasional use of color.

Regular features were included, such as "Gems of Thought" featuring excerpts from General Authority sermons, "The Missionary's Diary," a question-answer column called "I Want to Know," and short historical or scriptural vignettes. Continuing features are still a mainstay of today's Church News.

The 1940s also saw the beginning of a regular editorial in the Church News. It was written virtually every week by Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Council of the Twelve until his death in 1984. Today, a "Viewpoint" appears weekly on the back page of the Church News, written by selected members of the Deseret News management team.

Over the years, four men served briefly as editors: John R. Talmage, Conrad B. Harrison, Merwin G. Fairbanks and Jack E. Jarrard.

In 1968, J Malan Heslop took the helm. Formerly chief photographer at the Deseret News, he enhanced the visual appeal of the Church News. Heslop also began regularly to send staff writers to give in-person coverage to Church events worldwide - especially the travels of the president of the Church - a practice that continues today.

Heslop was succeeded as editor in 1976 by Dell Van Orden, a veteran journalist who had been serving as assistant editor for eight years. Under Van Orden's direction, the use of color in the Church News has increased.

In addition to the editor, six full-time staff members report on news of the Church, gathering and writing articles and shooting photographs. Their efforts are supplemented by the Deseret News photo, art and pagination staffs, as well as a loose network of correspondents, public communications directors, and free-lance writers and photographers throughout the Church.

Today, the Church News has a circulation of nearly a quarter million subscribers.