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Mormon Media Observer: Business journalists giving Mormons a fair shake

Published: Wednesday, July 14 2010 6:00 a.m. MDT

The latest trend of business publications and news channels focusing on Mormons and their church seems to point that Mormons may be better understood in U.S. boardrooms and on Wall Street than they are in other segments of society.

At least two prominent business-related articles or on-air stories have appeared recently in CNBC and the U.K.-based Financial Times about Mormons. Forbes magazine also published two stories.

The most recent is the Financial Times piece which said that Mormons have moved to the center of American life and includes stories about the rising generation of prominent Latter-day Saints including Utah State Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City: "Put simply, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS for short, has an image problem; and yet, tellingly, McAdams doesn't. And he's part of a much bigger crowd: for the first time in its nearly two-century history — one that began, according to the founding myth, with an illiterate farmhand, Joseph Smith, being visited by an angel in western New York state — Mormons are moving from the periphery of modern American life to the very centre. From Romney's failed tilt at the presidency to the tales of everyday polygamous families in HBO's popular drama 'Big Love,' Mormonism has become increasingly visible over the last generation. Where its most famous acolytes were once the Osmonds, leading lights now include politicians such as U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (a Democrat) and (Mitt) Romney (a Republican); Stephenie Meyer, author of the 'Twilight' vampire saga; Glenn Beck, the popular conservative talk-show host; and self-help guru Stephen R. Covey, the author of 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.'"

While Mormons' image suffered at the hands of political journalists during the Mitt Romney campaign, it seems business journalists are framing the LDS story in different, more positive ways. The Financial Times' story emphasizes how BYU business grads are favorites of banks, investment firms and the CIA. It also talks about the missionary system and its socializing effects and fruits of learning to work hard. CNBC recently featured similar themes in a long video package about Mormon business people around the world. CNBC documents the connection between business and missionaries in an in-depth documentary. The network followed missionaries in Taiwan, the Provo, Utah, MTC and provides interviews with U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. in Beijing and Azul Airlines Chief David Neeleman in Brazil. Fortune also profiled the family of Jon Huntsman Sr.

Forbes' New Geographer Joel Kotkin also profiled the church's City Creek development in downtown Salt Lake City. He writes: "On the surface, Salt Lake City, America's 38th largest central business district, would seem an unlikely place for such an ambitious development. The city's population growth — it is home to fewer than 200,000 of the region's 1.2 million people — has been meager, particularly compared with the surrounding suburbs. The central business district represents less than ten percent of the region's total employment. The driving force here is not economics, but the desire of Salt Lake's most powerful institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to salvage its immediate neighborhoods. 'The church's primary notion is to protect the Temple Square and the headquarters of the Church,' explains Mark Gibbons, president of City Creek Reserve, the church's development arm. 'That's first and foremost. This development would not have been done just on a financial basis, I can tell you that.'"

Is there something to be learned here? Can the work ethic, high standards and education of Mormons in prominent organizations and businesses translate into a better perceived reputation of the faith? It certainly can't hurt.

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