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Mormon Media Observer: What I learned about journalism from general conferences

Published: Monday, Oct. 3 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

He was no less a determined man than in 1993, when a man threatened his life during a BYU fireside. After the threat was over and the man taken away, he delivered the talk, a powerful sermon on adversity, almost as though the terrible threat had never happened. The message was the thing.

He said, “I am here tonight to tell you that despair, doom and discouragement are not an acceptable view of life for a Latter-day Saint. However high on the charts they are on the hit parade of contemporary news, we must not walk on our lower lip every time a few difficult moments happen to confront us.

“I am just a couple of years older than most of you, and in those few extra months I have seen a bit more of life than you have. I want you to know that there have always been some difficulties in mortal life and there always will be. But knowing what we know, and living as we are supposed to live, there really is no place, no excuse, for pessimism and despair.”

For my life as a journalist, the takeaway is clear. Journalism isn’t about me, it is about making a good message and delivering it faithfully. To be sure, journalism isn’t religion nor nearly as important, but what I have tried to learn is that all communication is about having something worth saying and saying it clearly with courage and conviction in a way that will help people improve their lives.

Third, write well.

Contrast the talks of the general authority and auxiliary leaders with the speeches you find online in other settings — even the best of the American rhetorical tradition — and you find their structures, their tone, their storytelling and their rhetoric stands up to the best in the nation’s history. It is fundamentally skilled writing. A study of their words is worthy just for what you will learn about writing itself. Elder Bruce R. McConkie and President J. Reuben Clark's words are just two examples.

I learn from all that, that as a journalist, I must strive to write well. If this is a job that can make a difference, it is one worth doing well.

So, aside from the truly important things around the gospel that I gain in these semiannual sessions, general conference has inspired me to be a better journalist through the dedicated example of my leaders.

Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.

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