As a student of media of all kinds, I have long been moved by the fact that the first public effort of Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — before the church was even founded — was a media effort, the publication of the Book of Mormon.
There is something symbolic there for me of how important media would become to the Restoration era.
It is testament to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that within its heritage, it has always tried to rely on media to send its message and to do its work.
A few examples will suffice of that heritage:
• Within three years of arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, church leaders began to publish the Deseret News. They had to ship it across the country.
• Some of the first efforts in Jackson County, Mo., and in Nauvoo, Ill., involved getting a press up and running.
• In 1852, only five years after arriving in Salt Lake, the church sent some of its greatest leaders — John Taylor, Erastus Snow, Orson Pratt and George Q. Cannon — on missions. Each began to print newspapers under dramatic circumstances. Elder Taylor set up shop in downtown New York literally between the two leading presses of the Penny Press era and published a bold newspaper, "The Mormon." Elder Pratt published "The Seer" in Washington, D.C. Elder Cannon published the Western Standard in San Francisco and Elder Snow published the Luminary in St. Louis.
Amid some of its greatest hardships, then, the church never shied from its obligation to publish and to spread its message with the best technology available.
I pause with admiration for the remarkable media enterprises the church has established today.
For starters, there is the terrific corporate wing of the church — the Deseret Media companies that publish this growing newspaper and also support KSL.
Second, I have been blown away by the growth and strength of BYUTV.
Next, there is the unheralded work of the terrific staff of the church magazines. I used to publish a magazine for a corporation and know how difficult it can be to meet the logistics of a magazine while meeting deadlines. Throw the numerous languages they print in Salt Lake City — and the consequences this can have for layout and delivery — and there is nothing quite like it in publishing.
But I wish most to speak of the church's new media efforts today.
I recently downloaded the Bible Videos app for my iPad.
In a word: "Wow."
Though it is in early stages of what it will become, it is easy to see how profound this tool will be as the scores of Bible videos come online.
For those who haven't seen it, the app brings the church's new Bible videos together in a useable format. I like to tap on an explore button with my finger, and watch as a map of ancient Israel appears with dots showing where certain events took place. I click on those dots and the map then focuses on three-dimensional renderings of the cities and places where these great events took place.
Further dots appear inviting further taps. Each tap brings into view an elaborate visual image with links describing life in the time of Christ or symbols and meanings of the Bible message.
And the images invite further exploration — especially for children — until the images make way for a Bible video that is terrificly produced. I can hardly wait for all of the church videos to be finished. The choices the producers made to rely on the text of the Bible for the dialogue make this collection meaningful to any Christian.
Furthermore, I can't say enough about the quality of Mormon Messages that have emerged quietly over the last few years. I watch each new one with anticipation.
As a man who teaches communication in college, I try to study storytelling and production. So, I am always impressed by the delicate editing and pacing of these videos.
Maybe I love them so because it has quietly changed our family, and improved the relationship I have with my kids.
Many nights, my youngest two boys ask me to lay by them as they go to sleep. Sometimes we talk of my mission stories, but often, I pull out the tablet computer, and we watch church videos. It is a warm, quiet and intimate way to appreciate video — unique to modern, mobile times.
We feel the spirit and discuss what it means to be a Christian and a Latter-day Saint. For me, it has been a beautiful experience. Adam, the youngest, likes Elder Patrick Kearon's story of the scorpion. Isaac likes President James E. Faust's story of working to be in tune with the spirit. I enjoy President Thomas S. Monson's "What Shall We Give?" address. And a childhood story by President Heber J. Grant, too. Oh, and I enjoy a Christmas message from the church, too.
I urge all Latter-day Saints to spread these remarkable and inspiring messages through their Twitter links and Facebook posts. I urge all to watch them.
I thank church leadership for these great gifts. I admire the story quality and the spirit each carries through an embrace of this powerful new medium. These messages are worthy successors to the efforts of the early apostles and Saints in spreading the message through media.
Speaking of new media, I thought it worth mentioning at the end of this column, if it isn't obvious to you by now, that David Archuleta's emotional mission announcement has made a memorable impression online. Sites from gossip rags to mainstream publications have shared his admirable choice to serve the Lord.
The video announcement has received hundreds of thousands of hits. Even The Wall Street Journal Friday took notice with a well-written article from a Deseret News editor describing missionary efforts — a worthwhile read.
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.