Is the Media Using the Correct Name of the Church? A New Study Has the Answers

first presidency 2018

This last semester I had a professor. He worked in the communications department and specifically taught journalism students. The class was all about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their relationship/influence in the media. I wish I could tell you more, but I, unfortunately, dropped the class. Why? Because he never used the correct name of the Church. All I heard for a week was “Mormons” and “Mormonism.” It was extremely disheartening.

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The Name of the Church

Back in 2018, the Church released a statement noting that it was very important to use the correct name and that they would be updating the Newsroom style guide. President Nelson elaborated on this in the October 2018 General Conference. He said,

The name of the Church is not negotiable. When the Savior clearly states what the name of His Church should be and even precedes His declaration with, “Thus shall my church be called,” He is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended.

He continued,

What’s in a name or, in this case, a nickname? When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the “LDS Church,” the “Mormon Church,” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement.

I remember being hit with the Spirit when he said, “When we omit His name from His Church, we are inadvertently removing Him as the central focus of our lives.” This is a big deal. We have to take it seriously. Therefore, I didn’t hesitate to drop a class when a professor wasn’t doing so.

Making Changes

young woman listens to general conference for the church

Following the statements from President Nelson, website names were changed, we now listen to “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square,” and the “I’m a Mormon” campaign is no more. I was deeply impacted by these changes and have been extremely conscious to use the name of the Church correctly (especially in my writing as a journalist).

The Associated Press style guide is a big deal for journalists. This guide endorsed the changes made by the Church and says to no longer use the term “Mormons.” So, how has the press done?

Along with the Elizabeth McCune Institute, Public Square Magazine put together a study to answer that exact question. They studied coverage from July 2019 to December 2019 to see which publications were using the correct name of the Church.

A Closer Look

Looking exclusively at web content, these two gathered 421 articles from the twenty largest news websites in the United States. They then put the articles into three categories based on how they spoke about the church: positive, negative, or neutral.

Public Square Magazine’s article stated,

We also didn’t look at the outlets that report on the Church most often, such as the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, or various blogs and other forums. Thus, the study doesn’t attempt to assess how readers are experiencing the name of the Church on the web generally, but rather how national journalists and writers at widely read outlets are choosing to represent the name of the Church.

Out of the 421 articles published, only 43% were styled according to the style guide provided by the Church. When the Church was mentioned in the title of an article, 83% of publications used the term “Mormon.” Public Square Magazine said,

If you encountered an article in the popular press with negative editorial content about the Church between July 15 and December 15, 2019, there was an 86% chance (69 of 80) that it included the word “Mormon.” Whereas if you read an article during this same period that mentioned the Church without negative editorial content the word “Mormon” was only used 46% of the time (157 of 341). From the five-month data set we analyzed, there is a marked correlation between using the term Mormon and negative editorial content about the Church.

In a nutshell, articles that speak positively about the Church used our name correctly. If publishing negative content, the journalists didn’t care as much and used the term “Mormon” much more often.

The Meaning of it All

young boy watching general conference on a tablet

When asked about the study, the managing editor of Public Square, Christopher Cunningham, said,

It seemed like the best indicator is that when (a reporter) was thinking about the church in a negative light and had negative feelings about the church, they would be less likely to want to respect the church’s request about how it’s named. Whereas if a journalist, in articles that were neutral or positive about the church, they would be more inclined to be deferential to the church’s request or to respect that.

He continued,

One thing that surprised me about the data was I expected the adoption rate of the style guide to be much lower. I was impressed by the number of articles that adhered to the style guide. Forty-three percent adhered to it. That speaks well of national journalists. They’re trying to be respectful.

Words From a Prophet

I am so grateful for a living prophet that guides us in these modern days. I know that he is leading the Church in the way the Savior wants. The emphasis put on the correct name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not to be taken lightly.

President Nelson said,

My dear brothers and sisters, I promise you that if we will do our best to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church, He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen. We will have the knowledge and power of God to help us take the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.

So, what’s in a name? When it comes to the name of the Lord’s Church, the answer is “Everything!” Jesus Christ directed us to call the Church by His name because it is His Church, filled with His power.

Related: What Have the Prophets and Apostles Been up to During Quarantine?

What are your thoughts on this new study? Let us know in the comments below!

Brooklyn Gittins is an enthusiastic member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has written for food and lifestyle blogs but is currently sharpening her skills as a writing intern for Third Hour. She enjoys spending time with her husband, petting dogs, and eating buttered noodles.