Over a year ago the Deseret News announced major changes at the paper. I expressed my pessimism about the nature of these changes and the direction the paper was headed.

Part of these changes involved emulating the Huffington Post, a trashy news recycler, by allowing random people to write for the paper as unpaid correspondents. One of these correspondents turns out to not have been an actual person. However this fake person supplied a headshot of himself (actually a photo of an athlete unrelated to the scandal) and a false name. Then he wrote several articles for the paper. Sound familiar?

In this case the perpetrator was the mayor of West Valley City, Mike Winder, who is considering running for the office of Salt Lake County Mayor. The Deseret News has a series of articles about the scandal:

This doesn’t seem to have provoked the massive outrage that I would have anticipated, either at the mayor, or at the Deseret News itself.

Let’s set aside the issue of Mayor Winder (yes the dairy is run by his family) as his stupidity in this situation is pretty obvious. Instead I want to examine the Deseret News.

Recently they’ve been touting the success of their new strategy, with claims that circulation both online and of the dead tree variety are up. This isn’t entirely surprising. Their product is now about pandering. Frequently you’ll go to the front page and the main articles displayed in their horrible rotating top story box are all LDS related. If they aren’t four for four, then it is often the case that three of the four are. And they often aren’t news stories. They’re opinion pieces or some other LDS related fluff.

I’m not surprised that Mormons like to read about Mormons. Obviously I’m writing at a Mormon blog, so the concept is familiar to me. But the role of a newspaper shouldn’t be that of a special interest blog writ large. It is to inform, provoke thought, and even broaden horizons. Sharing stories about the Mormon world does this in a small way, but it is such an obvious and huge filter on the viewpoint that the Deseret News now has as to impact its usefulness to the community.

Clearly this limited focus frustrated Mike Winder, who felt that his city was no longer being covered adequately. So he took advantage of the Huffington Post style contribution options to get his city coverage. This is deplorable, but not surprising. This system is ripe for abuse. Who wants to write for a newspaper without compensation? Well it is either people like my grandpa who loved writing about the history of his city, or people with something to market. This might be a company they want to promote, a product, or a political cause. In Winder’s case he was trying to buff the image of his city, which would support his campaign for even higher office.

It seems like it is only a matter of time before someone runs an elaborate affinity scam after promoting themselves first on the pages of the Deseret News.

So now on to my questions for you. What are your thoughts on the Deseret News? Have you read it more in the last year? Are you disgusted when you glance at the front page? Do you love it? What does it need to do to prevent this type of abuse?