Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of the Deseret News Publishing Company and Deseret Digital Media, delivered the opening keynote address at the 2012 LDSTech Conference in Riverton, Utah, on March 28, 2012. Commending the pioneering efforts of LDSTech volunteers, Gilbert focused on parallel pioneering efforts of the Church, and specifically of Deseret News.
Gilbert said that as the saints were heading west in wagons, Brigham Young sent Willard Richards back to get a printing press, which he then brought out on a wagon. This was the real start of Deseret News, which is now over 150 years old. From that point to now, the Deseret News has been a pioneer in media efforts.
Citing the recently revised mission of Deseret Media Corporation, Gilbert emphasized the efforts of Deseret News to stand as “trusted voices of light and knowledge reaching hundreds of millions of people worldwide.” This mission has been the guiding light for Deseret News in their efforts to enter the digital media frontier.
Gilbert also spoke about previous pioneering efforts in media and communications. “Why do really smart people do really dumb things,” he asked as he spoke about the transition from the telegraph to the telephone. Western Union was the leading communications company in the mid-1800s when the telegraph was at its prime. When Alexander Graham Bell introduced the telephone, Western Union rejected the idea. “The ‘telephone’ has too many short-comings to be seriously considered as a means of communication,” stated an 1876 internal memo. “The device is inherently of no value to us.”
Gilbert said that Western Union leaders certainly weren’t dumb or inexperienced. Why then did they reject the telephone? Gilbert believed that “there might have been something about the very nature of what made them smart in their traditional model that rendered them incapable when the logic of that model changed.”
Moving to more recent times, Gilbert said that “there have been thousands of innovations in media in the last hundred years.” Most of these innovations have served to incrementally move media technology forward. Using the movie rental industry as an example, Gilbert noted that recently society has moved from in-store rentals to mailing DVDs to Redbox to digital downloads.
Focusing on the Church’s efforts to innovate, Gilbert noted three areas in which the Church has been pushing innovation. In education, the BYU-Idaho model radically altered how the Church approached higher learning. No more was the emphasis on teaching at a university and maintaining focus on research. Instead the emphasis shifted to distance learning and focusing only on teaching. Gilbert noted that “the whole strategy came in a five minute revelation to a prophet.” In public affairs, Elder Ballard has invited all Church members to participate in the dialog instead of restricting the dialog to certain Church officials. In ecclesiastical work, small temples have revolutionized temple and family history work.
The Church is also leading out in digital media innovations. Digital media is quickly outpacing print media, and newspaper companies have been generally slow on the uptake. Citing an unnamed president of an online newspaper division, Gilbert said, “Overall, the newspaper industry’s involvement with the Internet has been one where it had a lot to lose and it’s been trying not to lose it, as opposed to starting from scratch and having a lot to win.”
Jumping ahead of the game, Deseret News is actively seeking to participate in digital media. Gilbert noted that Deseret News is focused on two transformations: “I’ve got to lower costs in the traditional model and reposition it for a post-disruptive world,” and, “I’ve got to launch a digital business that’s [a] disruptive [innovation] to our traditional model.”
As a result of this shift, Deseret News has had to focus on what’s important. Gilbert rhetorically asked the audience if the Deseret News should be the leading newspaper in Hollywood reporting. Of course not, he said. What should Deseret News focus on? It should be the best source in the world for what is family appropriate material.
Gilbert emphasized the six areas of focus for Deseret News: the family; excellence in education; faith in the community; financial responsibility; care for the poor; and values in the media. He shared examples of how news articles were focusing on these areas. One new article focusing on financial responsibility was entitled “The age of entitlement: Selfishness is rampant, but can be corrected, experts say.” Commenting on possibly his favorite news story, Gilbert pointed out an article on the family: “Fatherless America? A third of children now live without dad.”
Deseret News focuses on providing quality news relating to faith and the family. When asked how Deseret News, as a company owned by the Church, can be a reliable watchdog on the Church, Gilbert responded, “We don’t really want to be a watchdog on the LDS Church.” Rather, the Deseret News wants to be a watchdog on the family. One tool Deseret News has introduced toward this purpose is the family media guide widget. Users review movies online and see how people with like-minded values have rated movies.
In conclusion, Gilbert referred a BYU-Idaho address by Kim Clark on meeting the Lord at the frontier, whether it be the digital frontier or our own personal frontiers. Gilbert learned from this address that “if you want to know the Lord, go to the frontier.” Gilbert said that individuals and organizations each have their own frontiers, and that as we work along our frontiers we will find the Lord, because that is where he does his work. “There will be critics,” Gilbert concluded. “There will be people who challenge you. It will be lonely, but you will know the Savior, and that will compensate for everything.”
To watch a recording of Clark Gilbert's keynote, go to the LDSTech Conference live session streams page.