Journalists travel trail via CD-ROM

While the Mormon pioneer trek of 1847 was carried out unnoticed and generally unheralded in the quiet of the Great Plains, the commemoration of the arrival of the pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley 150 years later is drawing worldwide attention, especially from editors and other journalists who are captivated by the taming of the wild West.

To help educate journalists about the trail, the Church Public Affairs Department has created a compact disc containing 600 megabytes of information about the pioneers and how the Church has since grown to spread across the world."The scope of the Mormon migration is greater than any other western trek," explained Val Edwards, of the Church's Public Affairs office who coordinated the project. "They were not merely leaving the East by their own volition for personal gain. They were forced to leave.

"They were not individuals coming across the Plains," he continued, "but a community traveling together. They cared for each other and cleared a way for others to follow by building ferries to cross rivers, planting gardens for future groups to harvest and returning wagons to the East so others might come."

Theirs is a story 22 years in the making, continued Brother Edwards. It is as rich, and colorful, and fascinating, and dramatic as the individual lives of the more than 70,000 pioneers who trudged the 1,300 miles from Nauvoo to the Great Basin of the Salt Lake Valley.

"The challenge we faced when we began looking for ways to tell the story of the pioneers," explained Brother Edwards, "was breaking down this colossal story into bite-size pieces of information so that newspaper and broadcast editors could gather whatever information they might be interested in, and then to make the information easy to use."

It was a formidable task, he said.

After nearly 18 months in the making, and with the assistance of the Church Historical Department, audio-visual department and Museum of Church History and Art, the Church's Public Affairs department has prepared 20,000 copies of the multi-media CD that are being packaged and distributed to every daily newspaper and television station in the United States.

The concept of the CD evolved slowly, Brother Edwards said.

It grew out of a casual conversation between Michael Leonard of the Church's Public Affairs Office in New York, and Brent Petersen of the ABC Television Network, and bishop of the Westchester 2nd Ward in the New Yerk New York Stake.

Both had offices near Lincoln Center in New York City, and one day as they met and discussed the challenge of telling the story of the pioneers, Bishop Petersen suggested using the interactive capabilities of CD-ROMS to present the message of the Church.

As vice president of photography and new media for ABC, Bishop Petersen has produced more than 30 CDs to promote network programming and has been a pioneer in the use of CDs.

"This new technology is well-suited for telling the history of the Church in a dramatic way," explained Brother Edwards. "The CD combines video clips, audio, pictures and written information in such a way that viewers can see it, hear it, read it and, hopefully, feel it."

"It is interesting," said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and chairman of the Church's Pioneer Sesquicentennial Committee, "that we would find a bishop in New York who is on the cutting edge of this


The idea of using CD technology was presented to Bruce Olsen, managing director of the Public Affairs Office in Salt Lake City where the idea gained momentum and the organizational wheels were set in motion.

"We didn't know all we were getting into," Bishop Petersen said in retrospect. "When we started, we didn't realize all the material we had, which included journals from 120 authors, information about 40 major sites along the trail, 28 video clips, interviews with eight descendants, as well as a biographical clip on President Gordon B. Hinckley, who, as a third generation member, is marching into the future while able to touch the past through his pioneer grandfather.

"I've felt the Lord's hand in this project," Bishop Petersen continued. "It's been a challenge to magnify my calling as bishop and still meet the needs of my family, while working in a demanding job as vice president for an aggressive company, and still find time for this detailed and complicated project.

"I feel like I have walked the trail a hundred times with [the pioneers] as I've read and re-read their journals," Bishop Petersen said.

The CD opens with a quote from Wilford Woodruff June 30, 1846, that speaks of the Mormon migration as "the movement of a nation." Then, mixing early black-and-white photographs with contemporary color art, the opening clip summarizes the expulsion of the Church from Nauvoo, and the resilience of the members in building a foundation for the rise "of a new world religion."

The CD is not merely a history lesson, Brother Edwards said. It relates the early days of the Church to the contemporary Church by showing that the same faith, courage, integrity and sense of community of the pioneers is still alive today in the Church of Jesus Christ.

The centerpiece of the CD is a map which details the trail from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley. Editors can click on the prominent sites and receive important historical information about each of the areas. To personalize the trail, stories and anecdotes from journals are also provided to portray life at that time.

"This CD will bring the Church out of obscurity in a wonderful way," Elder Ballard said during a demonstration of the CD at Deseret News and Church News offices. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Robert L. Backman, emeritus member of the Seventy and vice chairman of the Pioneer Sesquicentennial Committee, also attended the presentation.

"I think Utah and the Church will have more worldwide exposure than ever before," Elder Ballard said.

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