Episode 124: New Deseret News publisher on why the Church owns a newspaper and its mission to be a voice of ‘light and truth’

Burke Olsen joins the Church News podcast, talking about how the history of the Deseret News and its early motto of ‘Truth and Liberty’ have relevance today

Deseret News, the media company that publishes the Church News, is Utah’s oldest continuously operating business.

Founded in 1850 by pioneer members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the publications began with the motto of “Truth and Liberty.” In January, Burke Olsen was named publisher of the Deseret News.

He joins this episode of the Church News podcast to explain why the Church owns a newspaper and to talk about the history of the publication and the Deseret News’ mission to be a voice “of light and truth.”

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Burke Olsen: So that, for me, is one of the things that’s most thrilling about being involved in news publishing, and especially at the Deseret News and the Church News, because our aim is to arm people with information that helps them make better decisions in their lives. If you read it with a sense of, “I can learn empathy. I can learn what I need to be careful about as somebody who’s navigating all the changing aspects of our world in our society.” If you are informed, you have clarity, that you can have confidence that you’ll make better decisions by being informed by news. And from the earliest days of the Church, the printing press, newspapers and all the technology that have come since then, are avenues through which God can communicate truth and light to His children. And so, as long as the Church owns the Deseret News and the Church News, we’ll be here, utilizing the latest technology, to spread light and truth to His children, wherever they are.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Deseret News, the media company that publishes the Church News, is Utah’s oldest continuously operating business. Founded in 1850 by Latter-day Saints pioneers, the publication began with the motto, “Liberty and truth.” In January of this year, Burke Olsen was named publisher of the Deseret News. Previously, he served as the company’s head digital officer and as general manager for digital products and digital content director. He has a bachelor’s degree from BYU and did graduate work at John Hopkins University. Burke, we’re so excited to have you on today’s podcast.


Burke Olsen: I am grateful to be here. I’ve listened to many of your episodes. It’s exciting to see how it unfolds firsthand.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, for all of our listeners who are not familiar with the organization of the Deseret News and Church News, the publisher handles all of the business operations that allow us to do our job. And so, Burke, you’ve had this job for about three weeks now, how’s it going?


Burke Olsen: It’s going pretty well. You know, you’ve mentioned that it’s about handling the business operations. The way I think about that, we have a replica of the original 1850 press just outside my office upstairs. And if somebody had to write something, somebody had to run the machine to print it. And that’s what we’re doing on the publishing side, making sure that whether it’s our print products or our digital products, they’re getting to as many people as possible with the great content, the important journalism and the words that our writers have written.


Sarah Jane Weaver: The Deseret News and the Church News, by extension, are owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Tell us why the Church owns a newspaper.


Burke Olsen: My read on the history is that when the Saints migrated from city to city, they generally would establish a few things. They’d establish a location for a temple. They would establish a university or a place for learning. They would establish a way to disseminate truth, and that was often a printing press or a newspaper. And I was telling this to somebody recently. I said, “And theater, they would always have a place to put on plays and shows.” So those were parts of the early heritage of the Church. And that was certainly true of the Church when it got here to the valleys in 1847.

Let me just go back a little bit further. In 1847, William Phelps, we know him as “W.W. Phelps” in the handbook in other places, was sent from winter quarters back east to procure a printing press for the Saints and he took seven months to do it. He visited some family along the way. He brings it back to winter quarters, and he’s got in the wagon, the printing press itself, all of the type, and the ink and all of the things that go into printing, and they leave it there until 1849. Their priorities were to move people and necessities for living. But eventually, in 1849, Brigham Young sends for it, and they bring it into the valley and they prepare it for publishing in 1850. 

Now, the rule was, they had to have 300 subscribers before they could start publishing. So they did that by June 15, 1850, they published that first issue of the Deseret News, and so carried on that tradition of having some way to disseminate truth, and news, and to replicate it and send it out by paper. The interesting thing about those days, too, is that newspapers had a longer shelf life. We were publishing weekly at that time. So people would take an issue of the Deseret News, and they would read it and then they would pass it to the next person and the next person. There wasn’t an internet. There weren’t magazines. There weren’t competitors at that time. It was the easiest method of disseminating information in a consistent way to many, many people.

Burke Olsen, newly named publisher of the Deseret News, speaks at the news organization’s office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and when I was growing up, the Deseret News was an afternoon paper. At my house, you had to read the Deseret News before you could sit down for dinner, so that you could contribute to the conversation. It was just how we, how we operated. You also have a tradition of having a family that cared a lot about this product and this brand and the newspaper.


Burke Olsen: Sure, too. Well, I grew up in a family where we subscribed to two newspapers and multiple news magazines, but our loyalty and our affinity as a family for the Deseret News goes back to the 1950s, early 1950s when my dad got a job as a paperboy, a delivery boy for the Deseret News. His parents were subscribers to another newspaper, located here in Salt Lake City. And his parents switched to the Deseret News and they never switched back. And one of the things I love about this period of time, is my dad didn’t deliver the newspaper on foot, he didn’t deliver it on a bicycle, but on Amos, his uncle’s donkey. So this was in Orangeville, Utah, in Emery County. And then later, my dad was offered an internship. He was a journalism major at BYU, and he was offered an internship with the Deseret News. I have a copy of the offer letter on Deseret News and Salt Lake telegram letterhead, which was another newspaper we acquired and carried that brand for a lot of time, along with the Deseret News. And he was offered, it was $1.40 an hour plus expenses, plus more, if he took pictures, and used his own equipment to take the pictures. He was offered another job, I think for a little bit more money and took that instead. But we still grew up in a home that had the Deseret News, and loved it as a mechanism for learning about the world. And as you said, being informed and being able to participate and contribute to the conversation.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And my first newspaper job, I earned $7.95 an hour. Now, that probably would sound like a lot to your dad, after doing that. But I want to go back to what you said about Amos the donkey, because I’m sure that Amos didn’t move very fast. I’m sure that it took some time to get through that paper route. You have been involved in recent years in information that goes at the speed of light. It just goes all over the world. We publish something and it’s being accessed across the globe by someone else. Even the Church News is published in three languages. What is it like to contemplate digital publishing?


Burke Olsen: You know, we have analytics and tools that allow us to see not only what people are reading, but where they’re reading it from. And some of your listeners might be surprised to know that we have more readers, both for the Church News and the Deseret News outside of Utah, than inside Utah. And we utilize all of the best kinds of technology to make sure that whether somebody is reading us in Salt Lake or Singapore, that it comes up quickly on their phone, whether they have the Church News app, the Deseret News app or visiting one of our websites, that it’s coming up quickly. And that is staggering to think about the speed at which communication happens.

Now, I’m still surprised that the Deseret News was being delivered to Orangeville, Utah, in central Utah, in the middle of nowhere, on a daily basis. That’s surprising, and was quite an operation. We deliver through the Postal Service now, which is a different kind of operation. But for our digital readers, they’re getting it just as quickly anywhere. And it takes work on our part to make sure that our systems are reliable, that when we make changes or updates to stories, they’re reflected quickly. But it’s really interesting to watch, and you can watch almost in real time, people after we publish a story, looking at it. “How long did they spend on it? Where did they go next after that?” And it helps us understand and promote stories, write content that answers important questions for people.

Let me tell an important anecdote for me, personally. Several years ago, I guess it’s been more than eight years ago, when my wife was pregnant with our youngest child, we were in the hospital. And the nurse said, “Burke, what do you do for a living?” And I said, “I work at the Deseret News.” And she said these exact words, “The Deseret News helps me raise my family.” And I said, “Would you please tell me more about that?” She said, “Yeah, I subscribe to the daily newspaper. And what I think is, if it’s in the Deseret News, it’s important and I need to understand it. And I’ll cut out stories and I put them in a folder and when it’s time for family home evening or for family discussions, I go to those stories and teach my children real world examples about gospel principles, about principles of integrity, and how those play out in people’s lives.” And that for me, is one of the things that’s most thrilling about being involved in news publishing, and especially publishing the Deseret News and the Church News, because our aim is to arm people with information that helps them make better decisions in their lives.

I meet a lot of people who say they like to avoid news. They find it depressing. And I understand that. I understand that sad news can make us feel insecure about the world, unsteady on our feet, uncertain about the safety of the places that we go. And yet I think if you read it with a sense of, “I can learn empathy for people in circumstances different than my own. I can learn what I need to be careful about, as a parent, as you know, my parents as grandparents, or as somebody who’s navigating all the changing aspects of our world, in our society.” If you are informed, you have clarity, that you can have confidence that you’ll make better decisions by being informed by news. I think it’s an important part of living in a democratic republic, of living in a free society. Being informed makes us better voters, better leaders, better employees, better bosses, and I hope better spouses and better parents.

Burke Olsen, Deseret News head digital officer, speaks during a meeting at the Conference Center Little Theater in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: And you know, it’s interesting, in January of 2021, we stopped publishing a daily newspaper and instead focused on minute by minute, hour by hour digital publishing. At that time, some of the executive leadership team of DMC and Deseret News shared some stats, and they talked about how even at the peak of the Deseret News, when we had the most subscribers, there were several 100,000 subscribers that could get a physical paper on their porch. And then they talked about the opportunities that were now in front of us, when we can send that same content digitally, to the whole world. What is that like to contemplate?


Burke Olsen: Well, you know, news is an interesting thing, because people have to go looking for it. And we, then, have to make sure that we’re syndicating it and getting it to the places that people go. That means we’re just as interested in getting our content in front of people on social media, as the people who come to our apps and our websites. And then we’re also worried about syndication. We can partner with large news platforms. You might have it on your phone, Google News or Apple news. We want to appear there. So, contemplating what that looks like is thinking about where people are and then making sure that our content appears there.

You know, the first motto of the Deseret News, in fact, I have a copy of the first issue of the Deseret News right in front of me. And I want to read something from this, because this was, for pioneers on the frontier of America to think about reaching people in these ways, they were pretty ambitious. And I hope that we have and think that we have these ambitions today.

This is the prospectus, June 15, 1850. The motto is, “Truth and liberty.” “We propose to publish a small weekly sheet as large as our local circumstances will permit to be called ‘Deseret News,’ designed originally to record the passing event of our state and in connection, refers to the arts and sciences, embracing general education, medicine, law, divinity, domestic and political economy.” Remember, these are pioneers, “on the frontier, and everything that shall fall under our observation, which may tend to promote the best interest, welfare, pleasure and amusement of our fellow citizens.” Isn’t that wonderful?


Sarah Jane Weaver: Yep. They wrote that and then they had to go shoot their food or harvest their crops so they could eat dinner that night.


Burke Olsen: That’s right. That’s right. One of the interesting things we talked about, the ease of disseminating the news today electronically, and ultimately, it is much, much easier. But I was in a sacrament meeting in Virginia, where I lived for a number of years. And this was before I knew that I’d ever have anything to do with the Deseret News. But I heard a story from a high council speaker that I later wrote to and asked him for that story.

And he talked about his ancestor, George Goddard, who got a very interesting mission call. In the 1850s and 1860s, sometimes there wasn’t enough paper pulp to create paper to print the Deseret News. And George Goddard got what might be the most interesting mission call I’ve ever heard. His friends are getting called to Scandinavia, to Great Britain, to the eastern states. And he got a call to stay in Salt Lake City and go door to door collecting rags. And the rags, along with, really recycled paper pulp, were broken into bits and pieces and made into, kind of a homemade paper so that they could continue publishing the Deseret News. So you really had to be resourceful in those early days to keep that weekly cadence going of trying to live up to what I just read in that prospectus.


Sarah Jane Weaver: That is really interesting. In my office, I have a portrait of Brigham Young, and my maiden name is Cannon. I am a descendant of the family that includes George Q. Cannon, who was also an early editor of the Deseret News. And so, to know that early Latter-day Saints in this valley cared so much about disseminating information is a little validating for what we’re trying to do today.


Burke Olsen: It is, and it’s interesting when I received this new assignment as the publisher, I went back in that history to see who were the early editors and publishers. Aand I knew about George Q. Cannon. Willard Richards, Dr. Willard Richards was the first, he was a member of the First Presidency at the time. So the Deseret News was closely connected to the Church. Even in its earliest days, George Q. Cannon was the editor not once, but twice. And you could, as a member of the Cannon family, you’re going to have to correct me if I’m wrong about this, but I think John Q. Cannon was his son, he was the editor three separate times. And so I think once news is in your blood, it’s hard to get away from it. And sometimes you might be called back into it more than once.

Burke Olsen, newly named publisher of the Deseret News, wears a Deseret News branded tie clip after his appointment was announced at the news organization’s office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: And you know, it hasn’t been too many years since Joe Cannon was a editor in recent years, who also is a descendant through that same line. So maybe there is something about newspaper in the blood. Now, I want to talk more about your family, your tradition with media. And then I’m interested in hearing, because you mentioned you were in Virginia, you started your career in education.


Burke Olsen: So my family first, I grew up in a home where my father was an employee of the Church. He was the managing director of Public Affairs for almost 20 years, after having worked most of his time at BYU. In the middle of that he was a mission president. As a boy of four years old, I moved to Belmont, Massachusetts. Mitt Romney was our Bishop there. I worked with him later at the Olympics. But I had a dad whose job was to be involved in how the Church was portrayed in media and to look for proactive opportunities to tell the Church’s story as new mediums evolved and emerged onto the scene. So I saw that up close and personal, my dad would bring home new videos, new pamphlets, new movies that the Church was producing. That became a hobby of mine, was to see how the Church was portrayed in media.

So that’s early years. And that’s one of the reasons we had so many newspapers and magazines in our home. And one of the things my dad did for me that I’ll forever be grateful for is, I had lots of interests as a boy. And he would say, “Burke, why don’t you come hang out with the photographer’s at the Church office building today?” So I’d spend a day with them. “Burke, you’re interested in video. Why don’t you go over to Video West and hang out with the video people and be on a set while they’re filming something?” And so I did those kinds of things. And there were other things over the years that my dad created opportunities for me to learn. And that fed my interest in media.

My dad was a journalism major at BYU who wanted to major in public relations It wasn’t available at the time. I was a public relations major at BYU, who now has invested my career in journalism. But before I got here, I did work in PR for some period of time. And I interned at a local PR firm a couple of times right before and after my mission, and then was invited by that firm to leave school to work on the Salt Lake Olympic account. So I was embedded with the Salt Lake organizing committee for a year and had an incredible experience. Working with the media who were coming to cover the games, working with the Olympic torch relay. I got to travel to Greece to pick up the Olympic flame and bring it to Atlanta where the torch relay started, and then to be there when the cauldron was lit at the Olympic Stadium up at the University of Utah. 

After that, I went to Washington, D.C. and worked at a boutique public relations agency that did a lot of government affairs, government relations. I was there working for the dedication of the National World War II Memorial. And then, went to the Pew Research Center and was the first Latter-day Saint, as far as I’m aware, to work there. And had a wonderful experience at a nonprofit institution that were really pioneered some excellent research at the intersection of religion and public life. And from there I went, as you said, to be in education. I was a Vice President of Communications at a university in central Virginia, called Southern Virginia University. And it was from there that our provost left to become the opinion editor of the Deseret News and spent some good time trying to bring me out to be a part of the exciting things that were happening as we were transitioning and innovating at the Deseret News. And so I’ve now been here for 10 years, trying to help more people from a technological perspective, from a marketing perspective and digital content, see our news and have it play that role that we hope it plays in their lives, where they’re informed and making better decisions.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m so glad you mentioned your dad, who was sort of at the helm of Church communications in those years when the Church was literally coming out of obscurity when we were seeing President Gordon B. Hinckley do interviews with Mike Wallace and some other really exciting times were happening. So, hopefully he’ll come on the Church News podcast one of these days and, and share something with us about some of those really important years. But you had to have seen so much of why information matters and how it can bless people’s lives when they get it.

And you know, as we contemplate this great period of the Church coming out of obscurity, one of those really huge media events, not just in Utah or the Western United States, or even the United States, but international was when the world turned its focus on Utah in 2002 for the Utah Winter Olympic Games. Now, you mentioned you had been involved with that. What was it like to be on the other side of a media event where you’re not writing about it, but you’re actually facilitating some of that communication?


Burke Olsen: So I worked at SLOC headquarters, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, and then was embedded with the torch relay, and then worked out of the main media center during the games. Mitt Romney, of course, was the president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, having come in after other people had secured the games coming to Salt Lake City. One of the things I’ll just say about him briefly, if I can, we would give him a sheet of statistics every day. There was a press conference every day about how many sponsorships there were, how many athletes were coming, what ticket sales looked like, what revenue looked like. We’d given the sheet and he’s a very intelligent man. And he looked at that sheet and then walk in and rattle off all those numbers, as if he had done all the research and sort of counting those things up himself. 

Seeing the media of the world come to Salt Lake City was phenomenal, because they told stories, not just about the athletes, but about the place in which the games were being held. And it was fascinating to play a small role in connecting them to information and data and even inspirational stories about torchbearers who carried that flame around the country and here in Utah. It’s one of the great experiences of my life, and certainly one of the most exciting periods of time to be in this valley.

Staff members listen to Burke Olsen, the newly named publisher of the Deseret News, speak at the news organization’s office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I loved the opportunity to cover the Olympics, I loved seeing how the Church and its members who live on the Wasatch Front welcomed the world. I also enjoyed understanding that so much of what motivates people and so often, is their faith. It didn’t matter what religion people were. So often when you would write about someone who had received a medal, they would reference God or their faith in some manner. Now, that’s something that we’re seeing less of in the world. But it is an opportunity for us to contemplate how our faith influences our careers, or our goals or our objectives. And so, talk about your belief system and your faith and how that has influenced your career.


Burke Olsen: When deciding what to do for a career, I was very prayerful about it. And I looked at the words of my patriarchal blessing so many times, and had some specific counsel about what I might do. And so as I’ve made career decisions, I’ve been very aware of ethics. I’ve been very aware of trying to be truthful and faithful to the covenants that I’ve made. And I find what I do now to be in line and in harmony with everything that I believe about God and about His commandments. You talked about the faithful stories that people told during the Olympics. One of the things that I think the Deseret News does uniquely and the Church News does this with every story, dips into that place of inspiration that people derive from their faith in God.

You might have remembered, one of our colleagues, Amy Donaldson, told the story in a staff meeting once. She was covering the Olympics in another city and another journalist was watching her do the interview. And she said to an athlete, “When you get to that point when you can’t go any further, where do you draw strength from?” And this athlete said, “I draw strength from God. When I can’t go any further, He’s the one who carries me along.” What I loved about the story is the other journalists in the room said to Amy later, “I have never asked a question in that way. And I understand now, that I have left out a really important part of people’s lives. I’ve never, never talked to an athlete about how their faith informs their athleticism, about how their faith informs their performance.” And that’s something that’s very natural for us here. And something that we, I think, still have to teach the world about journalism, and drawing on faith as a means of accomplishing great things in society.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And, you know, you mentioned liberty and truth is this motto. This is certainly something that means something today, especially when so much of what we read, we’re not sure if it’s true. We all have some different ideas of what liberty is as we’ve contemplated government in numerous countries. And so, talk to us about the theme and how it can be relevant to Deseret News today.


Burke Olsen: You know, public opinion polling puts journalists at the very bottom of the list. We’re not held in high regard. And you talk about the importance of truth and liberty. People don’t know what to trust. When I speak to students, whether high school students or to university students, I’ll ask them a question. And I’ll say, “How many of you subscribe to a newspaper?” No hands go up. “How many of you subscribe to a magazine? How many of you have access to a digital copy or visit a website or have an app of a news organization on your phone?” Maybe a couple of hands will go up. And then I say, “How many of you subscribe to” and I’ll list all the streaming services that we use to watch movies and TV shows, and every hand goes up.

So what’s interesting to me about our society right now is we will pull out our wallets for entertainment without blinking an eye. It’s harder to get people to pay attention or to pay for news. And some of that maybe leads to, or stems from this lack of distrust. But some of it is just this idea that people need to intentionally, you know, I grew up in the food pyramid days, where a balanced diet meant, you know, eating certain kinds of things in certain kinds of proportions. And I believe that’s very much important for us today, in terms of news consumption. You have to be intentional. I think it has to be habitual.

And I would say, even though we have very careful and good journalists at the Deseret News, to read widely from multiple sources. Read from, in the United States, people that you believe to be on the political left, and the political right, understanding that there is a point of view that often infuses particularly opinion and commentary. But understand that if, I think if you read widely, you’ll be able to decide for yourself, “What feels right about this? What’s true about this? How does this intersect with things I know to be true from the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” And that’s really important to be intentional in that way.

Keith McMullin, president and CEO of Deseret Management Corp., center, is flanked by the Deseret News leadership team while announcing leadership changes at the news organization’s office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. From left is Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News, Burke Olsen, newly named publisher of the Deseret News, Doug Wilks, executive editor of the Deseret News, and Hal Boyd, newly named editor of the Deseret News. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and the motto for DMC, which in addition to Deseret News also operates KSL and KSL radio, and Deseret Digital Media and Deseret book, but the goal of that company is to be a trusted voice of light and truth, influencing hundreds of millions of people worldwide. So we’ve taken that original liberty and truth motto, and then just said, “We’re going to expand it.” Now, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about that and it’s not theoretical. They believe that, as a company, DMC can influence and does influence hundreds of millions of people.


Burke Olsen: I came here for that mission to be part of influencing hundreds of millions of people worldwide. And it’s fascinating to me that from it, look, I’m a Deseret News guy, so what am I going to say? We were the beginning of it all. Deseret Book was the first company that we spun out as the Deseret News bookstore and combined with the George Q. Cannon and Sons bookstore, right? KSL radio was a spin off of the Deseret News, which then became Bonneville International and added television later. So, we are at the forefront of every medium of technology and way of promulgating truth and speaking. We’ve been at the heart of broadcasting general conference, reporting on it first.

So we’ve been at the forefront in the heart of allowing truth to be spoken in a variety of ways. If you go back, you can go to early issues of the Deseret News, with quotes from Brigham Young. It’s a mechanism that he used to educate the people. You go to that KSL broadcast, you’ve seen the picture of Heber J. Grant, speaking on the radio with that first official radio broadcast. You think about general conference being broadcast on KSL TV, on KSL Radio for so many years. This has been a vital effort. And you think it all started with that tiny little printing press. Again, on the American frontier, and now we’re trying to reach hundreds of millions of people. It’s ambitious, it’s inspiring, it’s what brings us to work every day, to try to do that with light and truth and with truth and liberty.


Sarah Jane Weaver: So I want to tell you a story. I was, at the end of last year, covering a ministry tour by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. And as part of that he made stops in Germany, and Sweden and Finland. In each of those countries, I met Church members who instantly connected to the Church News brand, who either had the app or read us online or had listened to the podcast. In fact, I’ll do a call out, I met two amazing young men, both named Sebastian and Sebastian and Sebastian both listen to the Church News podcast in Germany. And so the concept of what we do here in Salt Lake, that once could just be printed on a paper and taken wherever someone physically could deliver it, to us uploading a podcast and having young adults listen to it in Germany, really does show an influence that we had not anticipated, certainly at the beginning of my career.


Burke Olsen: You know, I served as a missionary in Scotland and one of the important parts of my week was when a copy of the Church News was sent to me. Every time wherever I am in this country or in the world that I see missionaries, and you know this well, Sarah. The Church News app is available for download on missionary devices. So every time I see a missionary, I say, “Do you have the Church News app on your phone?” because I want them to have the same experience that I did. It was this regular connection, I learned more about Church leadership, about changes in Church practices and policies, from the Church News. There were things that inspired me and things that I could teach as a missionary from the Church News. And that’s part of those hundreds of millions of people who are Latter-day Saints who have access to these things wherever they are in the world.

Deseret News Printing Press - Prilnted forst Deseret News in 1850 | DNEWS


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and the speed is different than when I first started my career, as well. Early in my journalism career, we would go out in the day and you’d collect information. At the end of the day, you’d write it up, and then it would hit the printing presses that night and in the morning, people would read it. And when I received the assignment to write about President Russell M. Nelson’s global ministry tour, in which he traveled to 35 nations in about 19 months, we would go to a devotional, leave the devotional, write it up, publish it immediately. And our hope was that by morning, wherever your morning was, you could wake up to the words of our prophet and know what he had taught the night before.


Burke Olsen: Let me say something about that to your listeners. When Sarah Jane Weaver travels around the world, and people go and hear the prophet speak in person, it’s so important, they go home, they go to bed, they say their prayers, they’re grateful for it. And then Sarah stays up all night long writing a story so that people around the world can find out what the president of the Church said in this place or in this place. So on behalf of other readers and admirers of the Church News, thank you for your sacrifices. And the things that you do that people don’t understand. It’s part of the craft of journalism. But it’s also part of the fire of the gospel of Jesus Christ that, I think, you want to make sure that people get those words and get them quickly.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I do want to talk to you about your family, especially about your wife. I think most people don’t understand that the things that all people accomplish usually comes with the support of other people. And I have a husband who loves journalism almost as much as I do, mostly because he loves me. But he is not the first to read an article. He says he’s heard a lot about it before it ever goes to press because we talk about it. And so tell me what kind of sacrifice or what kind of support you get from home, that’s allowed you to do the job you do.


Burke Olsen: So much credit for what I’ve done in my career and the opportunities I’ve had to serve in the Church are because of a willing and wonderful wife. My wife, Nicole, also is someone who loves news and loves learning about our world. In fact, some days, she reads more Deseret News articles than I do. And so I’m deeply grateful for her. And I couldn’t do what I need to do without her understanding and love and a whole lot of patience.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And a few years ago, as publishing companies across the United States and, by extension, the world, were scaling back, newspapers were no longer publishing daily papers. The Deseret News started a magazine. It’s a print product. It’s something that we mail. Talk to us about that decision. Why did we start a print product when everyone was going digital?


Burke Olsen: There’s a couple of interesting things about a magazine. One, is that it has a longer shelf life than a newspaper does. The other thing, is it’s allowed us to attract really dynamic and interesting writers, because it’s a physical product and manifestation. It’s almost a marketing tool for us. But why a magazine? It came at the same time that our understanding of what we could do, not only locally, but nationally, was increasing. And it caused us to look beyond Utah, beyond the West and beyond the United States to who could both write for us, and who would be interested in reading the kinds of content that we were producing. Some of those early issues we sent to every member of Congress We often print more copies than we need for our subscribers and send them to university presidents, to people around the country for whom this content would enlighten their understanding and give them context for the changes and difficulties facing people in our society.

Burke Olsen, right, smiles as he is announced as the new head digital officer for the Deseret News during a staff meeting at the newspaper’s offices in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: And the magazine provides smart copy on topics like, the family, on religious liberty, on education, especially by religious institutions, and so many other things, you know. We’ve dealt with the environment and talked about what happens if the Great Salt Lake dries up. It has allowed the Deseret News to delve in, in a little more detail and a little different kind of writing style into some of these issues that everyone cares about, but the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really do care about. There are things that members of our faith like to read about, and religious liberty and education, and integrity and government are some of those things.


Burke Olsen: That’s so well said, Sarah and I’m glad you said each and every word that you did. You know, we think of one of our audience being Latter-day Saints around the world who would have an affinity for the name “Deseret” and for this location as being the worldwide headquarters of the Church. But we also know that there are other people who find this content helpful and enlightening. And we hope they’ll find it in a couple of ways.

One, is that Latter-day Saints who read the Church News and the Deseret News will share it on social media and in other contexts. But we also go out of our way to optimize our content for search engines. I talked earlier also about syndication partners, so that more people, when they see our headlines, and they see our art and they see the topics of what we’re trying to accomplish on faith and family and religious liberty, as you said, we think we’re producing content to other journalistic institutions are not. So it’s a unique voice and a unique place in the world. And I think that’s one of the reasons that our audience is growing, because we’re producing content and writing about topics in a way no one else can.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well and, you mentioned it, but we’ve also learned that we have to go where the audience is. So, at the Church News, we publish a weekly print product, we have a website, we have a church news app, we have various social media accounts on Twitter, and Facebook and Instagram. We do all those things in three languages. We send out daily and weekly newsletters. And we’ve delved, in recent years, into producing video and then, of course, this podcast. And so we’re media used to be very, very siloed, you could produce a television reporter, you could produce a radio report or you were a print writer who wrote for a newspaper, or you wrote for a magazine. Now, it seems like everyone almost has to do all of these things.


Burke Olsen: It’s changed a little bit since you and I were taking journalism classes at BYU. And isn’t that wonderful, that there have been more ways? You know, OK, I think about this, I think about people listening to the Church News podcast while they’re driving, or commuting, or gardening or washing the dishes. Isn’t it wonderful that there are more ways for us to receive light and truth in our lives, in our busy lifestyles? And I think it’s wonderful that technology has enabled us to do that. And that people like Sarah Weaver have had the vision to take advantage of those opportunities.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, Burke, before we close, I want to throw out a question that is a little different from your career in the media, and that is your service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You’ve been a bishop and a counselor in a stake presidency, and what have you learned about leadership from your church service?


Burke Olsen: What I’ve learned from having the chance to serve in the Church, is that God loves His children and He wants to magnify them. He wants to bless them where they are. He wants to lift them. He wants to give them joy through the blessings and value of covenant, covenant keeping. He’s given them a prophet to lead and guide, beautiful words of scripture and the gift of the Holy Ghost that is so powerful and meaningful in our lives. And all of that centered around faith in Jesus Christ. So, what have I felt and known and loved as a, someone who’s had opportunities to serve in the Church? I love seeing how God loves His children. I have loved seeing people make changes that give them access to the sanctifying power of the Atonement. It’s a great blessing and something that I need in my life. And I’ve loved seeing that be an active part of other people’s lives.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And that brings us full circle. As we draw the podcast to a close, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we always give our guests the last word and we always have an answer the same question. And so, Burke, thank you for joining us and talking to us about this industry that we both love. And I’m hoping you can finish up today and tell us what you know now, after contemplating your role as publisher of the Deseret News.


Burke Olsen: Thank you, Sarah, and thanks for this opportunity and this chance to sit down and have a great conversation with you. I do love this profession. What do I know jow? I know that God cares about His children and the details of their lives. And from the earliest days of the Church, the printing press, newspapers and all the technology that have come since then, are avenues through which God can communicate truth and light to His children. And so, as long as the Church owns the Deseret News and the Church News, we’ll be here, utilizing the latest technology to spread light and truth to His children, wherever they are.


Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church news editor, Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on

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