I recently had the privilege to interview Donald G. Godfrey. He is the author of “In Their Footsteps: Mormon Pioneers of Faith.”
Kurt Manwaring: Welcome! Before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first knew you wanted to pursue a career dealing with media studies?
Donald Godfrey: I was born and raised in Cardston, Alberta Canada. During my years starting at Weber State University and onward through my doctorate, I discovered I enjoyed my Communication, Journalism, and Mass Communications studies. Those courses launched my media career.
Later graduate school history courses started my research career.
My wife and I put ourselves through school. I worked at a local radio station, an educational and two commercial television stations as we progressed. She worked for the telephone company. Our first child was born shortly after I graduated from Weber.
My Master’s degree was from Oregon and my Ph.D. from the University of Washington.
With each move my media career jumped in market size.
Kurt Manwaring: You served as president of the Broadcast Education Association. What were your duties in that role and what were some of the biggest challenges you faced in fulfilling the organization’s mission? What are some of its most significant challenges today?
Donald Godfrey: The BEA, then and now, is the premier international academic media organization driving excellence in journalism and media education.
My responsibility during the time I worked on the Board and as BEA President was to move those goals forward. During my term, we created the annual national Festival of Media Arts, which recognized both faculty and student excellence, and the Research Symposium, which resulted in the presentation and publication of the latest research within a specific genre each year.
I worked directly with the Association Director, who as one of the full-time executives keeps the annual BEA Conference and various programs moving forward and improving.
My work with BEA was among the most enjoyable time of my career. I mixed with national and International scholars, some of the top executives in the professional field, and colleagues from around the world.
Kurt Manwaring: What are your thoughts on the proliferation of both accusations of and actual “fake news”? Do media outlets gain or lose credibility if they choose to defend themselves against false accusations?
Donald Godfrey: To be honest, as a former news person myself, I have to say I’m disappointed in the directions into which the news business has drifted.
The ideals of news in the history of media have changed from audience service and public interest, to the “dramatic,” light entertainment and lighter interviews? It was once intended to help the public make informed decisions, to be a watch-dog for our best interests.
Today those values seem largely lost. Lead storied are replaced by the dramatic, too often editorial, and meaningless to any viewer/reader/listener’s life. There is little I would define as investigative journalism and/or in-depth reporting.
As a result, the audience is drifting away from the mainstream media, to social media, which only gives them what the individual search dictates and already believes. It provides little objective informational service.
It’ll be interesting to see where this trend takes the industry, our country and the audience over the coming years.
Kurt Manwaring: How might we educate pre-college teenagers to be able to recognize legitimate news coverage and fabricated stories posing as legitimate news?
Donald Godfrey: Distinguishing between legitimate coverage and fabricated stories is indeed a challenge, especially in today’s social media. Viewers often find a mix of truth and unreliable source material.
A good starting place is to evaluate the source and the reputation of the organizations. Although many people criticize traditional media outlets, they still have the longest traditions of excellent, reputations to uphold, and staffs of professional journalists trained to check facts before publication.
News is becoming a topic in the curriculum of many pre-college institutions. They, and parents, could be of service by simply teaching them news and information values — distinguishing the need to know information from that which is simply entertainment. In education we need to carefully teach news values as well as the fun and glitter of the media production.
The challenge of any attempt to educate future journalists is, will that education stick, or will these future reporters simply be swept away in the ongoing present tide?
Kurt Manwaring: What are the biggest challenges the LDS Church faces in dealing with the media today?
Donald Godfrey: I think the LDS Church has an amazing news organization. This is particularly evident when the authorities are called up on to answer questions from the mainstream press where entrapment and controversy are the targets. I enjoy watching when the reporter tosses a baited question. The authorities smile, and the education of a reporter is their response.
Over the years, the Church has moved progressively, how be it slow, to deal with all the popular issues it has faced, and I think as a result it comes out shining.
I do think in their own news to the membership, they could avoid the massive redundancy within the various platforms and provide more of the traditional news about what’s happening within the Church around the world. News within Church newspapers, magazines, online and in various media is tremendously repetitive.
I’d like to see that televised news program, between conference sessions, expanded and aired weekly on BYU as a Church newscast.
Kurt Manwaring: What was the catalyst for “In Their Footsteps”? How did you decide upon BYU Religious Studies Center as a partner?
Donald Godfrey: I was poking my young college nose around the drawers and boxes of my father’s family papers one day. My dad walked in on me and within our resulting conversation, he asked me to write our family history. That was the catalyst for In Their Footsteps.
I have been gathering and organizing papers for decades afterward. Today, In Their Footsteps, is the result and eventually those papers will all be donated to the BYU Archives to be used for any further research.
BYU Religious Studies was an easy choice for this manuscript. I have worked with them on a few other manuscripts and I simply enjoyed working with them. They are a publisher who works positively with their authors to create the best product.
Kurt Manwaring: Did you find yourself feeling closer to your ancestors as you researched and wrote the book?
Donald Godfrey: Oh my, yes! There were many times I felt I could talk with them — certainly times I wanted to get some answers to my questions.
I remember working on the story of my great-grandfather Charles Ora Card. I had his diaries, and as I read them over one day, there was a passage, at a seemly important juncture and I could not read his handwriting. It had been written while he was on horseback travelling in 1886 Canada. It was in a light blue faded pencil.
Frustrated and sitting at my desk, I hollered, “ok if you want me to read this you’re going to have to help me,” at which point got up from my office chair and went to the fridge for milk and cookies.
I returned 30-seconds later, and the reading was so easy, I wonder what my problem had been.
Kurt Manwaring: Could you share one or two examples from the book that illustrate ordinary individuals accomplishing “uncommon things”?
Donald Godfrey: First, Joseph Godfrey a twelve-year-old abused child, runs away from his fatherly abuser. The year was 1800. He stows away on a whaling vessel, harbored in Liverpool, England. He is taken under the wing of the ship’s captain and for 30 years he sails the oceans of the world. He joins the Church and is among the pioneers of North Ogden, Utah.
Second, Charles Ora Card an 18-year-old New Englander who, with his family took their covered wagons into the Salt Lake Valley. On the trip the wagon master was not too kind to some of the European immigrants who were apparently unfamiliar with oxen and trail life. He made them walk, “because they were slowing down the wagon train.” Young Charles snuck some of these women folks aboard his own wagons, when it seemed they could talk no further.
“God bless that young Charles,” one pioneer recorded in her journal. He was a pioneer of Logan, Utah, superintendent of construction for the Logan Tabernacle and the Logan Temple, before he was called on his mission to Canada.
Kurt Manwaring: What has the reception of the book been like? How do you think the book would be perceived by Joseph Godfrey or Charles Ora Card?
Donald Godfrey: The reception has been fantastic! It is a documented history of generations dating back into the early 1800s.
For members of the Church who love pioneering stories these are original and inspirational stories highlighting the common person.
For the genealogist this book uses the public history methodology linking pioneering communities, cultures, and individuals together within their historical eras. It is a documented restoration of what life was really like in these pioneering days and what was going on around them. Thus, it provides not only pioneering life stories but frames them within their history time periods and sets a pattern for future works.
I suspect they would be pleased with the preservation of their history and noted contributions to family, church, and community.
Kurt Manwaring: In what ways can Mormons today be pioneers that future generations can look back upon with reverence?
Donald Godfrey: We are already pioneers! Too many people believe because they were not famous, their names were not known, they had no high calling in the Church, etc. that their history is of little interest. Nothing could be further from the truth!
My response to this question is to keep a personal journal. That journal will be passed from generation to generation with reverence. Write about your experiences within the Church, your community, your family, etc. When your readers recite your journal in the next decade, their world will be different, and they will marvel at what you have experienced, written and recorded in relation to your life and the public history surrounding you at the time.
Kurt Manwaring: If you could go back in time and have a conversation with any individual in your book, who would you visit with and why?
Donald Godfrey: Joseph Godfrey. He would be the first because I know so little about his youth, the experiences he had as a sailor around the world, hunting sperm whales in the North Atlantic, his coming to America, joining the Church, being among the body guards of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I’d like to hear his testimony. I wonder what of his experiences and stories he would tell.
Let me give you one more individual (well maybe its more than one). I’d like to talk to the wives. Long before today’s popular term “working women,” these pioneer women were workers. They gave up homes in England, walked with their husbands across the plains, one of mine walked barefoot, they developed farms in a new land, they were staunch in their testimonies. I want to know more about them, their feelings, testimonies and everyday life.