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Newsweek posted a red-hot headline: “Photo of Mormon Founder Joseph Smith Jr. Found After Nearly 180 Years.”

The only problem was that the first sentence of the story contradicted the headline: “A photo of Mormonism founder Joseph Smith Jr. was found after around 180 years and recently confirmed by one of his family descendants, but the church itself is less sure.”

And there’s the rub. There is no consensus yet, no confirmation that this is an authentic image.

Is the Joseph Smith picture real: Next steps and reaction from historians

Personally, this latest potential photograph of Joseph Smith seems like the closest match among several contenders that have surfaced over the years. The face does have features that strikingly resemble some found in portraits made of him during his lifetime. Still, I and many others have noted that the man in the mirror — daguerreotypes generally are mirror images — seems older than Joseph Smith’s age at his death, 38.

The church’s statement cautioned that it has not yet been authenticated. Historians definitely do not yet agree that this is the long-anticipated finding of a rumored image. You can read the reactions of several of them in Deseret News writer Trent Toone’s smart second story on the daguerreotype, “Is the Joseph Smith picture real: Next steps and reaction from historians.”

Does an image of Joseph Smith exist? What one descendant found in a forgotten family heirloom

Yet several other news outlets signaled with their headlines that this indeed was the one:

  • “At long last, a photo of Mormon founder Joseph Smith emerges.”
  • “Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s photo discovered by descendant after nearly 180 years.”
  • “Only Known Photo of Mormon Founder Joseph Smith Found in Locket.”
  • “Joseph Smith’s photo discovered by descendant after nearly 180 years.”

Some of those stories went on, like Newsweek, to introduce the appropriate questions about whether those claims have or even can be verified.

Headline writing is both harder and more important than ever. Many people get their news from headlines they see flash across their phones in alerts or through their feeds on social media. With this story, that means many did not see that these stories carried questions about their very own headlines.

In such an era, capturing interest with a headline is more vital than ever. Journalists first and foremost want readers to click on those headlines and read the details in their stories. And, of course, business models rely on people who actually consume news fully, not just in headline-sized bites.

It is really difficult to balance accuracy and capturing interest. None of us get it right every time. But the latest big story about Latter-day Saint history certainly highlighted the real need to do it as well as possible.

My recent stories

In Rome, President Oaks continues Latter-day Saint effort to champion religious liberty worldwide (July 20)

About the church

President Russell M. Nelson returned to the theme of authentic, true identity in recent posts on Instagram and Facebook.

President M. Russell Ballard dedicated a new monument to Black Latter-day Saint pioneers at This Is the Place Heritage Park. Elder D. Todd Christofferson posted about the event on Instagram.

The under-construction Orem Utah Temple caught fire. Quick reports and response by fire officials limited the damage.

Vandals broke windows in eight Latter-day Saint meetinghouses in a single night in Washington County, Utah.

Elder Dale G. Renlund said it was a special homecoming for him to throw out the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. (Photo below.)

A few weeks after this newsletter considered how city planning boards impact houses of worship comes an interesting request from the town architectural review board in Wilton, Connecticut, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rethink the roofline of a proposed chapel.

What I’m reading

I’ve wondered for years now what ever happened to the best magazine writer in America, Gary Smith. His old employer, Sports Illustrated, just profiled him, and you won’t believe what he’s doing. What you can believe is that he was great. Here’s one example: “Lying in wait: As George O’Leary climbed the coaching ladder to his dream job at Notre Dame, a dirty secret was lurking in his resume. But did he pay too high a price for a few lies?”

With a new study out that shows contact sports increase the risk of CTE by up to 68 times that of other sports, one writer took an interesting look at what the end of the header would do to soccer.

I recently finished John Grisham’s “The Judge’s List” and the first two stories in his collection “Sparring Partners,” the first of which I particularly enjoyed. “The Judge’s List” is a novel about a woman’s pursuit of her father’s killer by way of internet research, a very interesting premise.

Behind the scenes

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles throws out the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game on July 25, 2022.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles throws out the first pitch during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints family night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Md., on Monday, July 25, 2022. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints