Porn, Skin, and Profits: The LGBT Media Dilemma

Last week, on my way back from the NYC fundraising event for NLGJA, I was picking up a magazine at Penn Station waiting for my train. They had three LGBT magazines: Out, the UK’s Attitude, and the French magazine Tetu.  I’d recently picked up Tetu when I was in the Paris airport, but I was intrigued by Attitude, so that’s the one I bought.

What struck me about Tetu and Attitude, besides how big the magazines were and how interesting the writing was, was how male-focused they were and how many sex-ads they had.  Of course, one of the ways you can afford all those pages of editorial is the advertisement base and therefore the willingness to take “sex-ads”–phone lines, porn studios, escort ads, sex websites–means a larger advertising base.

I was thinking about that when I saw David Badash’s announcement at The New Civil Rights Movement that he was withdrawing as a contributor to Bilerico Project because of Bilerico’s “pornography” posts, and specifically a recent post about Mormon missionaries masturbating.

Here’s David’s reasoning:

I recognize the need to “pay the bills,” and sadly, I understand that “Prince William’s penis pictures,” “First all Israeli gay porn movie,” and even “Top 10 Stores to Pick Up Gay Men” (three of the top-ten most popular posts on The Bilerico Project) may serve that purpose, but as a journalist, I have to believe that these are the easy way out, and, just as I wouldn’t expect to see that type of content coming from a think tank, or mainstream journalism site, I don’t expect to see it coming from what I thought Bilerico was. And perhaps that was my mistake.

I also recognize that other LGBTQ sites do offer pornography-as-content, but others do not. Via Twitter and a poll on this blog Wednesday night, I asked what folks thought of pornography-as-content. I’d say most were against it, but many were fine with it. It’s a personal choice, neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong.

My writing and my activism is my work. My work is to help the LGBTQ community achieve full equality, both under the law and in the hearts and minds of our neighbors, family-members, friends, co-workers, and society in general. And so I view Bilerico and my own blog as my place of work. And, after twenty-five years of working in corporate America, I don’t believe pornography has a place in the workplace.

The sad reality in this LGBT media environment is that a certain amount of porn and skin is often required in order to drive advertising and page views. It was a question asked by Pam Schnieder of St. Louis’ Vital Voice when she found her “no-skin” advertising policy was hurting the paper. Her approach was criticized by Ted Fleischaker of Indianapolis’ The Word who said, at Press Pass Q:

I started in 1991 and for the first year it was also no 900 numbers, no bare-chested boys (or girls) and no escorts here, too. The sad thing is those were and are the ads that pay the bills, so we dumped the policy, which in hindsight was bad from day one. Now 18+ years later, we have no debt whatsoever, we still carry phone and Internet sex ads, escorts, massage guys and about 20 percent of the ads do have bare chests – and a few bare asses as well, as we allow those if the “parts” don’t show.

We did have some complaints at first when we made the shift, mostly from the women’s community who in a condescending manner dubbed them “boy ads,” but we looked at numbers. Then as now, under 8 percent of our business is with women-owned businesses and while we do value all customers and cover all gay, lesbian, bi and trans events, we went where the money was and never looked back.

So there’s the dilemma. Badash has taken a principled stand about where he wants his paid and unpaid work to appear. I’d also agree that “porn,” skin-ads and “boys in underwear” posts undermine the overall credibility in terms of news and analysis. OTOH, can bloggers and LGBT media survive without them?

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9 Responses

  1. I’d say there’s a huge difference between accepting paid adult advertisements and posting salacious blog items just to get hits. The advertising issue to me is one of free speech and economics. The blog issue has more to do with journalistic integrity.

  2. But bloggers make money based on page views and links. I’m not sure that’s different from an advertisement in terms of wanting to make money. That said, I agree that there’s a certain salaciousness that undermines integrity.

  3. Great post. Good questions. They’ve been around forever and they’ll stick around – how do we navigate sex-positive content (that pays the bills) in a sex-negative culture that associates skin with a lack of seriousness?

    Anyway, I didn’t find this post by accident, but because those links to the skin posts were sending a lot of people to our site and I was wondering who linked. A bunch of NLGJA folks seem to want to weigh all the evidence before the make up their minds.

    • Our outgoing traffic shows readers were most interested in looking at Bilerico’s sexy posts. Kind of proves the point.

  4. You can also thank AfterElton for most of those hits, Alex. They linked to us this morning.

  5. Followed here thru links.

    The one obvious observation that I must make to you regarding this post and references to sites/magazine/blogs/pornography… they are all gay male-centric.

    Something that the lesbian community has dealt w/for DECADES. This is exactly why you see so little content from lesbian [[not queer ID’d]] members. Just old fashion bio-women lezzies.

    Lezzies typically don’t want to have to deal w/all that “dick” on a side-bar or the post in-front of them when writing about the patriarchy.

    So old fashion bio-women lezzies make their own sites/blogs/mags/community. Make themselves visible… to those who really don’t give a shit about them.

    I applaud, regularly check these sites/blogs/mags/communities and financially subscibe/support them. But what old fashion bio-women lezzies have learned over the decades… gay people w/penis’ like to focus their attention on penis. The narcissism is astounding at times, but after a few decades you get use to and work around it.

    You just learn to never turn your back on them.

  6. […] a board member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, wrote in, “Porn, Skin, and Profits: The LGBT Media Dilemma,” “Badash has taken a principled stand about where he wants his paid and unpaid work to […]

  7. […] a board member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, wrote in, “Porn, Skin, and Profits: The LGBT Media Dilemma,” “Badash has taken a principled stand about where he wants his paid and unpaid work to […]

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