Jen Christensen Affirmed New NLGJA President

ChristensenThe National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association Board of Directors has affirmed Jen Christensen of CNN as its new president, succeeding the late Michael Triplett. Following the rules of the NLGJA bylaws, Christensen will serve the remainder of the term, through the 2014 convention.

Since 2009, Christensen has served as NLGJA’s vice president for broadcast.  She previously served on NLGJA’s board of directors for three terms, as president of the Georgia and Carolinas chapters and as the founding president of the Kentucky chapter.

A writer and producer with CNN.com, Christensen previously worked as an investigative producer/documentarian in CNN’s Special Investigations Unit, where she won the Peabody and DuPont awards, among other top prizes, as a producer for Christiane Amanpour’s God’s (Jewish) Warriors. She also produced the award-winning MLK’s Words That Changed a Nation; Black in America: Eyewitness to Murder; Obama Revealed; Sarah Palin Revealed; Christiane Amanpour’s Generation Islam, and several breaking-news documentaries.

Before joining CNN, Christensen ran investigative units at WSOC-TV in Charlotte, N.C., and WTVQ-TV in Lexington, KY

Christensen holds a bachelor’s degree in TV/Radio and politics from Butler University and also attended the London School of Economics, where she studied foreign policy and economics.

“While I take on this role under extremely sad circumstances, I hope to carry on Michael’s important legacy of thoughtful leadership,” she said. “I look forward to echoing his passion to seek fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues in the media and to continue to help create more inclusive newsrooms for LGBT journalists.”

Michael Triplett, 1964-2013

Triplett_Michael_0It is with great sadness that we inform you that our friend and leader, NLGJA President Michael Triplett, passed away today after a courageous battle with cancer.

While Michael only served as president for a few short months, he has been a member of our leadership team for several years, first as a Washington, D.C. chapter board member and president and then as a national board member and vice president for print. His quiet demeanor masked a steely resolve and an uncanny ability to push our organization forward. Michael quickly became someone who could be relied on both to provide sage advice as well as the time and energy to help us accomplish our goals.

Michael was the assistant managing editor at Bloomberg-BNA, where he used his legal background to develop and lead reports on tax and labor policy, as well as grooming journalists around the world. NLGJA members often called on Michael to provide a legal perspective to policy issues and governance, and he frequently sat on panels covering legal issues at NLGJA conventions.

Michael played an enormous role in our joining UNITY: Journalists for Diversity in 2011 and was one of our first representatives to the UNITY board. There, he worked with members of our partner groups to fully incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity into UNITY’s mission.

He also helped our organization connect with members as a principle contributor to the NLGJA RE:ACT blog.

Michael was truly a joy for all of us to work with, and his loss will be felt among our organization for years to come. Our thoughts and prayers are with his partner, Jack and his family in Alabama.

The NLGJA board will meet in the coming days to elect an interim president, as well as to determine the best way to honor Michael’s memory. But for now, we pause to remember our friend and an enormous contributor to our recent growth and success.

Newsweek’s Problematic Breaking of “AIDS Fatigue”

By Sunny Bjerk (Communications Manager, Housing Works)

Image from thedailybeast.com

Image from thedailybeast.com

In the last printed issue of Newsweek magazine, which, after 80 years is now transitioning to an-all digital format, columnist David Ansen talks about the effects the AIDS pandemic had on artists throughout the 70s and 80s, and the supplemental silence that permeated these deaths.

“The initial, official cause of death [for Rudolf Nureyev, Russian dancer] was said to be a ‘cardiac complication’ that followed a long illness. But it wasn’t hard to read between the lines: everybody knew he was the latest in a long line of people in the arts who had died of AIDS.”

Ansen goes on to position the ways in which Newsweek is closing a chapter on its physical printing publication is akin to the ways in which the country is also closing a chapter on the silence of AIDS and AIDS-related deaths during the plague-years, moving toward a place where this silence is “history.”

But we should approach Ansen’s article cautiously, if not critically. (Indeed, if I had more time I would challenge Ansen’s absurd analogy of 9/11 with “the specter of AIDS”).

To start, Ansen paints a glorious present world where HIV stigma and shame are the unfortunate liver spots of the past, and that we, as a country, are moving away from such narrow-mindedness. Ansen writes, “Particularly in the first decade of the scourge, many obituaries would ‘tactfully’ omit the cause of death: there was a stigma, a shame, surrounding HIV infection.” But the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS is far from obsolete, and to speak about stigma and shame as though they are unfortunate relics of the country’s past is to completely mischaracterize the state of HIV/AIDS in the country and across the globe.

Stigma continues to drive low HIV-testing rates. Stigma continues to drive a fear of disclosure. Stigma continues to drive physical and emotional violence against people living with HIV/AIDS—particularly against women. And stigma continues to drive the imprudent HIV criminalization laws across the country. Any argument, then, that posits HIV stigma as past or even fading is clearly erroneous.

Secondly, Ansen’s article also seems to posit that it was only white, middle-to-upper class men in the arts that died from AIDS. This sentiment, whether intentional or not, is evident from the article’s very beginning, which features photos of six men who died from AIDS/AIDS-related illnesses, all of which are white: Liberace, Keith Haring, Rudolf Nureyev, Roy Halston Frowick, Rock Hudson, and Freddie Mercury. In addition, the article goes on to mourn others lost, which continues the pattern of only including white men: Anthony Perkins, Michael Bennett, Robert Mapplethrope, and Charles Ludlam. As such, Ansen’s interest in the “cultural fabric that had been ripped apart and couldn’t be replaced” is a fanciful exclusion of male (and gay) artists of color.

While it could certainly be argued that historically, artists of color did not have the same access (privilege) as their white counterparts and were therefore less likely to be known, this argument seems incredibly circumspect for an article written in 2013 reflecting on the AIDS pandemic in its early stages. In other words, we cannot play along with the article’s specious historicization that it was only white artists who died from AIDS.

Finally, it is hard to jump onboard with Ansen’s optimism, however well-intentioned—when domestic HIV/AIDS services and programs are facing funding cuts upwards of $600 million dollars. He writes, “However, it should be noted that this article serves as a nice rupture to the AIDS fatigue that major media outlets have been suffering from.” (For example, TIME magazine— Newsweek’s main competitor—hasn’t published a domestic HIV/AIDS article since November 28, 2012, and even then, appears to be in “honor” of World AIDS Day). Despite this welcomed interlude into AIDS fatigue, however, we must continue to challenge articles or representations that marginalize and minimalize the effects that HIV and AIDS has had on people of color and underserved communities.

This article was originally published at the AIDS Issues Update Blog by Housing Works. Sunny Bjerk can be contacted by email at s.bjerk@housingworks.org.

Dish Independence

“Present and Future Business Models for Monetizing the Newspaper Industry” is a jingle from NPR’s On the Media that trumpets a recurring theme on the show (and a theme for anyone interested in making a living in the media). Well, that’s the jingle I heard in my head when I came across the following.

Openly HIV-positive and gay blogger extraordinaire Andrew Sullivan announced on January 2 that starting February 1 his blog The Dish will become ad-free and start charging for access to some of its content:

the_dishAnd so, as we contemplated the end of our contract with the Beast at the end of 2012, we faced a decision. As usual, we sought your input and the blogosphere’s – hence the not-terribly subtle thread that explored whether online readers will ever pay for content, and how. The answer is: no one really knows. But as we debated and discussed that unknowable future, we felt more and more that getting readers to pay a small amount for content was the only truly solid future for online journalism. And since the Dish has, from its beginnings, attempted to pioneer exactly such a solid future for web journalism, we also felt we almost had a duty to try and see if we could help break some new ground.

The only completely clear and transparent way to do this, we concluded, was to become totally independent of other media entities and rely entirely on you for our salaries, health insurance, and legal, technological and accounting expenses.

The URL will revert to andrewsullivan.com. Founding members are asked to pay $19.99 for one year, but Sullivan encourages folks to give more if they feel like it:

No member will have any more access or benefits than any other member, but if hardcore Dishheads want to give us some love for the years of free blogging and for the adventure ahead, we’d be crazy not to take it.

And here are some of the details on how it will actually work:

Our particular version will be a meter that will be counted every time you hit a “Read on” button to expand or contract a lengthy post. You’ll have a limited number of free read-ons a month, before we hit you up for $19.99. Everything else on the Dish will remain free. No link from another blog to us will ever be counted for the meter – so no blogger or writer need ever worry that a link to us will push their readers into a paywall. It won’t. Ever. There is no paywall. Just a freemium-based meter.

Sullivan doesn’t rule out advertising in the future if subscription revenue isn’t enough. “But it would be a great missed opportunity, in my view, not to try,” Sullivan says.

Full disclosure: I visit The Dish regularly and I wanted to support this experiment, so I paid the minimum. In just a few hours after his initial post, Sullivan reports that a third of his readers have subscribed giving more than the $19.99 minimum.

Sullivan cites mixed reactions to his announcement across the blogosphere. Obviously, I support the concept.

The Dish is in a unique position because of its loyal and large following, but this model does seem to have potential for even one-person blogs. Micropayments work, so why shouldn’t bloggers try?