Gawker’s Tussle With Robin Roberts, Matt Drudge

The moment it was announced, there was immediate talk of  the irony that ABC’s Good Morning, America’s Robin Roberts got the big Obama interview on same-sex marriage because she was allegedly a lesbian.  I knew there was gossip about Roberts, but there was little actual evidence about Robert’s sexual orientation.  I assumed that it was the kind of gossip that circulates in LGBT circles, where there is always chattering about who is gay/lesbian and who isn’t, but not really much more than that.

Gawker raised the bar on the gossip by suggesting that Roberts was concerned the interview would out her as a lesbian. Their source was someone “close to ABC executives” and it was backed up by other anonymous sources. There was no actual evidence that she is a lesbian, only that it is an “open secret.”  The story was bylined by Gawker editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio.

When the story was linked by the Drudge Report, Gawker then pointed out that Matt Drudge is also “commonly understood” to be gay.

Now, these stories are nothing new. Michael Musto in his classic Out magazine article on the “glass closet” talks about famous people–including journalists–are gay or lesbian but living haven’t come out publicly.  Beginning with that article, Out has consistently included CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Fox’s Shepard Smith, and Matt Drudge on its “power” list along with openly gay and lesbian media folks like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the New Republic‘s Chris Hughes, Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner, Andrew Sullivan, Time Inc. Martha Nelson, Gawker’s Nick Denton, New York Times‘ Richard Berke, Dan Savage, and CNN’s Don Lemon.

So what does this mean for LGBT journalists?  Obviously, NLGJA was founded to make it easier for LGBT journalists to be out in the newsroom and to allow us to have a place at the table when it comes to reporting the news and reporting on the LGBT community.  It’s fair to say that the “power” list would have a lot fewer media people were it not for the efforts of NLGJA to encourage LGBT journalists to be out in the newsroom and in their careers.

While there may be ideological disagreement on the question of “outing,” there is also a consensus that LGBT journalists should be able to decide for themselves whether they are going to be publicly out a journalist. The rub, of course, is when the journalist is also a “celebrity” and has a high-profile.  Some would argue that an anchor of a top morning show and the editor of one of the most powerful websites are “fair game” when it comes to reporting on their alleged sexual orientation and there’s no reason not to report what is widely-known as “true.”

This has been a constant ethical challenge for journalists: when (and if) to report rumors someone is lesbian or gay. And how much evidence is necessary before being able to report it as news.  The Drudge story is old news, dating back to David Brock’s book “Blinded by the Right” where he discussed an ill-fated date with Drudge and Drudge’s infatuation with Brock. There’s apparently a lot less evidence about Roberts.

So what do you think?  Was it fair for Gawker to pass on these anonymous rumors about Roberts?  Are high-profile journalists “fair game” when it comes to these kinds of stories?  And what should we do about the “glass closet”?  As long as these questions persist, NLGJA will undoubtedly be necessary.

Did Rachel Maddow Rip-Off Bilerico?

Not quite a man bites dog story, but close.  While large media organizations have long complained about new media and citizen journalists ripping off their intellectual property, there are growing cases where big media is accused of ripping off the intellectual property of citizen media.  Bil Browning at Bilerico Project has lodged such a complaint against MSNBC and the Rachel Maddow show:

We get lots of requests to use that picture. Just this week a documentary maker wrote and asked permission to include it in the film. We said yes. We’ve given permission to anyone who has written to ask and we’ve even offered to send publications or filmmakers the version of the photo that doesn’t include the watermark in exchange for a note that says where the photo originated or a line in the credits. 

But the Maddow Show didn’t even bother to write and ask permission from either Bilerico Project or the photographer. They just lifted it off the internet, cut off the watermark, and included it on the program.

Bil’s commenters are being protective of Rachel, but Bil raises an important point about appropriating the intellectual property and work of others. Just as there is a problem with copying someone’s story completely or running video without acknowledging the source, there is also a concern about using copyrighted art for commercial purposes, like an MSNBC show.

LGBT Bloggers and Netroots Nation

Anyone with a Twitter feed  with some LGBT folks on it  likely knows that Netroots Nation was in full-swing this week in Las Vegas and the LGBT blogosphere was well represented.  Here’s a quick report from Pam Spaulding at Pam’s House Blend.

Pam Spaulding and Michael Rogers (from Pam's Houseblend)

It may look like just a party, but think about the LGBT online political power in the room. We’ve been meeting in groups offline for some time, with this conference being one of the most prominent non-LGBT related ones. It dispels the notion that we’re all just a bunch of online armchair critics sitting in Cheetos-stained PJs spouting off. Nearly every person in that room is on the same page strategically (and we know exactly who isn’t), and believe the approaches we are taking are compatible.

We are human beings who do care about the LGBT and progressive movements, and our roles to play in helping move equality forward. Our progressive colleagues at NN certainly recognized the unprecendented LGBT attendance and cross-pollenation of ideas that Netroots Nation provides, and that we are committed to pushing the envelope. It’s sad we have to with a self-proclaimed LGBT-friendly administration and Congress, but there you have it. Sitting back and waiting for change isn’t cutting it.

Special props to Michael Rogers and his National Blogger and Citizen Journalist Initiative pre-conference. Rogers raised $16,000 for Netroots Nation scholarships and organized the pre-conference. He rounded up a who’s who of the LGBT establishment to meet with the bloggers in attendance.  Their pre-conference and other Netroots Nation events were tweeted at #lgbtnn10

Is the gay press withering on the vine? Report (and reality) says no

Us muckrakers in the gay print media are used to seeing yearly treatises claiming our demise. Whether it be bloggers with out-sized bravado claiming their site will be the end of all local LGBT papers or some new-kid-on-the-block publisher who chews off more than he or she can financially digest, it seems someone, somewhere perenially will boast that this is the year the country’s gay press dies.

Reality – and those pesky things called facts – however always gets in the way of these doom-and-gloom projections.

Case in point Michael Lavers’ incredibly poorly sourced Village Voice Pride piece last month claiming “Gay Print Media on the Wane.” My colleague Kevin Naff, who helped resurrect the Washington Blade with his coworkers last year, does a bang up job of breaking down the fatal flaws in the article, from not bothering to include editors and publishers from gay papers to the Voice’s neglecting to tell readers of a huge conflict of interest in having someone from the online Edge Network pen the piece.

There is one thing Naff – and Lavers – does not point out which makes the article’s logic even more filled with holes. If you read through the company’s own press releases, a majority of its content comes from the very local gay print media that Lavers, Edge’s national editor, says is near demise.

And those partners include some of the country’s biggest, oldest and most well-known LGBT newspapers, including the Bay Area Reporter (my paper) Windy City Times, and the Dallas Voice.

Not to mention that the publishers of Boston LGBT paper Bay Windows are also executive vice presidents with Edge Media Network.

So it is impossible to read Laver’s boast that Edge is “fast becoming the new gay press establishment” and not laugh out loud knowing that it teamed up with us “old gay press establishment” types in expanding to cities across the U.S.

Further dousing the “online cannibalizing print” storyline is the latest reports about advertising dollars spent on LGBT papers. Several papers, such as the Blade, the Seattle Gay News and the B.A.R. are reporting that their Pride editions this year – normally a gay paper’s biggest issue – saw advertising increase by double digits.

Also, according to the latest Gay Press Report, issued by Rivendell and Prime Access, Inc, the annual report found that 2009 advertising in the gay and lesbian press was up 13.6% over 2008.

Despite a bad economy and a great deal of turbulence in the advertising and publishing worlds, LGBT publications managed to accomplish a banner year in several respects, earning a record $349.6 million in advertising revenues,” stated the report.

”Growth in the gay and lesbian press continues to outpace growth in consumer magazines, as LGBT advertising revenues have grown a phenomenal 377% since 1996 (the figure for consumer magazines is 17%). This translates into respective compound annual growth rates (CAGR) of 12.8% and 1.2% during the same time period, demonstrating that ad revenues in the gay and lesbian press grew more than ten times faster than that of consumer magazines.
• The proportion of gay-specific ads in the LGBT press (ads that directly portray gay and lesbian consumers and their lives in artwork and/or messages) continues to grow, and has now reached a record 61.9%, up 7.8% since 2008. This represents a remarkable advance since 2002, when “gay-specific” content was seen in only 9.9% of all ads,” stated the report.

The report is based on advertising during the month of April in “all publications aimed at the LGBT market – local newspapers, magazines and A&E guides, as well as national magazines,” according to the companies. Thus this year’s report is based on 251 publications, the entirety of the gay and lesbian press published in April 2009, or 136 individual titles.

Now this is not to paint a Pollyannaish picture of what the gay press is facing. There have been closures of several gay papers and national magazines, along with some local papers’ pulling back on how often they publish. This has impacted circulation counts, as the report states, and there has been a noticeable shift in how advertisers are spending their dollars with the gay press:

The combined circulation of all LGBT publications is now 2,387,750, down a significant 27.6% since 2008. As discussed below, several publishers cut their frequencies early in 2009, as soon as they realized that ad pages were down for their individual magazines. Later in the year many relaunched, and were thereby able to survive. Nevertheless, circulation figures were clearly affected, as was number of ads.
• In 2009 we identified a total of 21,461 ads in the LGBT press, a decrease of 6.8% compared to 2008 (see explanations above and below concerning the emergency measures publishers took to stay in business). The year’s increase in revenue, however, traces to larger ads. Therefore, the number of ads fell, but the revenue from advertising increased. These ads are distributed as follows: 98.6% are in local publications – local newspapers have the majority (61.8% of all ads), followed by local magazines (18.6%) and A&E guides (18.2%). In contrast, national magazines account for only 1.4% of all ads. (Recall that there are currently only five national LGBT magazines vs. seven in 2008.)

Nonetheless, for the gay and lesbian press, according to the report, “2009 was a complicated but productive year …. In these most difficult of economic times, it captured the highest revenue recorded ($349.6 million), accounting for a respectable 13.6% gain over 2008.”

And even what seemed like an especially harsh year for LGBT papers, in reality the closures in 2009 is par for the course when it comes to the LGBT press:

In 2009, the gay and lesbian press consisted of 251 issues (27 less than in 2008), representing 136 individual titles. Even though the number of issues is somewhat less than in 2008 (especially in the realm of local magazines and newspapers), this is no cause for alarm. The number of individual titles, for example, is up six since last year.
Such changes mean little in the life of the gay and lesbian press. While there are some long-lived titles that publish year-to-year, most change over time. For example, in an average year, about 10 new titles enter the mix, and another 10 cease publication. Even if the overall numbers in 2009 matched those in 2008, the titles would not be the same.

And the report also indicates that 2010 so far has been a good year for many LGBT papers:

In difficult economic times, niche publications are the first to go (as well as the first to recover). Thus early in 2009 (within the time frame of this report), it became apparent that several prominent LGBT titles were struggling (page counts were painfully down). Thus several immediately curtailed frequency, resulting in reduced circulation figures. Toward the end of the year (beyond the scope of this report), some publications failed – most notably the loss of two major titles, Genre and Jane and Jane – but most did not skip a beat and have since rebounded (to be referred to in our 2010 report).

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Bilerico Questions GetEqual and Shows Where New Media Can Shine- UPDATED

After praising the Advocate’s analysis of GetEqual, I was pleased to see Bil Browning at Bilerico Project asking tough questions about the new kid on the block, especially in terms of funding and organization.  That strong post was followed by a defensive, but informative, response from GetEqual.  This is an example of how new media–or the Fifth Estate, as the Poynter Institute calls it–really shines by creating a conversation with readers, commenters, and leaders.

What Browning accomplished was raising some important questions, allowing people to respond, and then allowing the organization to respond.  In the process, we saw GetEqual provide some much needed transparency and we saw Bilerico raising concerns that have been talked about, but not written about.  While some may see it as typical circular firing squads, which are famous in LGBT organizations and politics, it seemed to me that it was a healthy conversation to start and in a place where it could be the most successful, a moderated by open blog.

Here’s what Browning had to say:

Who decided how much to pay everyone?

To help provide oversight, the group has invited six undisclosed people to serve on the org’s board. This group will meet at another retreat to be held later this month. These are the individuals responsible for GetEqual’s actions; until then there doesn’t seem to be any sort of check in place other than the threat of closing the pocketbook.

A half a million to a million dollars is a large amount of money. That’s not chump change any longer and it’s strips GetEQual of the “struggling activists with hearts of gold” mystique they’ve been capitalizing on lately.

It’s hard to be the common guy when you’ve got a million dollars. I’ve worked with tons of small independent little groups and operations that’ve struggled to survive financially. The constant competition for dollars, the demands for transparency, the constant criticism are draining and the pay is usually very low.

Throw in an economic downturn and many groups are shutting down. The not-for-profit and activist worlds are littered with the souls of good intentions. It’s grueling work and the burnout rate is high.

Most organizations are ruled by their boards – usually individuals who have donated large sums of money to the group and want a voice in guiding how the org moves forward. The motivations behind organizational decisions aren’t always what’s best for the community as much as what’s best for the board member.

And here’s the organization’s response:

his is actually offensive. Given that Bil has no knowledge of who has been invited to join the board or who we are planning to invite to join the board, everything that follows this paragraph is irresponsible speculation. And I can’t wait to see Bil’s post on GetEQUAL’s accountability to donors, the (not-yet-formed) board, or the community from which we have not raised a dime. We’re not holding back the names of board members — they’re simply just not confirmed yet. We’re happy to make those names public once they’re finalized.

It is true that GetEQUAL is in the process of applying for tax-exempt status — and with that status comes a demand for accountability. Even if we weren’t applying for that status, I think all of the staff would agree that we owe that to the LGBT community and to our allies who support our work. We will certainly continue to answer questions when asked and to offer information when available — and, more than that, we look forward to engaging folks in actions that will target pressure points and create openings for real social change.

As the Advocate article noted, GetEqual has been formed with a certain amount of mystery, including a retreat with hand-picked attendees, and funded by a millionaire investor. Bil’s concerns go to the heart of the question of whether GetEqual can keep its radical bona fides without greater transparency.

Journalists–whether traditional media, LGBT media or new media–can play a role in questioning “sacred cows” and holding activists accountable. There’s worry that too many new media people have been co-opted by activist organizations and causes, so it’s nice to see Bil show us otherwise.

Update: After I finished this, Browning posted another article questioning who holds GetEqual accountable.

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