Bilerico’s Salvation Army Success Story

We’ve waited too long to take a look at the impact of Bil Browning’s amazing six weeks of attention after posting on Bilerico Project about his opposition to donating to the Salvation Army. The post, which has been an annual event, resulted in a huge response with stories coverage by New York TimesMSNBCFOXUSA Today, and countless other outlets.  The publicity surrounding the story has now led to a meeting with the Salvation Army, something Browning–an NLGJA board member–has been wanting for years.  Browning is encouraging people to submit questions for his meeting with group.

While I’ve personally had mixed feelings about a boycott of Salvation Army, I’ve been incredibly impressed by the reaction to the story and the amount of attention Bil has gotten for his advocacy. It is an amazing achievement to gain the attention of outlets as diverse as the New York Times and Fox for your cause, which is a concern shared by many in the LGBT community.

Beyond the strong, clear argument made by Bil, the other part of this story is the impact social media played in getting the story to go beyond just a post on a popular blog. I sware I read the post 30-40 times on Facebook and from tweets. In the age of self-curated news, a story that spreads via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media means both more hits on the original piece and a wider dissemination of the story.

When I last accessed the story, it had been linked to 149 times on Google Plus and had received an amazing 74,650 likes on Facebook, based on access from Bilerico.  There is no telling how many times the story has been linked-to on Facebook or tweeted or how many other bloggers linked to the story in their efforts.  What is clear is that all that attention translated into even more coverage once the story went mainstream.

So congrats to Bil, social media, and other bloggers for getting this story and issue into the mainstream. And if you have questions for the Salvation Army, let Bil know.

Is There Enough LGBT News to Sustain a Huge Marketplace?

David Badash in the Huffington Post has taken his earlier work on the future of LGBT news sites (from his blog the New Civil Rights Movement) to a larger audience.  It relies on a story at the Nieman Labs on whether it is possible to be too niche when it comes to news, focusing specifically on LGBT news sites.

Badash’s thesis is that online LGBT news sites live in perilous times and that the turnover recently inside the online world may have a larger implication on whether LGBT news sites can survive.

Is there a future for the gay news and politics sites and blogs that focus on and advocate for the LGBT community, or will we continue to see them consolidate — or just disappear? Why are so many gay news sites finding it so challenging to stay afloat? Are advertisers leery of being associated with distinctly gay sites? Is this niche just too “niche?”

“Whether corporate-run or a one person shop, the outlook for gay news blogs is that most of them are not turning a satisfying profit,” writes Nikki Usher, at Harvard’s own niche journalism site, Neiman Journalism Lab, in a recent article, “How niche is too niche? The case of gay news blogs.”

Publishers of gay news sites talk about the issues Usher’s piece raises: inconsistent advertising and few advertising network options, and lack of support from LGBT organizations. While visits at many LGBT sites are growing, most journalists and bloggers work very hard to attract and keep each and every reader.

Badash suggests that readers, advertisers, and the activist left need to support online LGBT news sites and that without that support, we could see more turnover. Included is an interesting set of quotes from Bil Browning of Bilerico Project and Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend on the relationship between the activist community and the LGBT online world.

“The right wing has no problem using its ‘wing nut welfare’ to amplify its messaging through politically compatible blogs,” says Pam’s House Blend’s Pam Spaulding. “The left is at once averse to that model but also queasy about what any blogger might say that is off-message or not ‘safe,’ and thus don’t want to make that investment in the blogs as part of overall movement support. That activist/reader reticence, along with the current feeble support through ads and direct fundraising campaigns, will never raise enough money to make LGBT-focused blogs sustainable.”

Bil Browning, founder and publisher of Bilerico, agrees. “While conservatives are funding right-wing Internet sites, blogs, and pundits to the hilt, the left has abandoned progressive citizen journalists since Obama’s election,” says Browning. “For LGBT news and political analysis sites, this tightfistedness on the part of Democrats, LGBT and other progressive organizations, and large funders has resulted in quite a bit of belt tightening.”

Many serious LGBT news and analysis sites are consolidating, reducing staff, or going out of existence entirely. Browning feels that “at this point, the left and LGBT leaders should be investing in our sites as an inexpensive way of moving their message, but instead they expect citizen journalists to work for solely altruistic reasons. Just because we believe in the same ideals doesn’t mean we don’t need to eat and pay our rent, too.”

While there’s a lot there that makes people whetted to the traditional media model cringe–working with political activists, funding from progressive organizations–to me the larger question is whether even relying on progressive organizations for funding will work or whether there is just only so much room in the marketplace for LGBT news and opinion.

I get most of my LGBT news via Twitter, RSS feeds, and Facebook. I’m constantly struck by how similar the news is from various sources–traditional online news, connected to brick-and-mortar news outlets, and opinion. At the end of the day, it seems like there are only a few national stories worth reporting on and the rest is filler.

Call me a cynic, but I’m just not that interested in the “It Gets Better” video by the baristas at a Starbucks in WeHo. I’m not sure news consumers really want a constant stream of tidbits about D-list conservative activists that are unknown outside of the conservative fringe and the LGBT blogosphere. Frankly, writing about every utterance coming from inconsequential candidates like Rick Santorum just doesn’t seem to meet the news threshold. And don’t get me started on celebrity news.

So is there also a news gap? Has the turnover in the LGBT news world occurred because they can’t survive and don’t have enough support, or is it because there just isn’t enough news to sustain?

We are welcoming some new bloggers to this blog and I hope their debuts will take on some of the questions raised by Badash.

Admitting Mistakes

One of the sessions at the upcoming NLGJA Convention in Philadelphia, which starts next week, is a session titled Reputation on the Line: Building & Maintaining Credibility featuring Bil Browning and Jillian Weiss from Bilerico Project and David Hauslib, who launched Queerty.  The goal is to look at some recent scandals involving blogger identity and discuss “what it takes to build a reputation and credibility in the digital environment and how to keep it.”

A perfect example of how to build credibility was modeled today by Browning, who admitted that a story he’d reported about the tragedy at the Indiana State Fair was inaccurate. Browning details the calls he made regarding the story floating around that the partner of a woman killed when the stage collapsed was unable to get her body from the morgue because she wasn’t considered next-of-kin.  It turns out that story was incorrect.

My mistake was never speaking to the alleged victim; Santiago’s partner is still in intensive care in an Indianapolis hospital, and it seemed crass to call her for a statement. Instead, I relied on my sources for verification. This was a grievous lack of judgement on my part.

I didn’t report on the original tragedy at the fair because it wasn’t LGBT-relevant. I consciously didn’t report that one of the victims was a lesbian, because it seemed crass and unimportant to inject sexuality into a story about life and death. But when I thought one of our tribe was being abused by the local government during her worst hour, my activist outrage overpowered my journalistic common sense and mayhem has ensued.

Every journalist is going to make mistakes.  Some of us are fortunate to have editors and producers who catch them for us, but sometimes even multiple layers of oversight aren’t enough.  It can be even harder for solo bloggers or online outlets that have fewer layers of editing or even the opportunity to chat with a colleague about the story you are working on.

Browning, this year’s Excellence in Journalism award winner for online journalism, does what good journalists do–and don’t do enough–which was to acknowledge where things went wrong and explain why it happened.  That’s a real service to his readers and contributes to his credibility and the reputation of Bilerico.

And it will, undoubtedly, make for something to discuss during his session.

How the LGBT Media Toppled the Head of GLAAD

It appears that after weeks of controversy, largely fueled by the traditional and online LGBT media, Jarret Barrios of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has resigned after questions surfaced regarding GLAAD’s relationship with AT&T and the company’s regulatory agenda before the Federal Communications Commission and its merger with T-Mobile.

This easily could have been an “inside baseball” story that never went beyond the LGBT media.  GLAAD has recently been a main target of LGBT bloggers and activists, who have delighted in GLAAD’s miscues and seeming mission creep.  The organization has been criticized for its relationship with corporate sponsors–both media organizations and non-media–despite GLAAD’s efforts to court activists and bloggers at events like NetRoots Nation and NGLTF’s Creating Change conventions.

The GLAAD/AT&T story, however, was the moment the LGBT media had been waiting for since the relationship has all the smell of a scandal.  The story largely began when John Aravosis at Americablog first published the letter GLAAD sent to the FCC backing the AT&T/T-Mobile merger.  The story came a week after AT&T allegedly backed an anti-LGBT rights bill in Tennessee.

The story percolated in the LGBT blogs for a couple of days until Michelangelo Signorile, a long-time GLAAD critic, hosted former GLAAD co-chair Laurie Perper who blasted the organization and said GLAAD should be dissolved. Barrios allegedly refused to participate in the Signorile show without having a crisis management pro with him, instead taking its defense to Adam Polaski at Bilerico Project.

The story took over a week before it was furthered by the the non-LGBT press, first at Politico which covered the GLAAD story as part of AT&T”s larger courting of progressive groups to further it’s lobbying agenda. By that point, LGBT media was reporting the back-and-forth over contradictory letters sent by GLAAD regarding net neutrality and Barrios’ defense that he hadn’t approved one of the letters sent to the FCC, which was later retracted.

The significant role the LGBT media played in Barrios’ downfall is reflected in the Politico story analyzing Barrios’ resignation, where technology reporter Jennifer Martinez prominently quotes Aravosis, Signorile, and Bilerico’s Bil Browning.  This was a story largely driven by LGBT bloggers and online media, as well as Signorile (who works online and at Sirius/XM). The story had a crowd-sourcing feel to it, with many journalists and activists pouring over letters to the FCC, GLAAD and AT&T financial records, and other data in order to determine what happened between AT&T and GLAAD.

In the end, the attention from inside and outside the LGBT media became too much and Barrios resigned despite signals 24-hours earlier that he wasn’t going to.  There are now calls for the resignation of Troup Coronado–who has worked for AT&T as a lobbyist and has long ties to both AT&T and the LGBT movement–from GLAAD’s board.

(Full disclosure:  I attended, on behalf of NLGJA, a 2010 luncheon organized in Washington by Coronado on behalf of AT&T in order for a top AT&T official to meet with the leaders of LGBT organizations and discuss their outreach to minority groups, including the LGBT community.  NLGJA, as an organization representing journalists, has not been asked and has not taken any position on the merger or net-neutrality.)

Without commenting on the merits of the story and GLAAD’s work, this story represents a high point illustrating the impact the LGBT media can have covering the large organizations involved in the LGBT movement.  While GLAAD has long been in the cross-hairs of many LGBT activists, the work fleshing out the story, providing primary source documents, and getting interviews with the key players in this saga shows the vitality of the LGBT media and, especially, the impact of online media.

Towleroad Interviews Thomas Roberts

Now that Thomas Roberts is a permanent fixture on MSNBC, it’s nice to see he continues to talk to online media like Towleroad as well as larger outlets. Roberts, who hosted NLGJA’s New York fundraiser in March, is unafraid of talking about his role as an openly-gay journalist and one of the few people to break network television’s lavender glass ceiling.  Here’s a couple of highlights from the interview with Towleroad’s Steve Pep.

SP: You told me last year that though you’re not a fan of outing people, that you wish some closeted people would “grow a pair.” What do you think is the biggest fear possessed by news anchors who live openly gay in their private lives but choose to not come out publicly?

TR: I think the biggest fear is self acceptance.  We all have different timing for when that comes along.

SP: Your colleague, Rachel Maddow, recently revealed three beliefs she has about gay news anchors. Do you agree with any or all of her these?

TR: Rachel is brilliant and I love her.  Enough said!

SP: Which LGBT issues do you believe deserve the most media attention right now?

TR: I have been so saddened by this recent rash of LGBT suicides and I think talking about it and covering it has been a great help.  I still think the dialogue needs to remain open.  I also feel the same sex bi-national couple issue is huge.  There are same-sex couples who have been married legally in this country and now face being split apart because they are not recognized by the federal government.

SP: Do you think there is enough coverage of LGBT-related issues in the mainstream media?

TR: I think we have never seen more than we do today.  I am proud to be part of that nudge and I only think we will see more.  Just showing up for work on a daily basis puts an LGBT face in mainstream media, whether we are covering an LGBT issue that day or not viewers see me daily.  That in itself is a great accomplishment.