Why the LGBT Press Matters

There’s a belief that people say the nicest things about others during the eulogies at funerals.  If only we said those things when people were alive, the thought goes, we’d be in a better place. So it goes as the “eulogies” begin to roll in over the demise of Window Media Inc. and two of its most well-known publications, the Washington Blade and Southern Voice.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution emphasized the role SoVo has played in covering Atlanta’s LGBT community, including its recent coverage of a September raid at the Atlanta Eagle.

“It’s very sad,” said J. Sheffield, events manager of the Atlanta Pride Committee, which sponsors the annual gay pride festivities. “Southern Voice is an institution in this community and it will be missed.”

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“They had professional reporters who dug deep,” said former SoVo columnist Cindy Abel, a board member with the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which promotes gay and lesbian candidates for political office. “Frankly, it all came down to economics, and what happened to Southern Voice has happened to a lot of other minority publications. Now you wonder who’s going to cover these stories.”

The Advocate‘s Jon Barrett–who knows a thing or two about the financial troubles in the LGBT press–said the demise of Window Media represented a significant loss for everyone who relies on the traditional LGBT press to provide day-to-day coverage of issues important to LGBT people, even as they rely on social media and citizen journalists.

There are some who faked surprise and expressed sarcastic shock in reporting today’s Window news. Of course these papers are closing, they said, the golden days of gay publishing have come and gone. Gay readers are getting all the news they need from Facebook and blogs, they add.

I spend a great deal of time on Facebook, and there are more than a few blogs I take delight in on a several-times-a-day basis, but my news feed and my favorite blogs would be close to nonexistent if it weren’t for the kind of content gay journalists like those at Window Media churned out. In other words, my Facebook friends could never update me on the success of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal effort if it weren’t for the gay journalists working for gay publications on Capitol Hill.

There’s no denying that there’s been a ground shift in the publishing world — all of it, not just gay publishing — and we consumers are changing the way we get our news. This requires that media companies, if they’re to stay viable, be more nimble than ever — creating newer, better, faster, flashier, and more substantial ways to present their content.

That idea was reinforced in an oddly axe-grinding post by former Blade writer Zack Rosen at The New Gay. Rosen complained about the Blade’s culture coverage as not being hipster enough and too focused on divas, but agreed that the failure of the Blade meant a significant loss in journalism about issues important to LGBT people.

The Blade is America’s oldest and most respectable “gay newspaper of record.” Its loss is a terrible one for the local and national community. While some progress has been made, the mainstream straight media rarely has room for the daily trials and tribulations of the queer community. ENDA and Prop 8 make national headlines, but there is a significant amount of overlooked “minutia” that will largely go unreported without The Blade and its sister publications. Legislative action, hate crimes, the opening and closing of gay businesses — without The Blade, there aren’t a whole lot of other print news outlets that will cover these things.

Rosen predicts that fall of the legacy press opens up opportunities for new voices who won’t be defined by “a blind and withered puppet king to do it for them.” The irony, of course, is that there have been LGBT folks saying this for generations about the established LGBT media since its inception. Far from being the “new gay” idea, questioning those who control the printing press–or website–has always been part of the LGBT experience. The LGBT press has always been questioned for being too safe, too establishment, and for not covering the latest hipster band.

The reason that criticism always exists is because the LGBT does matter to our community. There is an investment in the media that reports on our lives.

It was Barrett’s final comment that reinforced the key role the LGBT media has long played in the lives of LGBT people as they come to terms with who they are and recognize they are part of a larger community of fellow travelers.

Gay media is a huge part of who we are as gay people. I say this not only as the editor in chief of the country’s longest-running gay magazine, but as a guy who, as a closeted 20-something, picked up his first-ever gay newspaper, the Washington Blade, at Lambda Rising on his way home from class back in 1994. That paper was a window to how I hoped I could live someday. And now that I’m here — now that we’re all here — I can’t wait to get a peek at what Naff and his colleagues have cooked up for us next.

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