Bay Area Reporter Turns 40

I love picking up the local LGBT newspaper whenever I travel.  I still remember, in 1992 or so, going to San Francisco for the first time.  Breaking away from a work conference, I traveled to the Castro and picked the Bay Area Reporter.  In truth, San Francisco seemed like a very depressing and sad place to me in 1992 and BAR provided a window into that city that showed that it was still a lively, vibrant gay place despite the sadness that seemed to grip the streets.

For a newly-out gay man from the Midwest, BAR was sexy, exciting, invigorating, and illuminating.  It was about a politically-charged LGBT community caught in the grips of the AIDS crisis, yet still has a sense of play amidst its serious news duty.

BAR is now 40 and has done a great job of both celebrating that anniversary, but also reporting on the role of BAR in community that ties in criticisms of the paper and its role in San Francisco.  There are few papers that would be willing to do that.

In a story about women and BAR, the paper opens itself to criticism that it is too-male oriented, a critique that is often leveled at the LGBT press.

Gwenn Craig, an African American lesbian, was the first out person of color and the second out person appointed to the San Francisco Police Commission, where she served from 1989 to 1992.

Craig said she doesn’t find “many people who are offended or horrified” by the paper traditionally being male-oriented, and she said there’s been more coverage in recent years of what’s happening in the lesbian community. But Craig, who indicated she reads the paper only occasionally, said she goes to http://www.shewired.com for lesbian news. Ten or 15 years ago, she said, the San Francisco Bay Times covered a lot of lesbian news and she would read that.

Over the years, the paper’s readership has changed and surveys indicate more women read the paper now than just 15 years ago. In an April 1996 readership survey done by Simmons Market Research Bureau, 554 people responded. Of those, 94 percent were men and only 6 percent were women.

The paper’s female readership has risen since then. According to a 2010 survey of B.A.R., 79.7 percent of the 823 people who were asked with which community they identified said “gay man.” “Queer” was the choice of 14.2 percent, and 13.6 said, “lesbian or gay woman.”

There’s also a nice piece, by co-blogger Matt Bajko, on BAR’s role as a research tool.

Nor is it merely academic researchers utilizing the LGBT press for their work. Historians, authors, artists and documentarians have turned to LGBT news outlets for source material for their projects.

The recent film We Were Here, producer/director David Weissman and editor/co-director Bill Weber’s retelling of the early days of the AIDS epidemic and its toll on San Francisco, includes how the B.A.R. documented the innumerable deaths during the 1980s through the mid-1990s.

Glenne McElhinney, a lesbian historian and filmmaker, turned to a number of the state’s LGBT publications for a project that looked at the birth of the gay Pride movement in California. In addition to old copies of the B.A.R., she perused the Advocate; Plexus , an East Bay women’s magazine no longer in print; and the Sentinel, a now-defunct San Francisco-based LGBT paper.

I also really liked an article about how advertising in the paper has changed, including a discussion of how new media has impacted advertising.

Technological advancements were changing how gay men met one another, so advertising for phone chat lines exploded. So did ads from models, massage therapists, and escorts. The B.A.R. also introduced what it called its BarTalk Personals. While readers could place small ads for free in the pages of the paper, they would be charged 98 cents per minute to respond.

“It was a glorified voicemail system. At the time it was a big money maker,” recalled B.A.R. general manager Mike Yamashita. “At the time it was cutting edge.”

The advent of the Internet brought drastic changes in the 2000s to the mix of advertisers in the paper. Online hookup sites brought to an end BarTalk and the number of phone lines dwindled. The creation of the website Craigslist ate away at not only the escort ads but also classified advertising in all manner of categories.

Read the whole section. And congrats to BAR on 40 years.

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