PRESS PASS Q
JUNE 2010 [Vol. 12, No. 3)
Celebrating 11 years of serving our community of journalists
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FEATURE: Better than Bush, but good enough?: Journalists take stock of Obama White House’s relationship with LGBT media
by Chuck Colbert
A year ago, President Barack Obama hosted a Gay Pride reception in the East Room of the White House, an event attended by 300 invitees, including representatives from LGBT media, both as guests and working press.
But make no mistake. That White House celebration, while paying tribute to the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, was also an exercise in LGBT media and gay community damage control. For the first six months, the president exerted little effort to advance LGBT rights. Increasingly, LGBT activists grew impatient, voicing dismay with Obama and his party for their inertia on everything from the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [DADT) to that of the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA).
For some, dismay gave way to anger, which finally erupted all over the blogosphere. A flashpoint occurred on June 11, 2009, when Obama’s Justice Department filed a legal brief defending DOMA, causing gay activist and blogger John Aravosis [www.americablog.com) to go ballistic, his scathing criticisms flying all over cyberspace as Facebook and Twitter amplified the outrage.
The president’s remarks at last year’s Gay Pride celebration helped to mitigate some of the anger. “I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough,” Obama said, according to Lisa Keen, chief correspondent of Keen News Services, who reported on the president’s comments in LGBT publications nationwide. At the same time, the president urged the gay community to judge him “not by the promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.”
Later on in October, the president made much the same appeal to the LGBT community in his keynote remarks – covered widely by LGBT media – at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual black-tie dinner in Washington, D.C., held on the eve of the National Equality March.
Mindful of some progress between then and now, what can be said of the Obama administration’s relationship with LGBT media? What about gay journalists’ access to White House officials to ask questions about issues of importance to the community? And what kind of a job does the White House think LGBT media are doing?
“My overall impression is that [Obama] treats gay media the way he’s treating the gay community,” said Keen. “He’s keeping us at a stiff arm’s distance, not saying to go away or leave me alone, but to stand back over there at some distance. ‘I’m going to do what I can for you. I am not against you. I know you have needs. [Still,] I’ll come to you when I want to say something.’”
Kerry Eleveld, the Advocate’s Washington correspondent, offered additional insight. “I get the sense that the Obama administration came [into office] with a certain approach to the media,” she said, “which is getting their message directly to people without making news through traditional media and to some extent bypassing them.”
Relying on technology, that approach enables the White House to tap into its vast network of e-mail supporters and donors, numbering in the millions, through targeted e-mail blasts, social networking contacts, and cell phone text messages.
Eleveld was the only gay-press journalist to conduct a sit- down, face-to-face interview with then-candidate Obama [an exclusive posted April 10, 2008, on Advocate.com). Eleveld still "gets a sense" that Obama officials "respond to pressure even if it's not as far as people wanted [him to go] or wasn't [soon] enough," she said. At critical junctures, the media pressing is "likely to get a response. That was true during the campaign and is true today."
For his part, Mark Segal, the publisher of Philadelphia Gay News [PGN), sums up Obama's gay media relationship with one word. "Fair," Segal said, "in the sense that he has credentialed members of gay media at his news conferences, and LGBT questions get asked during the briefings. People are invited to all his stops wherever he goes." In other words, Obama "does outreach," said Segal. "That never happened that I know of during Bush or Clinton.”
Shortly after his nomination, Segal interviewed Obama over the telephone [Sept. 16, 2008). PGN posted an audio version on its website. The Gay History Project provided written transcripts for publication in weekly LGBT publications across the country.
"I think my disappointment," Segal said, "is with LGBT media for not looking at the written word, or in this case spoken word, of Barack Obama," pointing to the point in the interview when Obama said that he "would not" end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [DADT) policy by attaching a signing order to a military appropriations bill, the way President Bush used such an order to change military rules and regulations.
"The reason,” said Obama at the time, "is because I want to make sure that when we revert [DADT], it's gone through a process, and we've built in a consensus or at least clarity of what my expectations are, so that it works." Obama also said that "working through a process" would ensure "getting the Joint Chiefs of Staff clear in terms of what our priorities are going to be."
For Segal, those comments provided early insight into how would-be President Obama would dismantle the now 17-year-old ban, which is both federal law and military policy. "Looking back at this interview," Segal said, "Obama's doing everything he said he would do," pointing to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ Pentagon working group's process report due by Dec. 1.
"One the other hand," said Segal, "some journalists and bloggers are expecting him to do something that he didn't say he would do," referring to calls for a moratorium or issuing a "stop/loss" order to halt discharging gay service members for "homosexual conduct."
Nonetheless, opportunistic is how Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff characterized the president’s rapport with LGBT media. “He interacts with us when he needs us, when it’s politically expedient,” said Naff, who was quick to point out some bright spots. “There are certain people in the administration who are absolutely terrific,” he said, naming for example Shin Inouye, a media specialty director for LGBT outlets. “Shin is not only responsive but also proactive. He gives us tips all the time, things that are coming up, things that we might find interesting." Naff acknowledged that other gay officials within the administration “are very responsive, helpful, and have facilitated terrific access. There are others who are not. It depends on the person.”
On one point, everybody agrees. The contrast between the Obama White House and that of George W. Bush is as different as night and day. “We were completely frozen out,” explained Naff. When Bush officials revoked press access for LGBT media, for example, “it made it exceedingly difficult to get information.”
There is also agreement on another point. LGBT journalists and publishers all feel very strongly that President Obama ought to speak directly to the gay community by granting interviews with LGBT media outlets, as he has already done for other minority groups, including Native Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans, through their specialty media.
But just when and if the president’s LGBT media interviews happen is anybody’s guess.
“I have no updates on what specific interviews the president will conduct during his time in office,” said the White House’s Inouye in an e-mail. “Generally speaking, I think the LGBT media have done a good job of covering what is happening in Washington." In some instances, however, “Coverage of the steps the president has taken that don’t require legislative action are not given the same level of coverage as the steps that require changes to the law. I think the community – and the media – need to understand we’re making progress with every step we take.”
IN THE NEWS: Disagreement over Chicago Free Press’ demise
After an 11-year run, the Chicago Free Press [CFP) has ceased publication. Managing editor Kerrie Kennedy made the official announcement on May 3.
“Due to health problems, [publisher] David Costanzo is no longer funding the operation” of the publication, Kennedy said in a press statement. “Consequently, the paper’s April 29 issue was not published; and it is not expected that any additional issues will be.”
In a follow-up telephone interview, Kennedy added, “Unfortunately, we had a publisher who failed to meet his obligations at every turn. Here’s an analogy: If you don’t put gas in your car, you have to pull over because you can’t keep driving. That's what happened."
Kennedy went on to stress that CFP was not “a failing publication,” although for some time the paper had been “on life support.” Back in December, CFP avoided sudden death after several staffers walked out for allegedly not being paid. At that time, Costanzo told Press Pass Q that the "paychecks were late" and was committed to CFP's continuation.
“We still had pretty healthy ad sales coming in,” said Kennedy. “We had a very hard-working salesperson who was amazing. All of us had been working hard to keep the paper going. There was enough money to cover the overhead. Now what the publisher did with the money” remains an open question.
Launched in August of 1999, CFP, claiming 50,000 readers, grew to become a major journalistic force in the Windy City as well as one of the largest LGBT weeklies in the country, according to the press statement.
Costanzo, a former investment banker and executive at the securities firm Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, founded Rainbow Media in 2002 for the purpose of buying CFP. At the time, Costanzo acquired CFP assets from Novus Publishing Group, which launched the newspaper in August 1999 when – ironically – staffers from the original Windy City Times, then published by the late Jeffery McCourt, staged a walkout to start a new publication. McCourt subsequently sold Windy City Times’ name and archives to rival Outlines publisher Tracy Baim.
In reflecting on CFP’s legacy, Kennedy said, “We were known as a high quality paper.” Over the years, the newspaper had an award-winning staff, including Paul Varnell, Lisa Neff, Jennifer Vanasco, Larry Bommer, and Web Behrens, some of whom had been writing for the paper since its founding.
Vanasco, a longtime CFP columnist and presently editor in chief of 365gay.com, offered her reflections. “Before Facebook, before Twitter, writing a newspaper column was a way to connect with a broad swath of people, to have an ongoing conversation about our community,” she wrote in “Goodbye Chicago Free Press” posted on 365gay.com on May 4. “And because the Chicago Free Press was a very good paper, a lot of people read it. Not just gay people, but straight as well – and not just folks who had a reason to be interested in gay issues, but anyone who had an interest in [Chicago’s] North Side neighborhoods. When I still lived in Chicago – I moved from there in 2006 – people would stop me on the street to talk about that week’s column, or to ask me about something that had been in the paper. It felt personal – more personal that it feels to run a website, or write the occasional web-hosted blog post.”
Former theatre editor Larry Bommer, who, like Kennedy, is an original staff member, also waxed nostalgic. “There’s a hole in my heart,” he said over the phone. “Chicago Free Press was a very brave voice that held the community together. From the beginning, despite some terrible publishers, we always had excellent editors who put service to the community first. I cannot overemphasize enough this is not your predictable story about the recession taking its toll or the end of journalism. This is a story of a paper being brought down by one too many bad publishers.”
Kennedy’s and Bommer’s assessment of CFP’s fall differs significantly from publisher Costanzo, who posted a press release on April 30, saying CFP would “continue to publish the newspaper in its online from.”
Costanzo laid blame on “increasing financial pressure due to the difficult economy.” As he explained, “CFP has been hit particularly hard by the downturn in the real estate market,” which “has historically represented the largest percentage” of “weekly revenues.”
Along with CFP, Costanzo also published Go Guide, a monthly magazine, which has also folded.
— Chuck Colbert
New LGBT newspaper launches in Wisconsin
It may seem rather counterintuitive to launch a gay newspaper as the industry continues to languish, but one Wisconsin publication has done just that.
The Wisconsin Gazette’s first issue hit newsstands on Nov. 19 of last year. It publishes every other week and distributes throughout the state.
The newspaper covers a variety of local, national and international issues. Recent articles have included coverage of the ongoing controversy over Marquette University’s decision to rescind an offer it had made to lesbian scholar Jodi O’Brien to hire her as dean of the school’s College of Arts and Sciences, an LGBT youth conference Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and others attended in Oshkosh and a bill that would expand state funding for HIV/AIDS-related programs. Lisa Neff and Paul Varnell are among the Wisconsin Gazette’s contributors.
Publisher Louis Weisberg noted that his publication has become known for its extensive coverage of the state’s arts and entertainment scene. “We’re doing something different than other local publications,” he said as he noted reviewers and other writers continue to approach him and his staff to contribute to the publication. “They were watching their word count getting cut with other publications, and they were eager to come to a publication where they could write a little longer.”
The Wisconsin Gazette describes itself on its website [www.wisconsingazette.com) as “the voice of progress for Wisconsin’s LGBT community,” but Weisberg, who moved to Milwaukee a couple of years ago and once worked for both the Windy City Times and the Chicago Free Press, said his newspaper has filled a void. The state’s last LGBT newspaper folded in January 2009, but a well-known civic leader has backed the Wisconsin Gazette.
Weisberg said this support complements his publication’s mission of providing comprehensive coverage of the state’s LGBT news. “We don’t have the pressure some of these other papers have had to drive a big profit,” he said.
Weisberg also questioned whether LGBT media is in as bad a shape as most observers, insiders and pundits continue to maintain. He said the decline of traditional media has actually provided additional opportunities for his publication and others like it.
“Here in Milwaukee, the [daily] paper cut arts coverage – arts venues still exist and they need stories to get people interested in their offerings,” said Weisberg. “The same is true with gay news. As [newspapers] cut LGBT news coverage, people weren’t able to get information.”
— Michael K. Lavers
New service offers LGBT travel news to journalists
The early response to TravelOutNewsWire appears favorable with about 200 writers in 20 countries registering for the web-based news distribution service during the first month of operation, according to its sponsors.
The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and Witeck- Combs Communications launched the service on April 13. It is dedicated to travel news that interests the LGBT community.
“The early feedback on TravelOutNewsWire has been overwhelmingly positive from IGLTA members,” said LoAnn Halden, media relations manager for the organization. “Small businesses, particularly tour operators and hotels, like the idea of tapping into a global media list – something that is time-consuming to assemble and maintain.”
Halden said the response from convention and visitors bureaus that want to promote LGBT travel to their cities has also been good. “While some larger destinations have well- established, worldwide gay media lists, they’re not in the majority,” said Halden, whose organization’s membership extends to 70 countries.
The news service’s audience is compiled from writers’ requests to be added to the e-mail distribution list. The intended audience includes news channels, editors, reporters, freelance writers and bloggers.
There is no charge to be a member of the service and receive the e-mails, but fees are charged for the distribution of press releases. The fee is $240 per release for members of IGLTA and NLGJA, and it is $300 for non-members.
The proceeds will benefit the missions of IGLTA and NLGJA while providing a “modest cut” for Witeck-Combs Communications, which does the work, said Bob Witeck, CEO for the Washington, D.C.-based marketing and consulting firm.
“We know that LGBT and mainstream travel channels are trying to reach many audiences, so we intend to be a cost-effective bridge between the companies and organizations that are promoting their campaigns, services, products and innovations to many kinds of writers and journalists who cover all travel and hospitality,” Witeck said.
TravelOutNewsWire has been in development for about a year, and its creation was largely spurred by requests for information from members of the travel association and the journalists group, said Michael Tune, managing director for NLGJA. It fills a niche, he said. “It’s going well, and we’re proud of its early stages. We’re hoping to market it much more.”
Tune said the twofold goal is to allow journalists to stay on top of the latest LGBT travel and hospitality news and to provide trusted access to organizations that want to reach the LGBT community.
Witeck noted that TravelOutNewsWire should be of great interest to freelance writers who are wanting to find more opportunities for work. “We want to be a truly inclusive, successful service,” Witeck said.
The development of TravelOutNewsWire was an outgrowth of OutNewsWire, which was launched in 2008 under the sponsorship of NLGJA and Witeck-Combs, Tune said. OutNewsWire now has 350 contacts in the U.S. and Canada, according to NLGJA.
Witeck said OutNewsWire has had modest usage and limited success during its two years because it competes with other wire services, such as PR Newswire, that also include LGBT news offerings.
“But PR Newswire’s offering is very limited and at times, I have noticed these products sometimes inadvertently include adult publications which are generally not the target for most public relations firms,” Witeck said. “It is simply our experience that some services do not keep up to speed on the changes in LGBT media, particularly online.”
The specialization of TravelOutNewsWire and OutNewsWire offers a benefit that other news services do not, Witeck said. “Our primary focus is to offer relevant access to LGBT media outlets and journalists for companies, nonprofits and organizations that are not very familiar with our channels and need to communicate with them,” Witeck said.
[For more information about TravelOutNewsWire, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-887-0500, ext. 13.)
— David Webb
Reaching out to LGBT community at heart of marketing conference
As consumer spending continues to increase after the recession, more than 100 people attended the Gay & Lesbian Marketing Conference in New York City on April 30.
San Francisco-based Community Marketing and Pink Banana Media sponsored the one-day event, which featured a keynote speech from Patricia Evert, vice president of donor resources at the Gill Foundation, and Chad Boettcher, senior vice president of social innovation at Weber Shandwick, on how corporations can effectively collaborate with LGBT non- profits as part of their marketing strategy. The title of the speech was “Business of Change.”
"’Business of Change’ is about a collaborative dialogue toward LGBT equality," Boettcher said in a statement prior to the conference. "Given the rapidly changing dynamic between the [public] and private sectors, we hope to challenge both nonprofits and corporations to seize opportunities to empower their people to drive change. The ‘Business of Change’ requires that we all take action and partner together. It is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do."
The recession certainly impacted LGBT consumers, but not as severely as it did other demographics. A study that Community Marketing released last year showed that 53.2 percent of respondents said they and their families had cut their spending during the economic downturn. Nearly 64 percent said they ate out less often, and 35.3 percent either cancelled or postponed vacations.
Conversely, 31 percent of those who responded indicated their income and spending remained roughly the same as it was before the recession began – and five percent said their personal finances thrived during the downturn.
“When compared to mainstream figures, it tends to be less extreme,” said Community Marketing’s David Paisley.
Paisley said that businesses actively courted LGBT dollars during the recession as an attempt to bolster their struggling bottom lines. “We didn’t see a downturn in business during the recession. We had more companies come to us that had never reached out to a gay and lesbian market before.”
The challenge for businesses, however, is how to effectively tap into this lucrative consumer demographic without coming across as insincere or even desperate. Paisley pointed to sponsoring Pride and other events, advertising in LGBT media, extending domestic partner benefits to LGBT employees and adopting non-discrimination policies as ways corporations can help to effectively build credibility among LGBT consumers.
He added, though, that this process takes time. “You can’t win the gay and lesbian market in a day.”
— Michael K. Lavers
PRESSING QUESTIONS: will return next month
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Here! TV not the first with NBC News Channel
Just wanted to point out that Here! TV is not the first to use NBC News Channel [“The Advocate partners with NBC News Channel,” April/May 2010). I used NBC News Channel at the now-defunct Q Television Network.
And since I work at NBC News Channel – and I had started CBS News on Logo with Court Passant and QTN World News with Steve Kmetko – I suggested the same set-up for the Advocate TV show when Here hired me to put together a budget outline.
[What’s your opinion? We’d like to know. Send your letters to editor@PressPassQ.com. Letters should be kept to a maximum of 250 words and may be edited for length and clarity.)
TRANSITIONS AND MILESTONES
[Editor’s note: Are there important changes going on at your publication? E-mail the information to editor@PressPassQ.com.)
CAMP HERE, a new advertiser-supported online video service, was launched by HERE MEDIA last month at HERETV.COM. The service offers more than 100 hours of MGM television and film content.
CURVE, the nation’s largest lesbian magazine, based in San Francisco, marked its 20th anniversary in May.
FRONTIERS IN L.A. MAGAZINE is now a standard-sized magazine with all glossy pages. The adult classifieds are now part of a new magazine, FRONTIERS4MEN [this magazine is an insert inside of Frontiers magazine) and are also available online at WWW.FRONTIERS4MEN.COM. Frontiers’ new website WWW.FRONTIERSWEB.COM, with new content updated daily, is set to launch during Pride season.
ION ARIZONA, based in Phoenix, announced that it has added 80 new 24-hour street distribution locations, bringing its total to over 200 locations.
THE LEATHER JOURNAL, based in Los Angeles, announced a revamp of its website THELEATHERJOURNAL.COM.
LETTERS FROM CAMP REHOBOTH, based in Rehoboth Beach, Del., entered its 20th year with its Feb. 5 issue.
JAMES E. “JIM” MCNULTY, founder and publisher of the COLORADO PRIDE GUIDE, died Jan. 24 of natural causes. He was 64. McNulty also ran the websites GAYCOLORADO.COM, GAYDENVER.COM, GAYLASVEGAS.COM and GAYNEVADA.COM.
TEAM OUT TODAY, a new online video channel created by OUT magazine, was launched in May. It is available at TEAMOUTTODAY.COM.
THIS WAY OUT, the international gay and lesbian radio magazine, began its 23rd year on the air in April, thanks in large part to the continuing support of The Kicking Assets Fund of the Tides Foundation, which has awarded a grant to the nonprofit, volunteer-driven operation every year since 1995. The weekly half-hour globally-syndicated program currently airs on more than 200 local community radio stations across the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and is heard via satellite to home and cable outlets in Europe, Asia/Pacific and Africa/Middle East regions, on short wave, and via podcasts at www.thiswayout.org.
ZEUS, a new national gay men’s magazine based in Chicago, launched last month. It is also available online at ZEUSMAGAZINE.COM. RODERIC MONTRECE is the new publication’s publisher and editor in chief.
THE BULLETIN BOARD
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CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ISSUE
CHUCK COLBERT is a freelance journalist based in Cambridge, Mass. He is a longtime contributor to the National Catholic Reporter and covered the crisis of clerical sex-abuse in the Boston archdiocese. Previously a senior reporter and columnist for the former In Newsweekly, he is a contributor to Keen News Service and Boston Spirit Magazine. Also, he has written for major mainstream daily newspapers and magazines, including the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FRED KUHR is an editor, reporter, performer and personal trainer based in Toronto. He has written for The Advocate, AdWeek, Toronto-based Xtra, and Boston Spirit Magazine. He has also served as editor of now-defunct publications In Newsweekly [based in Boston) and Out in the Mountains [based in Vermont). He has served as a news analyst on the Fox News Channel and CBC Radio, as well as other media outlets. Fred blogs about politics and pop culture at the FredBlog at www.fred- blog.com and has been rated one of the top Twitterers of “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”
MICHAEL K. LAVERS is the National News Editor for EDGE Publications. His work has appeared in the Fire Island News, the Guide, the Village Voice and other LGBT and mainstream publications around the world. He has also provided commentaries on LGBT issues to the BBC, “The Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC in New York, “La Razón” in Spain and other media outlets. He also blogs at Boy in Bushwick, which can be found at www.bushwickboy.blogspot.com.
DAVID WEBB worked for both mainstream and alternative media during his 25-year career, including LGBT newspaper Dallas Voice for seven years as a staff writer and news editor. He now lives on Cedar Creek Lake southeast of Dallas. In addition to freelancing, he authors the blog therarereporter.blogspot.com.
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