PRESS PASS Q
A Newsletter for the Gay and Lesbian Press Professional
June 2008 (Vol. 10, No. 3)
A Publication of Rivendell Media and Q Syndicate
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Feature: Donate and cover: Does a GLBT press journalist risk his or her objectivity by making a political donation?
FEATURE: Donate and cover: Does a GLBT press journalist risk his or her objectivity by making a political donation?
by Chuck Colbert
The decision of Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal to disclose his $1,000 contribution to the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton has brought the issue of political conflicts of interest to the forefront among GLBT press professionals and consumers.
In advance of Pennsylvania's April 22 primary, Segal tried for months to line up interviews with presidential contenders Clinton and Barack Obama. When Clinton accepted the offer – and Obama declined – Segal decided to take an unusual step. On April 4, PGN ran Clinton's interview, at the same time leaving blank space alongside it, highlighting Obama's absence. Local and national mainstream media noticed the Illinois senator's rebuff and PGN's rebuke, pressing Obama to explain himself.
The paper's readership also paid attention. E-mail correspondence split 2 to 1 in favor of the tactic.
For those offering criticism, however, there was a primary rub. A year ago, Segal contributed $1,000 to Clinton's campaign – information he disclosed then, but did not do again this year until April 11, a week after running Clinton's interview.
The contribution disclosure – along with Segal's influence in editorial content (his weekly column) and decision-making (the idea for blank space on the front page) – have raised questions about ethics in journalism. Should publishers participate in partisan politics while influencing political coverage? If a publisher does both, is he or she crossing a boundary line of standard journalistic practice? What about reporters and editors?
“As a general rule, no working journalist should ever give money to a political candidate or appear at any partisan function except to cover it or gather news,” said GayNewsWatch.com editor Chris Crain, who also blogs at www.citizencrain.com.
Two publishers of LGBT media, Tracy Baim of Chicago-based Windy City Times and Sue O'Connell of Boston-based Bay Windows, agree on that point. Their publications do not permit reporters to contribute to or volunteer on political campaigns.
While Windy City Times does not make any editorial endorsements of candidates for public office, Bay Windows does. There, O'Connell said, she and co-publisher Jeff Coakley maintain a “very strict policy,” in place since the early 1990s, that "none of [our] staff, writers, reporters, or publishers can contribute to any campaign on a local or national level.”
The same basic policy holds at Dallas Voice, says editor Tammy Nash. “No one on the editorial staff is allowed to publicly endorse or back a candidate,” she explained. “It has happened once, but was not supposed to have happened and will not be allowed again.”
In addition, working journalists at the Voice do not join any political organizations. “In fact,” Nash added, “we don't join any organizations in the community to avoid even the hint of favoritism” except “strictly social or sports organizations.” Like Windy City Times, Dallas Voice does not endorse candidates at any level.
Neither Baim nor O'Connell themselves make contributions to candidates for public office. They also do not volunteer on campaigns.
But Robert Moore of Dallas Voice draws a different boundary line. “I have given money to candidates in local, state, and national races while serving as publisher,” he said. “I have worked in campaigns as well.” However, Moore explained, “I do not write stories for the paper, nor do I review or influence political coverage.”
Moore's approach is an appropriate avenue for publishers, according to Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Publishers, she said, have more leeway than editors or reporters, whom McBride believes risk losing “independence” and “credibility” by participation in partisan politics.
Publishers, she added, should “do one or the other, but not both.” For McBride, "Disclosure is a good alternative when no other options remain." Yet, choosing between “editorial influence” and “political activity” is best. Otherwise, publishers “are operating outside normal procedures,” those considered “boundaries of independent journalism," she said.
Crain of GayMediaWatch.com agreed with McBride's assessment of more leeway for publishers than editors and reporters. “If publishers are involved in the journalism side of the publication – which they shouldn't be – then I think the same rule of no donations or personal involvement with partisan politics applies,” said Crain. “If a publisher does get involved, the fact and extent of it ought to be disclosed to readers so they can make their own judgments about the paper's coverage.”
For Eric Hegedus, president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, “full and complete disclosure” helps to render “transparency” in the craft. This election cycle, Hegedus expects further scrutiny of journalists' partisan activity as mainstream media not only monitor their political contributions, but also raise questions about reporters and voting.
Meanwhile, how does publisher Segal explain the $1,000 contribution to Hillary Clinton? “I attended that fundraiser for [her] as a favor to my governor [Democrat Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia]. I paid for the ticket out of my own pocket. More than a favor to my governor, I really wanted to hear her speak and see what she was about,” he wrote last April in his weekly column “Mark My Words.”
When asked recently what he meant by “favor,” Segal responded in an e-mail correspondence, “When your governor calls you personally and asks for a favor, you seldom ask why.”
What about the blank-space tactic that Segal employed on the front page of PGN? “It worked,” he said during a telephone interview. The Obama campaign “got it. They were willing to learn,” Segal added, referring to Obama’s subsequent interviews with North Carolina-based Q-Notes and six GLBT media in Indiana in advance of presidential primaries held on May 6 in those states. (See “Obama finally talks with local GLBT media” below.)
“The whole point all along,” Segal explained, "was to get the candidates to speak directly to GLBT voters through gay media. I hope this shows smaller GLBT media that they can influence their communities. They have power and can use it.”
Baim of Windy City Times goes even further. “I applaud it,” she said, pointing to Segal's “full disclosure” of the contribution to readers.
Publisher O'Connell also voiced support for PGN's approach. “I know the donation to Clinton was key for entry to the event, and that it was a big deal to Obama's supporters.” However, she added, “Segal disclosed that the contribution he made was to get in.” For O'Connell, “This was not just about Obama.” It was also about respect, she said. “Pay attention to us.”
For GLBT media, Segal has higher hopes for the long haul. “This year's Democratic presidential campaign is about change and the time is right. All across the nation, the local GLBT press had come of age,” he wrote on May 8 in his column. “And across the nation, one campaign had not given local GLBT press that respect – until it reached Philadelphia, the cradle of the gay-rights struggle and a community that expected to be included.”
Make no mistake, Segal continued, “This is not only historic, but changes the business of national politics, most likely forever. This outreach to local LGBT media is still in its infancy stages, likely to go through changes and be carried out differently in various areas and campaigns, but it will be a joy to witness.”
IN THE NEWS: Obama finally talks with local GLBT media
In the week leading up to the May 6 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama outlined their gay issue positions in print, marking the first time the Illinois senator responded to questions from local gay media.
But the May “interviews" were not telephone conversations or face-to-face exchanges with reporters. Rather, GLBT media reached out to the campaigns through a series of e-mail questions and then published the responses.
Q-Notes, which serves the Carolinas, submitted questions to Obama and openly gay advisor Eric Stern. The publication also queried Clinton and her GLBT outreach coordinator Mark Walsh. To explain the unusual format, an editor's note stated: “The responses we received were expressly credited to the candidate,” Stern, or Walsh.
But the explanatory note, editor Matt Comer said, was not included in the bi-weekly Q-Notes print issue. “It was added later [online] because of concern and feedback from journalists and community members,” he said.
Similarly, six GLBT outlets in Indiana collected a set of questions for the presidential hopefuls and submitted them. The media pool included bloomingOut radio, The Bloomington Beacon, The Letter (which is based in Kentucky but serves Indiana as well), Indiana Equality (a statewide advocacy group), Reality Magazine, and The Word.
The most recent written Q &A formats broke little, if any, new ground. The candidates reiterated support for civil unions (but not full marriage equality) and for a transgender-inclusive federal law banning discrimination in the workplace. Both Clinton and Obama favor repealing parts, if not all of, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” the ban on gays in the military.
Some nuance, however, emerged from the media queries in Indiana. Obama provided context for favoring full repeal of DOMA: “We can't ignore the public awareness/education task that also will be at hand. We are going to have to have a national conversation” about the “discriminatory” nature of the law, and we must “ensure” the American public “that, as a matter of well-settled law, no state will be required to recognize another state's marriage if DOMA is repealed.”
Paul Karr, director of media field strategy for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), applauded Clinton and Obama. "It's commendable that both candidates are continuing to work to make sure that their stances on GLBT issues are reaching stakeholders," he wrote.
“The interviews were a step up for the community,” Q-Notes editor Comer observed. “I think it was a bold move. That both candidates spoke with our paper says our GLBT community is important enough as a voting bloc to be taken seriously.”
— Chuck Colbert
Story in gay paper causes trouble for candidate
An openly gay candidate who ran for office in suburban Dallas said his job became at risk after a local gay newspaper published a story about his candidacy.
The Dallas Voice published the first in a series of stories about Justin Nichols' candidacy for the Plano City Council in mid-March. Nichols, a 23-year-old gay Republican who coordinates the Collin County Teen Court, came out while in high school. The Voice reported he would have become the "first openly gay member of the body" in an article it published on March 13.
Voice reporter John Wright first learned about Nichols' candidacy after he read about it on the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund's website. The Washington-based organization seeks to increase the number of openly GLBT candidates across the country.
Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland allegedly asked a panel to consider terminating Nichols from his appointed position after someone included a link to the article in an e-mail that attacked the county commissioner who had appointed Nichols to the Teen Court.
The Collin County Commissioners Court scrapped the plan in early April. Nichols told the Dallas Morning News before his May 10 loss that he simply wanted to get back to the campaign. "I look forward to getting back to Teen Court and bringing my message back to the voters of Plano," he said.
Nichols did not return Press Pass Q's requests for comment, but he told the Voice after he lost the election that he feels the controversy did not contribute to his defeat. And Nichols further noted he received more votes than two other candidates who also lost their respective races.
"To me that shows that a candidate can win regardless of their orientation," Nichols told the weekly. "It proves that there's not this contingent of people who are just going to come out and discriminate. There's a group of core Plano voters, and you've got to win that group over on the merits."
Wright told Press Pass Q from his Dallas office that Nichols’ candidacy was certainly newsworthy.
"We ran a story just about his candidacy," he said. "If he won, he would have been the first openly gay councilmember in Plano, and the youngest member who would ever sit on the council. And he was a Republican."
Wright added that Nichols was comfortable discussing his sexual orientation during interviews. He did ask the Voice to either take the initial story off its website or change the address (http://www.dallasvoice.com/artman/publish/article_8354.php) after plans to discuss Nichols' employment at a hearing became known. The Voice declined both of his requests.
— Michael K. Lavers
HX drops lawsuit, but problems remain
The legal dispute between the HX Media-owned New England Blade (previously IN Newsweekly) and its former associate publisher, Bill Berggren, came to a close on April 22 after HX filed a dismissal of the charges against Berggren.
HX initially filed suit on January 30 with claims that Berggren stole the paper’s advertising database to solicit ads for his own GLBT magazine, N’Touch New England. On February 8, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Stephen E. Neel issued a 45-day injunction against Berggren that restricted him from initiating or maintaining a relationship with anyone in the advertising database.
“We filed suit against Berggren because he stole information that wasn’t his,” said Matthew Bank, CEO of HX Media. “As a result of the suit, the judge granted us a preliminary injunction preventing him from using the information and required that he return the information to us. We were satisfied with that outcome and decided that further legal action was unnecessary.”
Mark McGrath, Berggren’s attorney, told Boston-based Bay Windows that the dismissal frees Berggren to resume work in GLBT media, and he is permitted to do business with Blade advertisers. Yet, Berggren said he will no longer publish N’Touch and instead will work as an outside sales agent for Bay Windows. Berggren and McGrath declined to comment on why HX dropped its suit.
Although the case between HX and Berggren has come to an end, Chuck Colbert, a former freelancer for IN Newsweekly (and a contributor to Press Pass Q), is still unsatisfied with HX. Colbert claims that HX still owes him $3,465 for contributions he submitted to the publication in the past. Yet Bank told Press Pass Q in January that they “don’t owe anyone money.”
Colbert initially sent Bank a letter in Dec. 2007 explaining that he was still owed a significant amount of money. After Colbert did not receive a response from Bank he contacted Karen Young, the publication’s bookkeeper, and she sent him all the invoice information she had on record. After matching up the information with HX’s records, Colbert sent a spreadsheet to Bank in February listing the alleged discrepancies.
Bank told Colbert that once the Boston office had a chance to review the information, he would be in touch with him. However, after not hearing from anyone at HX for over a month, Colbert sent Bank an e-mail requesting the issue’s status. Bank told Colbert that the delay was caused by Young being out of the office due to the death of her partner in March. Bank said Young was the only one who understood the accounting system.
Colbert still hasn’t received word on whether he will receive the money he claims he is owed and he alleges that the decision ultimately rests with Bank.
“We are currently discussing the situation with [Colbert], and until it is resolved I don’t think that a comment is appropriate,” Bank told Press Pass Q.
— Matthew E. Pilecki
Wanted: Participation in 2008 gay consumer survey
San Francisco-based Community Marketing Inc. (CMI) and New Jersey-based Rivendell Media Inc. – co-publisher of Press Pass Q – are gearing up once again for a nationwide survey of gay and lesbian consumers.
This year the survey is set to run for a month, from August 15 to September 15. To participate, publications should sign up by mid-July at https://vovici.com/wsb.dll/s/40e4g32529. The survey takes respondents 20 minutes to complete.
“If I owned a LGBT publication, I'd make participation a top priority,” said Todd Evans, Rivendell chief executive officer and president.
In order for the results to be useful, he explained, editors and publishers need to encourage readership participation. At minimum, 200 responses – or 5 percent of total readership – are required for a GLBT publication to receive a complimentary report (in downloadable format) of the survey’s key findings and recommendations.
Last year's Gay & Lesbian Consumer Index was the largest GLBT consumer study ever conducted, providing the most comprehensive market research to date.
In 2007, nearly 25,000 participants (12,044 self-identified gay men and 10,380 lesbians) responded to the online survey. But of an estimated 200 publications serving the GLBT community, only 75 took part.
The 2008 consumer index survey holds the potential to be even bigger – if more publications partner with CMI and fully participate.
"It's a win-win for everybody," Evans said, calling participation in the survey “smart spending for any company trying to tap into the gay and lesbian consumer, providing them with essential market research.”
Since Absolut and sponsors foot the survey's bill, there is no cost to publishers. "It's really a no-brainer to take part," Evans said. "This survey provides individual publications essential readership information and a sales tool for national ad sales."
For publications to get the individual information they need, however, they must promote and get enough readers to make the results valid. There is work on the publication's part, said Evans, but getting that information with no out of pocket expenses is almost unheard of.
“The single biggest benefit of participation,” says Jerry McHugh, CMI's senior research director, “is the DISCUS certification.” DISCUS is shorthand for Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the national trade association representing producers and marketers of distilled spirits sold in America. DISCUS serves as the third-party verification source for socially responsible placement of alcohol advertising. Alcoholic beverages should only be advertised, according to the trade association's standards, in broadcast, cable, radio, and print communications where a high majority – at least 70 percent – is 21 years of age or older.
Once again, this year's survey results will be reported separately. The focus of the two studies – the Gay Consumer Index and the Lesbian Consumer Index – is to profile consumers' preferences, attitudes, spending patterns, and behaviors regarding various items (including credit cards, automobiles, electronics, coffee, clothing, travel, health and fitness, social activity, leisure time, charities, and politics).
Survey results will be broken down by such information as age, geographical distribution, occupation, relationship status, households with children, income, home ownership, and pet ownership.
One key point to keep in mind, according to those putting the survey together – survey results should not be extrapolated to the entire gay and lesbian population. Findings only pertain to those who read GLBT publications and websites. Nonetheless, the 2008 Gay and Lesbian Consumer Index can be a useful and strategic tool for companies seeking how best “to position themselves in the gay market,” McHugh said.
— Chuck Colbert
Absolut measures up with new ad
As one of the first major brands to advertise in GLBT media, Absolut Vodka remains one of the most recognizable commodities to gay and lesbian consumers. And the popular potable has launched the first-ever GLBT-specific ad to compliment its current campaign.
The "In An ABSOLUT World" advertisements began to appear in local and national GLBT publications across the country in late March. They include "Ruler," an ad described by an Absolut press release as a "humorous look at gay men and their fascination with perfect, eight-inch ‘member’ measurements," and "Stadium," which examines marriage for same-sex couples by depicting a gay man who "pops" the question to his partner.
Absolut commissioned New York-based SPI Marketing and Moon City Productions to design the ads. John Nash of Moon City Productions said that he feels the new ads engage gay and lesbian consumers in a new and exciting way. "It changes the humor of the bottle campaign," he said, and “allows … much more depth and imagery.”
Scott Seitz, founder and chief executive officer of SPI Marketing, agreed. He described the campaign as a monumental shift for the brand because the Absolut bottle campaign has been something of an iconic image for roughly two decades. They designed the "Ruler" ad to entertain, and Seitz added he feels it has more than accomplished this goal.
Absolut spokesperson Jeffrey Moran stressed he feels the brand remains loyal to its GLBT consumers. "As a long-time supporter of the gay and lesbian community, we acknowledge that you can't simply speak to gay men and lesbians as consumers, but instead need to make real connections to their lives, which we believe we are achieving with our new creative executions," he said. "As a company, we respect gay men and lesbians not simply in advertising messages, but behind the scenes as well. We're not gay-washing here."
Nash noted that the response of people who see the "Ruler" ad continues to amuse him.
"There's nothing sexual – no bare chest, no multiple people," Nash said. "It's literally a ruler on a background, but the trepidation of what it's presented in is what I'm so amused by. It's about how people interpret it."
— Michael K. Lavers
PRESSING QUESTIONS will return next month.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Philly publisher responds
I enjoyed your article “Clinton, Obama use different tactics with Penn. GLBT press” (In The News, May 2008) and just wanted to send an update. That campaign brought great results, and both Sens. Obama and Clinton went on to speak to all gay media in North Carolina and Indiana.
However, I took exception to Chris Crain and his attempted understanding of journalism. His five-year tenure at The Washington Blade put one of America’s great GLBT publications in the proverbial toilet, and made it a journalistic brothel by giving a platform to a discredited “escort.” How low can you go? Even Media Matters had a comment on that one.
But Crain’s ego is legendary. Here's his own quote from the Blade as he was departing: “The Washington Blade is the country’s oldest, largest, most respected and most successful gay newspaper.” How true was any of that by the time he ceremoniously stepped down? What respect was left? BlogActive, as well as others, accused him of killing stories for personal reasons, and noted staffers left the publication. It was questionable if any canon of journalism was safe near Crain. It is a triumphant day for the GLBT press that he is gone and the Blade is back on track.
Newspapers, among other responsibilities, should contribute to communications within our community, provide information, and allow voices from all sides of the political spectrum be heard. In my judgment, and to borrow a phrase from a former PGN editor, Crain falls so “flat in that area that you could land a 747 on it without spilling one cocktail.”
(Editor’s note: 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.)
THE ADVOCATE was named Best Magazine, Overall Coverage at the 19th annual GLAAD Media Awards last month.
IN MAGAZINE, based in Los Angeles, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with its issue dated March 3.
FAY JACOBS’ book “Fried & True: Tales from Rehoboth Beach” won the Delaware Press Association’s 2008 First Place Awards for non-fiction humor. Two of her columns from the magazine LETTERS FROM CAMP REHOBOTH were also singled out for prizes this year.
JOEY LESLIE has been named managing editor of Nashville-based OUT & ABOUT NEWSPAPER. He replaces BRENT MEREDITH, who is leaving to take a position with Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development.
SCOTT MAZER has been named vice president of sales of GAY AD NETWORK. Mazer was previously senior sales director at PlanetOut Inc. The network also announced that it reached a milestone, as its group of affiliated gay and lesbian websites now ranks number one in unduplicated audience reach.
OUTNEWSWIRE, a Web-based news distribution service dedicated to the GLBT community, was launched last month at outnewswire.com and nlgja.org/outnewswire. It’s a joint effort of the NATIONAL LESBIAN & GAY JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION and WITECK-COMBS COMMUNICATIONS.
RENNA COMMUNICATIONS, a media relations firm that works directly with the GLBT press, is expanding and moving its headquarters to Washington, D.C. The firm, founded by CATHY RENNA, will keep its New York office as well.
ANNE STOCKWELL, editor in chief of THE ADVOCATE, announced she is stepping down as of mid-June. Former Advocate news editor JON BARRETT will take her place.
XM SATELLITE RADIO has launched THE FOCUS GROUP, the nation’s first show looking at business from a gay perspective. The show is hosted by TIM BENNETT, the former director of advertising and marketing programs for Subaru of America, and JOHN NASH of MOON CITY PRODUCTIONS. The show runs Monday evenings on XM’s Take Five channel (XM 155).
THE BULLETIN BOARD
ON THE WEB. At the Press Pass Q website - www.PressPassQ.com - you'll find back issues and subscription information. Also, at the Q Syndicate website - www.qsyndicate.com - you'll find up-to-date information on the 13 columns and features we distribute to gay and lesbian media: A Couple of Guys, Bitter Girl, Book Marks, Crossword Puzzles, Deep Inside Hollywood, Editorial Cartoons, Lesbian Notions, Now Playing, Out of Town, The OutField, Past Out, Q Scopes, and Sex Talk. For information about subscribing to Q Syndicate content, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 908-232-5974.
DO YOU HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMENT for the Bulletin Board? Are you trying to get your work published? Looking for job applicants? Promoting a special project? Press Pass Q is now distributed to almost 2,000 working professionals in the gay and lesbian press. Bulletin Board announcements are just a dollar (U.S.) per word per insertion, paid up front. Send a check payable to Rivendell Media, P.O. Box 518, Westfield, NJ 07091-0518.
Publisher: Todd Evans, todd@PressPassQ.com
Editor: Fred Kuhr, editor@PressPassQ.com
Consulting Editor: Paula Martinac, paula@PressPassQ.com
Associate Editor: Dave Brousseau, dave@QSyndicate.com
Contributing Writers: Derrik Chinn, Chuck Colbert, Tanya Gulliver, Liz Highleyman, Michael K. Lavers, Matthew Pilecki
CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ISSUE
CHUCK COLBERT is a freelance journalist based in Cambridge, Mass. He can be reached at email@example.com.
MICHAEL K. LAVERS is the Mid-Atlantic Editor for EDGE Publications. His work has appeared on Gay.com, in the New York Blade, the Fire Island News and other publications across the country. His blog, Boy in Bushwick, can be found at www.bushwickboy.blogspot.com.
MATTHEW E. PILECKI is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. He contributes to local newspapers including The Spirit and The Star, as well as EDGEphiladelphia.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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