You may be reading this article on a mobile device or a tablet, or perhaps you're reading the print version of this article, your newspaper fanned out leisurely before you, a cup of coffee in handbut no matter how you're viewing this article you're likely aware that LGBT publications are constantly redefining themselves for a new media future.
Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in Americaa new book edited and co-written by Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baimoffers an unflinching eye toward the future of LGBT media and how publishers can surviveand thrivedespite the tectonic shifts in journalism over the last several years.
The book is a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, in the category of LGBT Studies. Winners will be announced this June in New York City.
The 468-page book also provides a focused and detailed account of the rise of gay media over the last several decades. The title Gay Press, Gay Power, beyond its alliterative bounce, is meant to signify the strength of gay media over time, according to Baim, along with the critical role the LGBT press played in the rise of the gay rights movement.
Baim, who has worked in the LGBT media since 1984, spent more than a year researching, editing, and writing Gay Press, Gay Power, including coordinating a cadre of contributing writers. During that time, Baim immersed herself into a veritable pile of gay media sources, reading (or re-reading) some 35 books on the topic of LGBT media and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, including original magazines from the 1920s and '70s.
"My favorite finds were those I had never seen referenced, including one from Harper's Magazine in the 1920s about women's schools, where they surveyed women about homosexual behavior," said Baim.
In the following interview, Baim reveals why LGBT journalism remains relevant despite the prevalence of LGBT topics covered in the mainstream media, and how "entrepreneurial journalism" may very well be the key for publishers to succeed in the current media landscape.
Windy City Times: In the chapter titled "The Future of Queer Newspapers," you advise publishers to harness the power of the Web in order to sustain their print publications, and you also underscore the fact that both formatsprint and onlinecontinue to be relevant.
Tracy Baim: Right now, the survival of gay media is partly tied to being a "brand" in your market. So, while we lose money in our online efforts, we know we have to be on top of the news where the readers are located on a daily basis. Social media is greatbut it pays zero bills. We have to find a balance that makes sense for the future. Our print advertisers get better response in general because it is a more dedicated audience and they are not competing with all the flash of ads on the web. But for some advertisers, the web and e-mail lists are better for their particular product. Surviving in the LGTB media landscape today is about adapting, and providing a lot of different opportunities for revenue. We do events, such as sponsoring contests and awards, for the same reasonthey provide revenue to help cover our costs.
WCT: When you started working on this book in 2011, you expected to confirm the fact that there are fewer gay publications serving the local and national markets todaybut in fact the status of the gay press is actually worse than you originally anticipated.
TB: We are at the tipping point. There are just 12 weekly and 13 biweekly regional newspapers left, with just over 100 print publications serving regional markets, including bar guides. There are a couple dozen national publications as well. This is down from hundreds of publications just a few years ago. But on an editorial side, which is what really matters, these regional newspapers provide critical coverage of our community and its institutions and leaders. The mainstream media is also shrinking, and they can only dig down so much within any one segment of the community; gay media provides an important checks-and-balances system to our community.
WCT: In the book you make the observation that "working in the gay press should probably be measured in dog years." Readers who are also members of the press will likely nod their heads in silent agreementbut for those outside the media bubble can you explain what you mean by this?
TB: The gay media for the most part has been a constant struggle. There is the in-fighting in our community, the long hours, low pay, and high turnover. There were certainly people who made a lot of money in the peak years of the 1990s but for the most part it is a struggle. I seem to be able to thrive in itbut the LGBT media landscape is not for everyone. We can't pay a lot for freelancers but we do offer a lot of freedom to writers to explore interesting topics and to build their clip files. In fact, we have been a starting off point for a lot of new journalists, but it's hard to make a career out of it. That's the same in the mainstream media now. I think that gay media is more like entrepreneurial journalism because it really takes wearing all kinds of hats to stay in this business.
WCT: In Yasmin Nair's chapter titled "Do We Still Need Gay News Media?" she notes that if an individual were to read a month's worth of gay newspaper reporting certain story patterns would emerge: Gay marriage; hate crimes; DADT and the military; celebrity X comes out of the closet; and assorted gossip (guess who's gay?) Given the somewhat repetitive nature of this cycle of topics, talk about why the LGBT press continues to be relevant today as well as in the future.
TB: I wanted to include Yasmin's point of view [in the book] because it is unique, but I believe gay media can't be lumped into one pile. We do cover all aspects of the gay community, from hard news and investigations to legal issues, politics, entertainment, celebrities, sports and travel. We feel we are a one-stop shop for people wanting to know what's going on in the LGBTQ universe that day or that week. But to survive, we do have to make sure we are providing something different than the mainstreamso we can't simply focus on those easy, headline-grabbing stories.
WCT: The Nieman Journalism Lab recently featured some interesting trends for journalism for 2013 (and beyond). One writer says the future of journalism is tethered to "Mobile, location and data." Another writer, in a separate essay in the series, claims that "What is needed are newsrooms that can filter, verify, curate, and amplify social media for their audiences, in addition to journalists reporting in enterprising and contextual ways." Do these observations translate to local LGBT media?
TB: Well, that's using jargon to both simplify and complicate things, if that's possible. Good journalism is still shining through, no matter what format it comes in. Long-form online journalism, investigative print pieces, articles read quickly on mobile devicesthese are all part of journalism today. We will write one story for print, expand on it online, and then post and repost it across social media. It is about making sure that article is visible and available across a lot of platformsbut the basics of good journalism apply no matter where a story is read.
WCT: You've spoken on the future of LGBT media, so now I'd like to ask what the future holds for you, Tracy. What new projects are you working on?
TB: Owen Keehnen and I finished a book last year about Chicago activist Vernita Gray, and we're just waiting to work with her on finishing that with photos and any final edits. I have some other projects I want to do, including, for 2014, a project related to my 30 years in gay media, but this year I am also very focused on special projects for Windy City Times. We are working on a queers and the prison system series soon, coming on the heels of our award-nominated Generation Halsted series from last 2012.
To purchase Gay Press, Gay Power, visit the following websites:
Black & white: $25:
It is also available at Women & Children First and Unabridged Bookstores in Chicago.
Tracy Baim is the author of Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage (2010, Prairie Avenue Productions). She is also the co-author and editor of Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community (2008, Agate), the first comprehensive book on Chicago's gay history (see www.ChicagoGayHistory.org ).
Cover of Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America.
Mattachine Midwest June 1968 edition. Courtesy the M. Kuda Archives, Oak Park. This is just one of nearly 500 images in the book Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America. See the following page for more examples.
From The New York Times, December 17, 1963.
Lesbian Connection, October 1978.
Gaysweek, December 12, 1977, New York City.
The Los Angeles Advocate, October 1968. Courtesy of Rich Wilson
Come Out! first edition, November 14, 1969, New York City.
The June 26, 1964, issue of Life magazine included a major story about "Homosexuality in America."