There are many problems in the LGBT media world, not least of which being the constant strain and pull of operating traditional print news in a marketplace so rapidly transforming from “old media” to “new media.”
But, there’s a bigger social dilemma faced by LGBT editors, publishers and reporters: Our media, both local and national, isn’t as inclusive of our entire LGBT culture as they could be. I don’t debate it and I don’t think anyone else would either. However, broad generalizations and criticisms of established gay media won’t fix that problem, and that’s exactly what happened at Netroots Nation in Minneapolis this morning.
A panel discussion entitled “Queer Media and the Alternative Revolution” included Zack Rosen of TheNewGay.net, transgender musician Heidi Stink, Katrina Casino of Autostraddle.com and David Castillo, a Bilerico.com contributor. Each threw out what could be perfectly valid criticisms of LGBT media, except for the fact that they were overly broad and lacked any sort of understanding of what might actually be happening behind the scenes at an LGBT news outlet.
Among some of the panelists’ concerns was that “mainstream” LGBT media is not fully representative of people of color, women and the transgender community. I agree. We aren’t. But that lack of fair representation does not automatically mean that it’s made out of hate, bigotry, malice or for lack of trying. Such assumptions built into less-than-constructive criticisms build walls during a conversation and do nothing to help solve the problems at hand.
Blogger Scott Woolidge noted during the panel via Twitter: “18 years in Mass Media machine, I often see people presume bigotry or hate in exclusion; ignorance or simple human error suffice #nn11lgbt.”
I’d add to Woolidge’s statements and assert that there are other causes to these problems, primarily a lack of resources and community involvement from the very groups complaining about their lack of representation.
As the editor of an LGBT newspaper in the South, I can speak with some authority on the level of resources currently provided me and my very part-time associate editors and other writers, which include a straight woman, a bisexual woman and a gay man. The lack of financial resources prohibits us from hiring a bevy of more writers, though I wish we could. Having the opportunity to expand our staff and diversify it would go a long way in creating more opportunities for previously unheard voices to gain wider exposure and representation. As an alternative to hiring more diverse writers, we’ve taken steps to bring in other faces. We have a female voice on our editorial pages (thank you, Leslie Robinson) and a transgender voice on issues of politics and culture (thank you, Robbi Cohn). In the past, we’ve had some moderate success with the freelance employment of an African-American, female columnist.
As with the lack of resources, I’d posit that there also exists a lack of participation from some of the groups issuing complaints about their own lack of representation. How many times must a writer reach out to several minority groups and/or leaders while receiving no response from them before that writer has to assume his or her contacts are just simply not interested in chatting? When there is no coverage of minority groups’ events, one needs to take a moment to self-reflect: Did that group even make the news organization aware of their activities?
These are problems I face on a nearly consistent basis in my work covering the LGBT communities of Charlotte and North Carolina. As a media organization, we can only reflect what currently exists. If there are fractions among our community, it makes sense that such fracturing would be evident in what and how we report.
Woolidge made a phenomenal observation — one I also stood up to address with the panelists and panel attendees. The lack of representation of people of color, women and the transgender community isn’t necessarily a sure sign of a media organization’s or staff person’s unwillingness to reach out; many times we have reached out and many times to no avail.
Conversations like this morning’s panel discussion do nothing to solve these problems if there is not a two-way conversation that includes accompanying solutions. Criticism sucks. Constructive criticism is better.