The Medium and The Message

This past week was one of those periodic occasions during which I was keenly aware of the value and the need of a vibrant gay press in this country.

As our two lead news stories make clear, significant players in the media world––daily newspapers and a glossy lifestyle magazine––continue to demonstrate tone deafness regarding the sensibilities not only of gay and lesbian people, but other minority communities as well.

But experiences we’ve had here at Gay City News also offer significant hope that attitudes are changing in the journalism profession and that the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are no longer automatically viewed as “the other.”

Duncan Osborne reports on his investigation into the involvement of journalists at a number of the nation’s leading dailies in the World Journalism Institute, whose mission is “training… a new generation of Christian journalists… to overcome the culture’s efforts to eclipse God by providing an alternative voice in the mainstream media.”

The WJI was of particular interest to Osborne because just last month, the San Francisco Chronicle removed two lesbians––reporter Rachel Gordon and photographer Liz Mangelsdorf––from the historic gay marriage story there because the couple got married in the privacy of their home. Their participation in the institution of marriage, in the view of editor Phil Bronstein, created “an appearance of conflict.”

Osborne contacted a number of journalists involved with the WJI as well as their editors. In consultation with his editor, a religion reporter at the Washington Post severed his ties to the Institute. But another reporter at the Post, as well as one at the Los Angeles Times, and an editor at the Atlanta Constitution declined comment on their ties to the group.

Most significantly, Bronstein did not respond to questions about the role of Gary Fong, the Chronicle’s director of editorial graphics technology, with both the WJI and the Evangelical Press Association, which presses its members to “advance the work and witness of Jesus Christ and the Church.”

A Chronicle spokesperson skirted the controversy by saying, in essence, that Fong is not a journalist, a conclusion that Fong himself curiously did not share.

Meanwhile, Details, the glossy monthly that aims to offer guidance, but perhaps just as often inspires confusion, among young, striving, metrosexualish men, has managed to create a storm both among Asian Americans and gays. In the latest in a series of sophomoric sight gags, based on the theme “Gay or ___,” the magazine throws a tired mix of stereotypes about Asian American and gay men––that purportedly demonstrate their similarities––up against the wall to see if any draw a laugh.

As Nicholas Boston reports, the management at Details, owned by Fairchild Publications, is flat-footed at best in its response to protests, offering up a “sorry if anyone was offended response,” even while there are signs its top people are desperately reaching out to colleagues for advice on how to respond to adult criticism.

Meanwhile, at less cushy perches in the journalism world, Gay City News this week won significant honors at the New York Press Association’s annual Better Newspaper Contest, held in Saratoga Springs. NYPA is made up of 350 weekly community newspapers in the state; our newspaper is the only gay publication.

The remarkable reporting of Mick Meenan, our deputy editor, on the murder of Sakia Gunn, a 15-year-old African American lesbian in Newark, was honored as News Story of the Year. The newspaper also finished second in the group’s Past Presidents’ Award for overall excellence. Our work in sponsoring forums last fall on crystal meth use and HIV and collateral reporting done at the time by Duncan Osborne, our associate editor, garnered second place in the Community Service category.

The newspaper also won awards for our Coverage of the Arts, Steve Friess’ reporting on Religion, and for Advertising Excellence.

Recognition from a long-standing mainstream newspaper association goes far in demonstrating the progress we have made in establishing the credibility and validity of our community’s professional press. NYPA seems to get something that the San Francisco Chronicle can’t—that far from compromising our perspective, the fact of our being gay and lesbian adds a critical dimension to our ability to report the issues that face our community.

To the many Gay City News writers who, during the past year, made our awards possible, I offer heartfelt thanks.

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