In the last few years, there has been a lot of ink (some of it digital) spilled on the decline of print media as news and entertainment outlets, and the shifts to online. Last week's piece by Michael Lavers in the Village Voice, specifically on the topic of gay print media, was among the latest to lament this shift. It also sparked a lot of response and challenges to his assertion. Matt Comer went through many of the responses here at Bilerico last week, and yesterday Kevin Naff at the Washington Blade responded with a detailed rebuttal, including an assertion that Lavers did not present a well-rounded view by eliminating quotes disagreeing with his premise.
As someone who enjoys my Sunday papers and picking up newsstand copies of other papers and newsmagazines, I'm as concerned as others. But for all the assessments of print media, and assumptions that everything is moving to online, one question has never been asked: how is online gay media faring?
So I thought it would be an interesting detour to ask a range of those who work in gay online media. Out of concerns resulting from the Lavers piece, I did not want anyone to be quoted out of context or misinterpreted, so I used the "Topic A" format from the Washington Post with a simple question "What is the state of gay online media?" Responses in about 300 words or less are printed below. While unfortunately not as in-depth as a full exploration of the topic, it does give a window into gay online media, and I hope inspires a longer piece. Some look at misconceptions of online media, while others explore the relationship between print and online. They are all interesting, and they are all on the flip.
Question: What is the state of gay online media?
John Aravosis, AMERICAblog Gay:
I'm not sure whether gay print media is dead, but I do think its influence has waned at the national level. Ten years ago we had hundreds of gay papers, and if you wanted to blow a story up nationwide, they helped, a lot. Today, I never think of contacting a gay publication outside of the [Washington] Blade or the Advocate if I want to push a story, simply because I don't know who's still out there. Instead, I contact a handful of influential gay blogs, an even smaller handful of gay journalists (three to be exact), and I'll often turn to "straight" media, both online and off.
At the national level, we've seen an explosion of the gay Netroots, and a consolidation of influential traditional gay publications and journalists. I'm not entirely convinced that the two are directly linked, rather, the economy has been terrible for all media (offline, online, and new) post-9/11, and the advent of blogging as a low-cost journalism model (assuming you give your time for free), has made it easier for blogs to fill some of that gap. But we can't fill all of it. Partially because we're not exactly getting rich blogging, but also because while some blogs do some original reporting, a lot of what we do is news analysis, commentary, and activism. We need the traditional media, gay and straight, to write the stories that inspire the majority of our blog commentary.
Bil Browning, The Bilerico Project:
The state of gay online media is constantly changing. As the popularity of queer media has bloomed, online journalism has grown to be a daily part of many LGBT people's news gathering resources. If the gay newspaper industry is a dying elder, then online media has finally hit it's toddler years.
While a few years ago the independent blogger was the norm, many multi-author or corporate-owned blogs are booming now. AfterElton, QueerSighted, and Queerty are all owned by media giants - Viacom, AOL, and Jossip respectively. Pam's House Blend, Towleroad, and Bilerico Project all feature multiple authors and editors. Plenty of those "dying" newspapers now have online homes - some with fresh and exclusive content that's helping to keep the paper afloat.
Is one form of media better than the other? No, of course not. It's one more spin around the information gathering highway; we started at scrolls and God knows where we'll end up. The point of it all is to enjoy the ride.
Matt Comer, InterstateQ;
LGBT online media has become influential in many places and is helping to shape our local, state and national communities. Even in its strength, however, LGBT digital media -- like print media -- faces its own set of unique challenges. The overwhelming majority of online-only LGBT media outlets are not financially viable on their own. Without solid financial bedrock, online media will not have the same impact print news publications have had throughout their existence and their continued operation is never guaranteed. First as a blogger/citizen journalist and now as the editor of a print publication, I've seen both sides of this (false) media dichotomy pitting "journalists" and "bloggers." (It is possible to be both at the same time.) I believe both online news and print news operators will need to work together if either ever hopes to survive and thrive. Journalism, whether it comes from a print product or a website, is a valued treasure that offers a public service for the common good. I say let's stop focusing on the death of "this" or the rise of "that" and instead put our focus where it really belongs: ensuring the survival of good, quality journalism.
Paul Hogarth, BeyondChron:
With major LGBT papers folding across the country, print gay media has been hit hard in what is already a struggling industry. Newspapers are an outdated business model, and small independent papers that cater to a particular niche - like the LGBT community - are suffering in even greater proportion than publications like the New York Times.
Gay online media, however, is thriving. Why? Because on the Internet, writers actually get rewarded for carving a niche. Bloggers who want to build a following must pick a topic that few other people (or no one else) write about regularly, and make themselves an "expert" in that field. Online readers will come to your site if you offer something unique - that's why LGBT blogs like Towleroad, Pam's House Blend and Unite the Fight are successful.
At Beyond Chron, we have built an online following by writing about marriage equality - covering both the legal and political battles in California and elsewhere. We are far from being the only ones to cover this, but good consistent coverage that a niche audience will seek can thrive on the Internet - as opposed to print media that is expensive to distribute.
Does gay online media have its problems? Just like everyone else in the blogosphere, we are still trying to find economically sustainable models - so many of us still don't get paid for this work. But with LGBT papers folding, the gay online media gives me hope.
Zack Rosen, The New Gay:
The state of gay online media is, simply, that it exists. This is a much more notable fact that such a simple statement belies. A niche community (as it were) such as the gay one can often find itself defined from the inside, and understood from the outside, by its media. Both a closeted highschooler and a Fred Phelps nutjob can look to publications like Out or The Advocate to understand the population they seek to join or revile. The increasing cache of online media means that any queer person can create their own forum for their voices, and the voices of those like them, to be heard. Rather than splinter us, I believe that this niching ability will strengthen us as a whole by allowing people to represent themselves rather than wait for a few existing outlets to do it for them.
Pam Spaulding, Pam's House Blend:
When I see a question like this, I often wonder what impression people have of non-traditional LGBT media in the first place. While we do original reporting and interviews just like traditional media, placing us in competition with them, the vast majority of LGBT blog content is commentary, analysis and online activism. We have more of a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship to LGBT news publications. Blogs simply don't have the resources or staff to cover all of the stories we write about.
Ironically, not a day goes by when I do not receive an email with a link from an LGBT news outlet to one of its stories, hoping it will be featured on the Blend. And that suits me just fine -- I'd prefer to link to LGBT news media than the AP, to give them the traffic.
I have no idea why this meme persists that bloggers are making a killing doing this full time through ads or donations by readers. I certainly don't; the Blend doesn't feature beefcake (or cheesecake, for that matter) to enhance revenue, and there are no annual fundraisers. I work a full-time day job and fit blogging in when and where I can -- that means that my real-world job in essence subsidizing my ability to work and do activism on the Blend. What it also does is allow me to publish without constantly thinking about the ebb and flow of advertising.
That comes at a price -- I've managed to keep the blog going since 2004, adding contributors who also freely give their personal time and resources to produce their work. But it's a recipe for burnout.
Also, I don't see serious sponsorship on the horizon to support independent LGBT online media/citizen journalism. The bottom line is that a blog can disappear tomorrow, no matter how influential the blogger, if the pace or quality of content cannot be sustained.
You can read all of my writing at my home blog, OpenLeft.com.