Karen Ocamb

NLGJA's Michael Triplett Has Died at 48

Filed By Karen Ocamb | January 22, 2013 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: Michael Triplett, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, NLGJA, obituary


National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association President Michael Triplett passed away Thursday, January 17, after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 48.

NLGJA also has a post up, which I've cross-posted below so you can get to know him better. Greg In Hollywood's Greg Hernandez, president of NLGJA's Los Angeles chapter, wrote about Triplett, including this:

Last April, Michael wrote an outstanding column about his battle with an oral cancer unrelated to smoking and drinking. He had endured three surgeries, 42 days of traditional radiation treatment, five rounds of chemotherapy, and five days of advanced radiation treatment. He had almost half of his tongue removed and had undergone two high-tech robotic procedures.

And yet, he remained determined and looked forward to writing about future anniversaries of his diagnosis which coincided with his April 20 birthday.

Sadly, he did not make it to another anniversary or birthday.

I only knew Michael professionally, through exchanges on various listservs and via email. And while I've had both agreements and feuds with NLGJA and some of its members - Michael Triplett was a class act - even when we disagreed and he thoughtfully deconstructed an argument. Here's an excerpt from his NLGJA blog post The Undocumented Closet from July 1, 2011 where he looked at a column by MetroWeekly's Sean Bugg:

One of the most buzzed about stories of the week is the revelation by openly gay journalist Jose Antonio Vargas that he is an undocumented immigrant. There are two nice summaries of reactions inside the journalism world at Richard Prince's Journal-isms blog at the Maynard Center, including the reaction by the Asian American Journalists Association.

What I hadn't seen much is how all of this relates to LGBT issues. Fortunately, Sean Bugg at MetroWeekly has taken a look at this issues, comparing being an undocumented immigrant to being in the "the closet" for LGBT people. In the provocative piece, he challenges the suggestion that Vargas' deceptions raise questions about his ethics as a journalist.

"Now that we've advanced far enough that it's impossible to swing a dead cat in the Washington Post newsroom without hitting an openly homosexual reporter, it's easy to forget how strong the closet recently was for gay and lesbian journalists (and let's not forget that it's as strong as ever for transgender journalists). There are plenty of working journalists who have "told lie after lie" to protect themselves from anti-gay discrimination or termination, only to come out later. By Shafer's logic, formerly closeted gay journalists are no more than confessed liars who can't be trusted."

It's a fascinating argument, although I'm not sure it completely holds up. Admittedly, it's the lawyer in me (who has written about immigration issues in the workplace) that bristles at the suggestion that being "in the closet" about your immigration status is comparable to being "in the closet" about your sexual orientation. Lying about who you are dating doesn't put your employer in jeopardy for violating a host of federal laws. Lying about who your gender identity doesn't represent a fraud that can result in your being permanently removed from the country.

Michael and I disagreed on and off the record about if and how NLGJA should be involved in the contentious battle over Prop 8. He wrote extensively about an argument I made in a Sept. 9, 2010 blog post entitled NLGJA, Journalism, and Proposition 8. Here's an excerpt:

Veteran LGBT press journalist Karen Ocamb has raised questions on her own website and Huffington Post about NLGJA's purpose and mission that are worth exploring. Her concerns underscore the tension that exists in NLGJA between journalists in the traditional press, the LGBT press, and citizen journalists.

To speak broadly, journalism groups (and journalists in the traditional press) are careful about staking out positions on controversial political issues. Our 501(c)(3) status prevents lobbying and political activity and good journalism ethics discourages it. While it is true that some journalism organizations have participated in economic boycotts of states because of voter initiatives, that is different from actually taking a position on a voter initiative......

In the case of Prop 8, there was no overriding journalism issue and no economic boycott of California by LGBT organizations. If there had been, then it's possible that NLGJA may have honored such a boycott after weighing the financial costs. This is consistent with positions the UNITY groups have taken at various times in terms of honoring economic boycotts linked to voter actions or legislation.

Journalism groups usually don't stake out positions on issues that go beyond journalism itself because such moves raise questions about the objectivity of journalists who work in traditional newsrooms. One of the reasons NLGJA was created was because there was the perception that openly LGBT journalists were unable to provide objective coverage of LGBT issues and their credibility was often questioned.

While there is a fascinating intellectual argument about objectivity, that argument doesn't control newsroom policy and ethical standards. At least two journalists who sat on the panel about covering the federal Proposition 8 trial at our recent conference said they would be required by the employer (or good ethics) to quit NLGJA or quit covering Prop 8 if NLGJA had taken a position on Prop 8. That's how important this debate is in some newsrooms and why NLGJA is loath to jeopardize members' reputation as journalists.

In terms of criticizing the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of Prop 8 and specifically the story about kids attending a teacher's wedding, those who reviewed the coverage for NLGJA did not find that story or coverage problematic. Journalists report what they see. A story about kids attending their teacher's wedding is a compelling story in the narrative of same-sex marriage debate in California.

That it was later used by Prop 8 supporters in a very successful advertisement that No on 8 had difficulty countering is not the determination of whether it is good or bad journalism. As long as reporters are committed to fair and accurate coverage, the story stands on its own and it is then up to the activists and politicians to sort through the repercussions. Good journalism reports and tells stories, whether it is politically problematic for activists or not.

The fact that the Chronicle's story was a turning point-in the eyes of some activists-means the reporting was interesting, relevant, and newsworthy. It wasn't the Chronicle's job to pick sides and make editorial decisions based on whether a fair and accurate story could hurt one side or the other. Putting that story on the front page was a defensible editorial decision, as were process stories which raised concerns about No on 8?s tactics and leadership.

Could there have been better reporting with more context on Prop 8 from all media? Sure. But that's pretty much true of every story out there. Should there have been more "follow the money" reporting on both sides of the Prop 8 story? Sure. As someone living on the other side of the country, I felt I saw a lot of coverage of the Yes on 8 funding and some, but not as thorough, coverage of the No on 8 side.

Part of the point I tried to make was that the San Francisco Chronicle - according to Yes on 8 mastermind Frank Schubert himself - created the news about those kids, not just reported on it and the NLGJA Board President was in the newsroom when that happened. So we disagreed on that. But Michael was right that we didn't - me, included - report more deeply on the problems with the No on Prop 8 campaign as they occurred.

And that's one of the reasons why Michael Triplett will be so missed: he could argue a totally different position from yours and do it thoughtfully and civilly making points you might have to concede and offering fresh insights you could appreciate. He was a smart gentleman journalist.

Here's the NLGLA post:

NLGJA mourns the loss of our friend and leader, NLGJA President Michael Triplett, who passed away January 17, 2013 after a courageous battle with cancer.

While Michael only served as president for a few short months, he has been a member of our leadership team for several years, first as a Washington, D.C. chapter board member and president and then as a national board member and vice president for print. His quiet demeanor masked a steely resolve and an uncanny ability to push our organization forward. Michael quickly became someone who could be relied on both to provide sage advice as well as the time and energy to help us accomplish our goals.

Michael was the assistant managing editor at Bloomberg-BNA, where he used his legal background to develop and lead reports on tax and labor policy, as well as grooming journalists around the world. NLGJA members often called on Michael to provide a legal perspective to policy issues and governance, and he frequently sat on panels covering legal issues at NLGJA conventions.

Michael played an enormous role in our joining UNITY: Journalists for Diversity in 2011 and was one of our first representatives to the UNITY board. There, he worked with members of our partner groups to fully incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity into UNITY's mission.

He also helped our organization connect with members as a principle contributor to the NLGJA RE:ACT blog.

Michael was truly a joy for all of us to work with, and his loss will be felt among our organization for years to come. Our thoughts and prayers are with his partner, Jack and his family in Alabama.

The NLGJA board will meet in the coming days to elect an interim president, as well as to determine the best way to honor Michael's memory. But for now, we pause to remember our friend and an enormous contributor to our recent growth and success.

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