Thursday, September 22, 2005

25 Years in the Gay Press

There have been dramatic changes but certain things remain the same

By Steve Charing

The previous issue of OUTloud recognized my 25 years as a writer in the Baltimore gay press, for which I am grateful. As I look back over these years, I find that the press has seen a radical transformation, especially in the technology needed to produce a publication. Exacto knives and hot wax has been replaced by sophisticated computer software and imaging devices. But there are several constants that time appears to have had very little effect.

Reporters and writers now, as well as then, depend on the basic tools of the trade: notepads, tape recorders and telephones. Plus we still need to possess personal traits to be successful as a journalist, such as curiosity, honesty, objectivity, ability to research, interviewing skills, persistence, and an instinct for a good story.

The subjects for stories covered over the past 25 years have varied, of course, but we still are dealing with HIV/AIDS, harassment towards lgbt, police and government relations, health, entertainment, violence, hatred, and the ongoing struggle for equal rights and acceptance. Unfortunately, some of these battles never seem to terminate.

What has changed the most is how people obtain their news. Newspapers all over the country not only have to compete with TV and radio, but also have to lock horns with arguably the most amazing modern-day revolution in the media: the Internet. In our fast-paced, ever-busy world, the Internet has been like an extra room in our home or office. Many of us are so transfixed to this boundless source of information and depend on it to such a degree, it has become a way of life. And there are as many reasons for using the Internet as there are websites. Not the least of which is obtaining news—in a hurry.

Twenty-five years ago, The Gay Paper was a monthly publication, so news was essentially stale by the end of a month. Today, Baltimore OUTloud is published by-weekly, as is Gay Life, which makes the news more current, but still as not up-to-date as one would like. Production and editorial costs for these free newspapers render a weekly publication impractical at this time.
Back then, everyone who worked on The Gay Paper, later the Baltimore Gay Paper, were volunteers. Virtually all had full-time jobs of their own and gave up their free time to write, edit, typeset (remember that word?) and compose the paper as volunteers so that the community can be served. No more. What was once an all-volunteer operation evolved into a pay-for-service enterprise with hardly any volunteers. This isn’t wrong necessarily as the culture has changed over time. But it is different.

There was a degree of apathy among the lgbt community early on which remains today, perhaps more so. And this apathy will not help our cause since there is a great need for grass-roots advocacy especially when our state and federal leaders have been taking on a hostile tone.
People will casually pick up the gay newspapers at gay bars, bookstores and other distribution points, as they did 25 years ago. But gone are the days when gay activist and GLCCB founder Harvey Schwartz would stand outside bars at closing and personally hand out copies of The Gay Paper to those exiting.

Despite the findings from a recent study conducted by National Gay & Lesbian Newspaper Guild that stated that more gay men read the gay press than lesbians, I believe in Baltimore the opposite is true. I find lesbians more interested in what is going on politically, more engaged, more active in lgbt causes and more likely to read gay newspapers. I observed more apathy among gay men, but I didn’t conduct a survey; these are simply my observations and experiences.

I am concerned that young lgbt individuals, who have been raised on the Internet, see no value in gay newspapers. Indeed, I notice very few picking them up. If, in fact they do have some interest in lgbt news, they probably get it from Planet Out, blogs, or some other web-based news service.

For centuries, newspapers have provided an invaluable opportunity to read what one is interested in and skip those articles and ads that do not appeal. But to be able to have news; advertisements of events, products and services; commentary; humor; features; reviews; etc. all in one location where individuals can peruse at their own pace, there is nothing better than enjoying the paper in a comfortable setting without having to move a mouse. Hopefully, it won’t take another 25 years for people to find that out.

What has remained constant over these 25 years is the fact everything I write is reviewed by my partner Bob prior to submitting to my editor. This is done not only to identify the inevitable typos, but also to "keep me out of trouble," as he puts it. Bob’s being part of the process is the one thing I do not ever want to change, even if everything else in this business is transforming.