Thursday, September 16, 2010

30 Years and it Seems Like Yesterday




This issue marks my 30th anniversary writing for the gay press in Baltimore. I know, "how can that be? You look 29!" Yeah, I get that all the time. But the fact is, it's true. I've been writing longer than some of our writers have been on Earth.


My first article (pictured) was about New Hope, PA in September 1980. To prove how long ago it was I predicted this locale would be a potential hot spot for the gay and lesbian community, and explained I left early on a Sunday to return home to visit the Baltimore City Fair. Ancient history here.


Writing was not a new endeavor for me as I had previously written for my college newspaper and in the military. I wanted to pen for the gay press, however.


I typed the New Hope review on an electric typewriter (remember what that was?). I handed in a hard copy to the then chair of the newspaper committee, Jeff McCrae, who ran The Gay Paper. I was in the closet then and didn't include my full name—just my first name and initial of my last name, as others writers typically did at the time.


It was during the pre-computer era that The Gay Paper was put together manually by using cardboard panels, X-Acto knives and hot wax. Text was produced on galleys from typesetting machines. Oh, how the process has transformed!


My next article was about the new volleyball league that formed in Baltimore. Then I proceeded to write about a wide range of other subjects to gain experience in other areas. I covered everything from ballet to murders. I reported on the crackdown on hustling in Patterson Park and critiqued books, theatre and television. I wrote about antiques, sports as it related to our issues, travel and politics at all levels of government.


Three years after my first article I became the editor or principal co-chair of the publication and re-named it Baltimore Gay Paper. We continued to toil with the crude tools at our disposal. But the horror for us as volunteers was that we were obliged to work in the dank, window-less firetrap known as the basement of the GLCCB—a situation that I couldn't tolerate anymore; therefore, I left but continued as a journalist for the paper.


The topics for stories covered over the past 30 years have varied, of course, but we are still dealing with HIV/AIDS, harassment towards LGBT people, police and government relations, health, entertainment, violence, hatred, and the ongoing struggle for equal rights and acceptance. Alas, some of these battles never seem to terminate.


While at Baltimore OUTloud, I launched my "OUTspoken" column and blog with the same name to offer commentary on politics as well as other topics affecting our community.


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.


Thirty 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 bi-weekly which makes the news more current, but it's still not as up-to-date as one would like. Production and editorial costs for these free newspapers render a weekly publication impractical at this time.


There was a sense of apathy among the gay community early on which remains today, perhaps more so. Not only does this prevent members of the community from being informed about current issues, it hurts our cause since there is a great need for grass-roots advocacy to realize our goals.


People will casually pick up the gay newspapers at gay bars, bookstores, cafes, markets and other distribution points, as they did 30 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.


I am concerned that young LGBT individuals who have been raised on the Internet see no value in LGBT newspapers. If in fact they do have some interest in LGBT news, they probably get it from blogs, or some other web-based news service.


When I was asked to be Managing Editor of Baltimore OUTloud in the spring of 2009, I understood these challenges. I have made every effort to assemble a staff of dedicated writers who are diverse and talented and could appeal to every demographic. My goal has always been to offer our community excellence in local news coverage and to ensure there will be something for everybody within our pages.


For centuries, newspapers have provided an invaluable opportunity to read what one is interested in and skip those articles 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.


What hasn't changed throughout this 30-year journey is that my husband Bob has been with me every step of the way.


www.SteveCharing.blogspot.com.

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