What Makes Good Gay Journalism? And Why Is There So Little Of It?

gay-newspaper-170x255A couple months ago, someone, wondering aloud, asked me if maybe gay rights would be the new issue that marks the time and generation we’re in. I didn’t so much as wonder aloud in reply as I did shout: “You mean that after the civil rights movement, you think the gay rights movement is next? I would say they two are the same.”

And I still think that. But it’s not necessarily true when we start talking about the logistics of the gay rights movement. Can you imagine Soledad O’Brien looking sternly into the camera and saying, “Thank you for joining us for a CNN Special Presentation: Gay in America”? Maybe, but I also imagine there would be many more crude (and especially) dirty jokes about it the next day – even on the best and biggest gay blogs themselves. There’s a seriousness the media has when it talks about issues of race that is equivocal and ambiguous with gay rights issues. In scouring all the “top, best, most” lists of journalistic news articles, I couldn’t find a single article about gay rights or even marriage equality.

That may be changing. On October 2nd, the New York Times published a piece called “The High Price of Being a Gay Couple,” by Tara Siegel Bernard and Ron Lieber (still #2 most e-mailed in the “Your Money” section). Unlike so many of the articles I read everyday about issues facing the gay community, this one established a way of looking at the topic that renders it serious, without having to explain, qualify, or prove it. The reporters had a basic question in mind: what is the lifetime cost of being gay? They did an exhaustive amount of research to find answers. It’s one of the best pieces about gay rights I seen specifically because it roots the discussion in something more concrete. A quality that is not often celebrated in gay journalism.

Each year, there are two major types gay media awards given out: the GLAAD Media Awards and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association Awards. The two organizations have different criteria (NLGJA’s are a little broader), but they both aspire to recognize the most important gay journalism of the year. Allow me to list the titles of some of the nominated and winning pieces: “A Personal Journey of Self-Discovery,” “Ellen & Portia’s Wedding Day,” “Harrowing Incident a Troubling Reminder of Homophobia.”

Now let me be clear: I think these awards do a great service (I help organize this year’s 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York!). And absolutely, there are some pieces of journalism that hit their mark. But we still give awards to people who tell their story instead of give us numbers, people who use emotion instead of facts. Maybe the flaw is in the award criteria: we no longer need happy and sappy portrayals of gays in the media to allow people to get comfortable with the culture, so much as we need essential bedrocks for discussing our rights. This is where the recent New York Times piece sets itself apart. It provides us, all of us, wherever we fall on the sides of the debate, with a serious tone to talk about the issues.

The current definition of what constitutes “good” gay journalism is not serious in the sense that it does not render the issue in a way to make progress. In the mid-to-late 1990s the sad stories about a tragic coming out did so much to educate, but the gay community needs people to actually write some laws now! A famous gay athlete telling his story does almost nothing next to a piece that tells us, in exact dollars and cents (sense), how much more it costs to be a gay couple than a heterosexual couple. One tugs at our heart-strings and one gives us something to say on the floor of Congress.

It might be a larger trend today that in an age of Twitter, personal blogs, and fast reporting, that we have to give kudos to just about anyone who actually takes the time to sit down and think deeply about the issue. But the notion that getting any kind of gay representation in media coverage might not be exactly what we need. We need more Tara Siegel Bernards and Ron Liebers out there if the goal is to make equal media representation become equal civic representation.

NYT Crossword iPhone App To Expire Leaving Customers Livid

ny-times-crosswordThe New York Times crossword puzzle is a veritable gold mine. Online an annual subscription costs $39.95 or $6.95 a month, which is why a $9.99 iPhone application (relatively expensive by industry standards) seemed like such a steal — unlimited mobile use for a one-time payment of ten bucks! But insider blog NYT Picker is now reporting that the deal was too good to be true: anyone who has purchased the program so far will see their copy stop working in the next month or two — and the Times keeps the $9.99.

After disabling current iterations of the program, the paper will launch another version, charging a monthly fee of $1.99 for the app, with more detailed subscription plans to follow. At this time, there are no plans to issue a refund. As a result, many customers — who thought they were buying an unlimited version of the service — are lashing out at the Times. Via NYT Picker:

“I Paid for a Year!” reads the headline of one scathing review on the iPhone app, from a user named Timburwolf. “Ok, hold on. I bought this months ago and I remember it saying it was a subscription App. But I paid for a year and now it says my subscription is up November 1. Is that even legal?”

Other review headlines call the move “despicable!” “appalling” and a “rip off,” and attack the NYT for its greed. Many of them demand a boycott of the NYT.

“The NY Times should be ashamed for their devious switcheroo,” reads another review. “I will delete [the App] and never purchase a NY Times app — I might never buy a newsstand copy of the paper either.” That’s not the kind of PR a paper needs these days.

A commenter points out that it may actually be Apple that’s stingy with the refunds when it comes to re-pricing applications, and that many companies are taking the losses themselves to reimburse angry customers. We’ll have to wait and see what’s worth more for the struggling Times: hoarding a bunch of unfair $9.99 payments or keeping the people pleased.

NY Times Magazine Slim For Summer, But Beefy For Fall and Winter?

NYT-Mag-SuperpowerEarlier this summer, the New York Times Magazine got smaller — a little off the top, a little off the side. Well, this weekend the magazine showed that a slim summer doesn’t necessarily preclude a beefed-up fall and winter.

The NYT Magazine added a little something to the middle — an 80-page special advertising supplement (for Super Lawyers). The rest of the magazine is 66 pages, including the other ad pages.

But we know this is really nothing new — ye’ olde special advertising has always been a good way to put some meat on those bones when times are tough — and we don’t mind flipping through the whole thing because, you know, we don’t need a lawyer, but plenty of New Yorkers do. We just hope the proceeds go towards another $400,000’s worth of reporting. Or maybe two pages of Ethicist.

Soundbite: Beck And Limbaugh Are A ‘Story Of Remarkable Volume And Utter Weakness’

s-GLENN-BECK-RUSH-LIMBAUGH-largeSo what is the theme of our history lesson? It is a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness. It is the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche — even in the Republican Party. It is a story as old as “The Wizard of Oz,” of grand illusions and small men behind the curtain.

The New York TimesDavid Brooks on the fall and rise of right wing media stars like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Continued below.

But this is not merely a story of weakness. It is a story of resilience. For no matter how often their hollowness is exposed, the jocks still reweave the myth of their own power. They still ride the airwaves claiming to speak for millions. They still confuse listeners with voters. And they are aided in this endeavor by their enablers. They are enabled by cynical Democrats, who love to claim that Rush Limbaugh controls the G.O.P. They are enabled by lazy pundits who find it easier to argue with showmen than with people whose opinions are based on knowledge. They are enabled by the slightly educated snobs who believe that Glenn Beck really is the voice of Middle America.

What The NYT Didn’t Bother To Tell You About John Edwards And Andrew Young

andrew-young_465x310Ten days ago the New York Times ran a A-1 takedown piece on John Edwards that included a number of shocking allegations which, combined with the placement the NYT gave the story, pretty much ended any chance Edwards had of making a return to the political world. Not that there was much chance left, but still.

The original article, which revealed among other things that Edwards had promised his mistress (and alleged mother to his child) Rielle Hunter that “after his wife died” he would “marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band,” relied heavily on revelations made in a book proposal (something I took great issue with) by former Edwards aide Andrew Young. Young was described in the piece as “once a close aide to Mr. Edwards, who had initially asserted that he was the father of Ms. Hunter’s child…Mr. Young, who has since renounced that statement.” Despite relying so heavily on his book proposal — which the NYT neglected to mention had been sold in June, a rather significant plot point — very little background was provided on Young beyond that initial description (readers were left to draw their own conclusions about a married father of three who would claim paternity to a child and then opt to rescind it later on). Well, fear not, Politico has done the dirty work!

Next: What Politico dug up on Andrew Young

Condéfreude: Or, Why Do Other Media Love Ragging On Condé Nast?

oldmedtycI was recently riding in a cab across town when I noticed an item in the NBC news ticker that seemed a little less accessible than the rest. “End of an Era at Conde Nast…” it read, no accent. I pictured a tourist wondering what the hell it meant, and not caring much. That this made it into a general interest news feed for taxi riders showed, I thought, the inflated regard in which media elites hold insidery media stories. There are a lot of eras ending in this recessionary year; some just get more ink.

Everyone who does care knows that Condé Nast is in some trouble. But given how little substantiation there has been as to the scope of that trouble, there’s been quite a lot of writing about it, often taking on tut-tutting moralistic tones. Why do media watchers so love to pile on Condé?

First, a roundup of what we know: McKinsey audited the company. The figure “25% cuts” has been floated. Condé may or may not shutter some titles. The New York Observer’s John Koblin reports that whatever layoffs are made will have to be made by the end of January, although “it appears, at least for the moment, there isn’t any organized game plan at Condé Nast to adopt” a ‘rip-the-band-aid-off’ strategy of mass layoffs. It amounts to something, but does it justify the sweeping end-of-an-era trend pieces?

Gawker, to its credit, has been consistent in its Condé-bashing from the start, in keeping with its “creative underclass” ethos. But they’re at least self-aware as to why. As Hamilton Nolan wrote on Monday: “Of course the creative underclass loves to hate on the creative overclass—embodied by Conde Nast—in public. But in private, everyone wants to get to Conde Nast. Or at least a Conde Nast expense account. Well, give up the dream, kids.”

A recent Times piece by Stephanie Clifford hits the nail squarely on the head with one loaded paragraph at the end of a litany of Condéisms:

[C]ost-cutting at Condé Nast is not quite like cost-cutting at other publishers. For example, on Oct. 13, the men’s magazine GQ will host a party in Washington to promote its list of powerful capital players, to appear in its November issue. The party is upscale: it will be held at the 701 Restaurant, known for its caviar and live piano music.

That is not the only expense involved. Several editorial employees will travel from New York for the evening. And they received an e-mail message recently reminding them to limit their expenses for the night — to $1,000 a person.

That culture of spending at Condé Nast explains some of the fascination with the place, which incites a mix of envy and scorn among employees at other magazines. Condé Nast’s top editors and publishers have drivers on call, staff members can be reimbursed for $15 a day for lunches they order in, and even freelance writers stay at hotels like the W when they are on assignment.

Those perks would be unremarkable at any investment bank or law firm, at least before the recession. But magazine companies other than Condé Nast have become grim places to work in recent years. (emphasis added)

Yes, Condé had some extravagant perks before 2009, but as Clifford points out, so did a good chunk of the New York economy. Media types are better aware that publishing has been a grim place of late, due to a steep ad recession and a shift in the way people consume information. But the disproportionate amount of Condé hate has deeper roots than that.

The biggest story in all of this isn’t the death of Condé Nast — which, 25% cuts or no, will continue to be a dominant force in the publishing industry — but the death of the myth of Condé Nast, which will leave the media covering media with a want of things to cover.

Bill Keller Still Huffing And Puffing At NYT Online Fee

c_OTR-BillKeller1VToday is the ‘State of The Times‘ meeting, the annual New York Times get-together to which publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. sometimes brings props — he once famously produced a moose, perhaps this year he will go with the recently popularized chalkboard!

Hot topic this year is paid content. I seem to recall it being a hot topic last year, along with plummeting stock prices, however in the interim the paper has been making some fairly serious noises about what their paid content model might look like and hinting that it is not far off. But not imminent either!

The Observer caught up with managing editor Bill Keller, who is clearly a man hoping that if he puts off the unsavory paid content decision for just a leetle while longer there is a small chance some other solution will suddenly present itself and save the day!

“In the end, I think it will come down to a gut call about what we think the audience will accept and how we think the market will evolve…There’s no clear evidence that a pay model will save newspapers from the flight of advertisers, it might, but that’s a matter of faith; nothing in previous experience (including the experience of the Journal and FT) and nothing in the reams of spread sheets proves that it will.”

All true. But it also sounds like the initial panic that followed the great newspaper collapse of the last 12 months has subsided and now become the norm. Perhaps the new theory is, better the bad system you know than the bad system you don’t know! Either way Keller speculates now that a decision will be reached by the end of the year “if only so we can stop going to pay-model meetings.” But really, what’s the rush.