MEDIA GAY AND LESBIAN MEDIA: Media Roundup - A vibrant marketdiscovers solid media alternatives

Once considered taboo by mainstream media, the gay and lesbian

community now has numerous titles of its own, and a growing following in

traditional press outlets as well. David Ward reports



The recent announcement that MTV and Showtime will join forces on a new

premium gay cable channel is in many ways a landmark in the growing

cultural and marketing clout of the gay and lesbian community. It's also

the culmination of years of steady growth for the gay and lesbian media

market.



From a handful of weekly papers and magazines 30 years ago, the gay and

lesbian press has grown into a sizeable journalistic market, complete

with national titles segmented by interest, a vibrant local press with

250 publications nationwide, and a host of websites.



Avid consumers



Bryce Eberhart, director of corporate communications with PlanetOut

Partners, which owns the Gay.com and PlanetOut web portals, says much of

this increase can be tied to the realization among advertisers that gays

and lesbian are often trend setters, and they also have the means to be

avid consumers.



"Gay people don't necessarily make more money than most people, but

because most tend not to have kids, they have more disposable income,"

he says, adding that, for example, gay people are seven times more

likely to be frequent fliers."



This economic clout is especially noticeable in the rise of gay

lifestyle media, rather than political or social media outlets. "The gay

and lesbian segment is primarily viewed in terms of lifestyle because

that's what advertisers tend to notice," adds Stephanie Blackwood, a PR

executive who last year co-founded Double Platinum, a marketing

communications agency targeting gays and lesbians. "So you have media

that addresses fashion, entertainment, home, and travel."



That's not to say that the gay and lesbian press been immune to the

overall advertising slump of recent years. The Seattle-based Gay Radio

Network shut down in December, while a weekly gay morning radio show in

Chicago failed to catch on. Its growth, in fact, is in many ways

mirroring the evolution of mainstream media, albeit on a smaller

scale.



"There's more and more consolidation among media," notes Paul Poux,

president of New York-based marketing and PR firm The Poux Company. "The

two national magazines, The Advocate and Out, are now owned by the same

company (Liberation Publications). And another company, Window Media,

has gone around gobbling up a lot of the newspapers."



This in turn has raised the bar for PR professionals seeking to reach a

gay and lesbian audience, but, as Poux points out, "It's greater risk,

but it's also greater reward. A lot of publications may be under one

editorial director so if you get his attention, your story can appear in

Houston, Atlanta, New Orleans, New York and Washington at the same

time."



Despite the increase in lifestyle coverage, not every product or story

idea is right for the gay and lesbian press. Most outlets operate under

the assumption their audience is getting the bulk of their general news

along with a lot of general product information from more mainstream

outlets. Instead, they focus specifically on stories that tie directly

to their audience.



Judy Wieder, editorial director for Liberation Publications, says "We

wouldn't cover Enron, for example, unless it turned out three of their

vice presidents were gay."



While there are few reporters at mainstream outlets who cover the gay

and lesbian beat, Wieder notes the general media's interest in gay and

lesbian issues has been on the rise, citing Ellen DeGeneres coming out

on the cover of Time in 1997 as a key event. Bob Witeck, CEO of

Washington, DC-based Witeck-Combs Communications, says that even outlets

such as the AARP's My Generation magazine, aimed at pre-seniors,

includes gay couples in their stories. But in the end this increased

coverage from the mainstream media remains the outsider's view of the

community, and most gays and lesbians will continue to turn to the gay

press for the insider's look.



Lack of specialization



If there's any complaint about the gay and lesbian press, especially on

a local level, it's that most of the reporters and editors tend to be

generalists. "There's not a lot of specialization in terms of topics,"

says Witeck. He says that occasionally means that a business story will

not get sophisticated analysis that it would in the business press.



He believes part of the reason for that is many gay stories cross a lot

of categories. "There are stories like the Viacom announcement that meld

culture and politics with the overriding business theme of whether or

not we're strong enough as a market to carry a channel," he says. "So

that story has a lot of legs, and a lot of publications are dealing with

it."



That's not to say that the gay and lesbian press is bereft of hard news

coverage. Publications such as The Advocate, as well as numerous local

weeklies, provide outstanding coverage of issues, such as domestic

partner benefits or legislative issues, or specific stories like the

social repercussions of the Matthew Shepard murder.



This in-depth coverage has given the gay and lesbian press a following

that cuts across sexual preference lines. "One thing that we find is

that straight readership of gay publications is also on the rise," notes

Witeck, whose company recently joined with US Newswire for a news

distribution service to gay and lesbian outlets. "It's modest, but it's

there. For example, in Washington, if it's gay political issues, the

Washington Blade is probably covering that issue a lot better, and

people who are interested in local politics will want to read the Blade

for that."



Among the leading gay and lesbian journalists are Deb Price, whose

Detroit News column is syndicated nationally by Gannett; Michael Musto,

entertainment and lifestyle columnist with The Village Voice; Tom

Musbach and Jenni Olson of PlanetOut and Gay.com; Paul Varnell and Peter

Frieberg, whose columns are syndicated in a number of gay and lesbian

weeklies; and the Miami Herald's Steven Rothaus.



Other general interest journalists, such as Andrew Sullivan and The New

York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliot, don't exclusively report

on gay issues, but their coverage is widely respected.



A specific pitch



Both the PR professionals and journalists we spoke to stress that PR

aimed at the gay and lesbian press needs far more than a simple service

pitch. Eberhart suggests one angle that should be touted whenever

possible is the client's role as a good corporate citizen.



"This is a market that's tremendously loyal to the companies that speak

to them directly, and the fact that companies are reaching out to the

gay and lesbian market is still newsworthy," he says. "If PR people see

a company begin to advertise in the gay and lesbian press, they really

need to follow up with media relations."



Pamela Strother, executive director of the National Lesbian & Gay

Journalists Association (NLGJA), says PR pros should also be prepared to

provide proof of their client's stance on gay and lesbian issues. The

NLGJA has 1,100 members and holds an annual conference often sponsored

by companies or PR firms looking to establish or reinforce their

commitment to the gay and lesbian community.



"The gay and lesbian press is sensitive to any corporation's commitment

to the gay and lesbian community as a whole," Strother says, citing

issues such as whether a company offers domestic partner benefits or

contributes to gay and lesbian causes. "You need to prove you have an

interest beyond selling your products."



Wieder advises PR firms against making general claims, such as a

celebrity's large gay following, in pitches, while Witeck cautions to

avoid jargon.



"You have to take some care not to use too much inside baseball

terminology or make assumptions about the use of words such as

'partner,'" he says.



One issue that still generates controversy in the gay and lesbian

community is whether or not celebrities or other personalities should be

"outed" against their will. Wieder says that her publications won't

generally be the first to out a high-profile personality, but will

follow up with stories if it's been done by another media outlet.



WHERE TO GO



Newspapers & Weeklies: The Village Voice; Washington Blade; Gay and

Lesbian Times; Bay Area Reporter; Bay Windows Boston; Pittsburgh Out;

Dallas Voice; Houston Voice; Seattle Gay Standard; Windy City Times;

Philadelphia Gay News



Magazines: The Advocate; Out; Genre; Girlfriends; On Our Backs;

Instinct; Curve; Metro Source; Details



Newswires: US Newswire



Web: Planetout.com; Advocate.com; DataLounge.com; Gay.com; HRC.org.



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