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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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.