Are There Differences in Reporting on the LGBT Community Between Legacy News Organizations and Emerging News Organizations?

I. A Look at the History of Reporting on the LGBT community

“Who knows only his own generation remains always a child.”- George Santayana

It is important to understand news organizations coverage of the community, because news organizations tend to reflect the changes in our culture.  Reporting on the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community has steadily increased since the 1970’s.  The HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980’s forced the mainstream media to no longer ignore the gay community, the issues that they face, and their overall visibility as an equal group in society.  Mainstream reporting was also predicated by niche journals that reported on LGBT news.  The confluence of the HIV/AIDS crisis and the increase in individuals “coming out” raised awareness of the LGBT community in larger society.

In the video below recorded in 1982, Larry Kramer, founder of The Advocate, a journal focusing on the LGBT community founded in the late 1960’s, speaks about the AIDS crisis, and the mainstream media’s lack of coverage of the crisis. (Start video at 12:44 for an indictment of legacy news coverage of the LGBT community at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.)

The transgender community has historically not been as visible in the news.  But there have been many important milestones within the community.  The Stonewall riots in 1969 (pictured below) were a seminal moment for gay and transgender awareness with the leadership of Sylvia Rivera.  Individuals are “coming out”, including celebrities (Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox) and are sharing their stories of being transgender, undertaking the gender re-assignment surgery to become transexual, and the fight for raising awareness about the community, and the struggles faced within the community.

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“The changes (in reporting) have come about because of a combination of events. News organizations came under pressure to reflect a more diverse picture of American life. At the same time, AIDS and the gay-rights movement made the “gay story” more complex and left some editors feeling they were out of touch.”- The New York Times archive (1983, Gay Journalists Leading a Revolution, William Glabberson)

 

II. Coverage of the LGBT Community

Laying out the history of the LGBT community in society, and how the community was reported about in news organizations is important because it shows how niche magazines and awareness led to mainstream acceptance and reporting on issues and victories within the community.

The current news climate is much different today than in the 1970’s-2000.  Readership has become increasingly fragmented, and the amount of free information online has put a strain on legacy media’s revenue models.  I strove to uncover whether there are differences in how legacy media organizations, and emerging social news sites cover the LGBT community in the Internet Era.

 Are there differences in reporting on the LGBT community between legacy news and emerging news organizations? 

In focusing my project, I sought to ground my exploration of the two groups of news organizations through the following components:

  1. Diversity
  2. Standards for Reporting 
  3. Niche Communities and Specialized Reporting Correspondents
 In evaluating the differences between legacy outlets and emerging media outlets, I sought out prominent journalists that have spent years reporting on the LGBT community in a panoply of news organizations: ranging from the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to BuzzFeed News and radio and podcast series RE: State of the Union.  I conducted interviews with each of the journalists profiled below; I was sure to seek out a variety of perspectives from journalists that have worked for legacy organizations, and emerging news organizations that have covered the LGBT community.  Finally, journalists’ voices from a diversity of identities (male, female, gay, straight) were included to reflect different identities and perspectives with the journalistic community.

Meet the journalists:

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Lester Feder
Lester has written over 409 articles on BuzzFeed and has garnered 29 BuzzFeed awards.  Currently a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News, Lester covers issues surrounding LGBTQ rights across the globe.  Lester recently traveled around the world to ascertain how gay marriage has changed communities.
*A phone interview was conducted with Lester Feder.  The interview was recorded with the permission of Lester Feder.
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Reed Johnson
Reed is a foreign correspondent at The Wall Street Journal stationed in Brazil.  Reed has been a reporter for thirty years, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, and The Herald-News.  Most recently, Reed wrote a piece on the gay community and the Pope’s visit to Paraguay.
*An email interview was conducted with Reed Johnson.
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Tina Antolini
Tina produced and won a NLGJA award for the Re: State of the Union radio and podcast story about Transfamilies.  Tina’s radio stories have won numerous awards, including a 2009 Gracie Award from American Women in Radio and Television for her series documenting the transgender community in Massachusetts.
*An email interview was conducted with Tina Antolini.
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Steven Thrasher
Steven is currently a journalist at The Guardian.   In 2012, Steven was the recipient of the NLGJA (National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association) for his investigative pieces in the The New York Times, Village Voice, and Out magazine.  In addition, Steven has written for a variety of publications: Gawker, BuzzFeed, and Newsweek.
I interviewed Steven about his experience as a journalist writing about the LGBT community in publications ranging from both legacy to emerging social sites.
*A phone interview was conducted with Steven Thrasher, which was transcribed.

        On the Current State of LGBT Reporting

Q: Have you witnessed more of an emphasis of reporting on the LGBT community in legacy and emerging news organizations within the past few years?
Reed Johnson: Legacy news organizations tend to absorb and reflect some new (or shifting) social attitudes and cultural changes more quickly than they absorb others. Prominent, gay- and LGBT-centric independent media started to emerge, I’m thinking of magazines like The Advocate, which was founded way back in 1967, and for a number of other reasons such as the fact that more colleges were creating queer studies departments and more public figures were openly identifying as gay, lesbian or bi. When I worked at The Detroit News from 1990-1995, it was the first U.S. newspaper to have an openly gay columnist, Deb Price. That was a milestone at the time. It also suggests how far a road we’ve all traveled in the 20 years since then.
“I think LGBT coverage has increased markedly across many parts of the United States, as gay marriage and other issues have permeated peoples’ consciousness and the media’s awareness. I don’t see how any U.S. news-gathering entity that wants to be relevant in the 21st century could *not* be paying attention.”-Reed Johnson
Steven Thrasher:  There has been an increase in the reporting on the LGBT community, and more specifically, reporting on intersection of race, gender, and the LGBT community.  For example, there is a lot of reporting in the media especially on Rachel Dolezal, which has brought some awareness to different identities within the community.  But it is ambiguous as to whether this really translates to action.  But there has been significant increase in reporting on the community from both legacy and niche sites.
Tina Antolini: I think there’s been a surge of interest in reporting particularly on the Transgender community in recent years.  When SOTRU started working on the Trans Families episode, that was before Laverne Cox was on the cover of Time Magazine. A lot of media outlets were reporting on trans people in a very similar way- stories that focused on the physical transition, people’s bodies. With the SOTRU hour, we wanted to very explicitly focus on other aspects of the community.

                           On Diversity

Q: Have you witnessed a delta in the number of women and men that report on the LGBT community?

Tina Antolini: SOTRU worked as hard as we could to include more diverse voices, both in the folks we were reporting on, and in the reporters, ourselves. Our staff was half women, multi-racial, and with a range of sexual identities.

“But, I do think that we’re lacking diversity among media outlets, especially when it comes to race and class, and, yes, sexuality/gender identity, too.  It absolutely shaped the way we told stories, and the way we picked which stories we wanted to tell.”- Tina Antolini

 

Steven Thrasher:  I had 10 editors working at BuzzFeed detailing the criminalization of HIV-transmission which I have been following for two years.  For context, I had 2 editors when I wrote my first investigative piece for The New York Times.  There is a sense that BuzzFeed is not as professional in its reporting, but that is not the case.

“I worked with a 30 person investigative team at BuzzFeed, which was representative of a diversity of racial backgrounds and sexual orientations which helps bring a diversity of viewpoints to the piece.  There was more diversity than legacy organizations I worked at, and it affected stories about the LGBT community.”- Steven Thrasher

 

 

                      On Standards For Reporting

Q: You have written for a multiplicity of news publications.  Are there differences in the style of writing and professionalism in terms of reporting on the community?

Steven Thrasher: There are different style guides that each publication has.  The BuzzFeed style guide lays out the guidelines off of which I have based my feature.  In terms of being objective, if something is obviously, without doubt, wrong then the onus is not on a reporter to be two-sided.  The bottom line is that reporting standards are still comprehensive at BuzzFeed.

Reed Johnson:  As far as adapting new, more sensitive terminology, I think legacy news organizations (good ones, at least) are constantly examining the terms they use to describe the people they cover, and eventually tend to adopt the terms that those groups themselves prefer. (That’s been true of ethnic groups as well as gender-identity groups.) Not all legacy media use the “LGBT” acronym, but I think it’s pretty much standard practice today to use “gay,” “lesbian,” “bi” and “transgender” instead of “homosexual.”

On Niche Sections and Specialized Reporting Correspondents

Audio Excerpt from Lester Feder:
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Reed Johnson: The debate about creating a “niche section” to cover specific groups of people, whether they’re designated by sexual identity, ethnicity, is complex. Most news organizations have explored this question repeatedly, and have tried and discarded various approaches.
“Some would argue that creating niche areas ghettoizes and exoticizes LGBT folks by treating them differently from other people (“separate is inherently unequal”). Others would say that creating “niche” areas can lead to greater context and depth of coverage, and would signal a newspaper or website’s belief that such coverage is important.”
 It’s still an open debate, and there’s probably no single right or wrong answer; a lot depends on how these approaches are put into practice.

III. The Future of Reporting on the LGBT Community

 

Q: What do you think will characterize the future of LGBT reporting?

Tina Antolini: I hope that media outlets like NPR will continue to broaden their reporting to include under-served communities, and that they’ll invest the resources required to go out and do those stories justice.  As podcasts get more popular, I think NPR will follow suit even more than they already have.

 

“I do think that audio storytelling (be it radio or podcast) can allow for a greater intimacy than print does. Especially when sharing personal stories of folks whose internal experience has not been given a lot of attention.  I do think the growth of podcasting is allowing for more opportunity to tell these sorts of stories.”- Tina Antolini

 

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Steven Thrasher: There is still a long way to go in reflecting the diversity of the world in the newsroom and publications’ editorial boards.  The diversity of editors, and writers, shape what stories are investigated and how they are reported.  It is important that we continue to be vigilant in promoting a more balanced and less homogeneous newsroom, so that the stories that are told are reflective of all communities.

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IV. Reflection 

Are there differences in reporting on the LGBT community between legacy news organizations and emerging news sites?

Yes and no.  

Yes in that emerging news sites have the ability to create niche section to create a shared, safe community for individuals who identify in the LGBT community.  But we heard from Reed Johnson that it is difficult to know if that is the best approach, in that separate can sometimes implicitly mean unequal.

Yes in that emerging news sites are also a product of the times.  These news sites were started after a majority of people in society had embraced the gay community.  This is no excuse for the legacy news organizations, but the emerging new sites reflect the world-view of a younger audience, and are able to reach their target audience on social media.  This also explains special correspondents that cover the LGBT community exclusively.

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No in that both have stringent and comprehensive editorial standards to cover the LGBT community.  Both have the goal of providing relevant, and truthful reporting on the community.  Both are doing commendable reporting on the community.  And both are going to continue to strive to do more.

No in that diversity is still a problem for both sets of news organizations.

V. More On Diversity 

BuzzFeed and The New York Times both admit that the lack of diversity in their newsrooms is a problem.  See the diversity reports linked below for BuzzFeed’s and The New York Time’s reports, and the organizations’  goals for the future.

BuzzFeed’s diversity report

New York Time’s diversity report

Original Infographic on Editorial Diversity in the Newsroom: https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/9973220-diversity

The graphic below demonstrates how the delta in diversity is markedly poignant in reporting on social issues.

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The biggest impediment to reporting on the LGBT community introduced in the interviews is diversity.  Diversity matters because the purpose of journalism is to inform the community that it serves.  The editors and writers choose which stories will be reported on, and how they will  be reported.  Diversity is more than just having one person reflect an entire community in a news room; diversity is about having a newsroom that has reporting that aligns with a variety of communities, including the LGBT community.  Legacy and emerging news organizations are trying to become more inclusive to reflect the communities that they serve.  For example, we heard from Steven Thrasher that there have been efforts to increase diversity, as evidenced through the editors he has been working with at BuzzFeed.  Combatting unconscious bias is harder than it may seem.  The largely homogenous news environment is often not challenged because of malicious reasons, but because it is normative.  Diversity is important for faithful and accurate reporting on the LGBT community, and in making sure all voices in society are heard.  Additionally, diversity in newsroom is of consequence for the LGBT community, because the identities within the larger umbrella LGBT community encompass many intersecting identities.  For example, an individual could identify as not only a lesbian, but also as black and cisgender.  What do these intersecting identities mean for an individual, and what are the current events around the globe that relate to this specific identity?  Increasing the diversity of the newsroom would be a good first step in working towards a future with more balanced and inclusive reporting on the LGBT community that is imbued throughout the entire news organization.

VI. Revisiting the Past, Preparing for the Future

The past is full of indicators for the future.  If we can learn from the past, we can work towards a different future.

The LGBT community was underreported in the past because of unfamiliarity and social stigma.  Our society has become much more inclusive, and both legacy and emerging news organizations have accomplished commendable reporting on the community.  But more needs to be done.  Different stories can be told, and they can be told in different ways that reflect the heterogeneous LGBT community.  A continued push for visibility and awareness of not only the marginalization of the community in the press, but also the community’s battles of housing discrimination and employment discrimination are important. Whether the reporting is in the opinion pages or in the “hard news” section, new organizations can work towards a lager goal of a diversity of reporters and editorial board members.  There is so much hope for increased and diversified reporting in the LGBT community.

Moving forward, Reed Johnson noted very astutely:

“There will be more (reporting on the LGBT community), everywhere, in every medium.”

I stated that the purpose for journalism is to inform the community that it serves, this truism bares repeating as inroads are made towards a media with more accurate and fair reporting on the LGBT community.

J. Lester Feder Journalist Profile

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J. Lester Feder is the NLGJA Journalist of the year.

The NLGJA (The Association of LGBT Journalists) honors journalists each year for their groundbreaking contributions to the community.

Currently a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News, J. covers issues surrounding LGBTQ rights across the world.

With over 407 articles written on BuzzFeed News and 29 BuzzFeed awards, J. has dedicated his time to bringing awareness to international LGBT issues that are often not covered extensively by other news organizations.  In 2012, J. took a year to visit countries to observe how gay marriage has changed the world as an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow in 2013.

It is important to note that J. has a sizable following on social media sites.  This is crucial because J. shares most of his articles on Twitter and Facebook.  J. is able to garner traction for his content to align with BuzzFeed News’s shareable quality, and simultaneously generate awareness.  BuzzFeed is an unique publication because it has a section titled LGBT, which is dedicated to reporting on rights violations, victories, and current events.

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Headlines from a selection of J.’s articles are featured below:

 

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J.’s audacious journalism is important because he continues to call attention to needs within the community.  Whether it is through traveling the world to study the the subject of same sex marriage, or through his position at BuzzFeed, he has been intrepid in his reporting.  J.’s posts serve as a way to educate a multitude of Millennials that utilize BuzzFeed News instead of legacy news organizations about the LGBTQ community in the international sphere.  His articles’ both provide ways for individuals that identify in the community, and allies, to show support through sharing the articles on social media networks, thereby exposing the reports to an even larger audience.  I strongly believe that J.’s long-form features in the LGBT section on BuzzFeed News will be shape the future of reporting on the LGBTQ community.  Through the combination of increased awareness through capitalization of social media, and the in-depth multimedia content, J. continues to bring justice to individuals that have been oppressed but have not yet had their stories told.

J.’s most recent BuzzFeed News article:

Isreali Supreme Court Rejects Family Petition to Bury Trans Woman as Their “Son”.

J.’s tweet about his article:

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J. often retweets links to articles written by other BuzzFeed News journalists in order to bring awareness to BuzzFeed News’s reporting of LGBT issues.

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J. Lester Feder’s Handles:

Twitter

Facebook

Personal Website

 

 

 

 

Photostory

The first six photos detail a Spectrum Center Community Engagement meeting to plan events on University of Michigan’s campus for Transgender Awareness Week  (November 14th-20th). The last two photos pertain to a speaker event held at the Michigan League on November 17th. Jennicet Gutierrez is a trans Latina woman, and an organizer for Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ communities.  Jennicet is a dedicated activist for both women of color and undocumented immigrants in the transgender community.

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YouTube

The introduction of YouTube has changed how individuals within the LGBTQ community can access support and information, and how society can learn more about LGBT rights through awareness campaigns produced by consumers and traditional producers alike.  Therefore, YouTube has both transformed the LGBTQ community, and the reporting on LGBTQ rights. YouTube rose to prominence in 2006, and the website and app currently has one billion unique visits per month.  The second largest search engine serves as a community where most producers are consumers who strive to support each other by building strong communities to discuss LGBTQ support services and LGBTQ rights and advocacy campaigns.

YouTube, a Google subsidiary, launched its Proud to Love video to celebrate LGBTQ awareness month and the same sex marriage victory in June 2014.  In addition, YouTube launched its Proud to Play video wherein LGBTQ athletes propagate a more inclusive environment in sports, in the hopes of encouraging athletes to be proud of their gender and sexual identities.  YouTube has cultivated an inviting space for individuals within the LGBTQ community to come together and celebrate victories while continuing to fight for equality.

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The community aspect of YouTube, while facilitated by the values of the platform itself, is curated and supported by users.  There are a multiplicity of channels that were started by individuals that identify within the LGBTQ community, and the channels are utilized as a platform to help students struggling with marginalization and discrimination.  Ingrid Nilsen has come out as gay on her channel, demonstrating her courage to share her story to help individuals in the community.  Tyler Oakley has inspired youth within the LGBTQ community to engage in campaigns such as National Coming Out Day, to encourage people to be proud of who they are.  

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The popularity of the social media video platform has engendered organizations such as the Trevor Project, which focuses on preventing suicide in the LGBTQ community, to partner with influencers like Daniel Radcliffe within the youth community, and larger corporations like Disney to spread a message of inclusion and acceptance.  

YouTube has also become a medium for reporting about LGBTQ rights.  YouTube has transformed how individuals within, and not identified within, the community learn about discrimination that the community faces.  Additionally, organizations utilize YouTube in referendum and legislation awareness, for example in encouraging citizens to vote in support of HERO.

Blogpost Assignment: Data Visualization

The Guardian’s data visualization project entitled, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights across the world” is effective because of its accessible spatial boundaries, its utilization of interactive visual tools which invite readers to go more in-depth concerning a specific country or population group, and the concise background and instructions explaining the graph and its purpose to highlight LGBT discrimination.  Firstly, the main visual is viewable on a webpage without scrolling, which adds to the accessibility of information, and the ease of understanding the information.  Secondly, the visual tools, listed later within this post, encourage readers to understand the data in visual representations.  Thirdly, the article includes a succinct introduction including the motivation behind creating the half pie chart on May 17th (to honor the International day against homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia), and the option to select a country or population group.  This is important because it allows the reader to segment the information so that they can better make sense of data in the five categories including: hate crimes, adoption rights, same-sex marriage, consensual sex, and workplace non-discrimination.  Lastly, all of the categories are collated to reveal the best and worst countries for individuals who identify within the LGBT community to live, which serves as an important conclusion from the information presented.

The Guardian’s data visualization is divergent from traditional journalism because it breaks up long-form journalism, and includes purposeful visuals to tell the global story of LGBT human rights struggles.  Importantly, readers are able to take action by sharing country statistics concerning the five rights categories.  This data project is much more amenable than long-form reports to being shared and re-posted online due to the ability for us to utilize heuristics learned in understanding and reading maps that connects with corresponding data.  Readers are also able to advocate for changing the global discrimination against individuals who identify in the LGBT community by partnering with the rights organizations that helped create the visualization.

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The visual tools present in the visualization shown below include: color-coded rights’ categories, the utilization of the gay rights symbolism of the rainbow, and the inclusion of a world map so that a readers can easily visualize where a country is located.

Data Visualization Map

I believe that one shortcoming of this data visualization is that it is not as intuitive as it could be.  The amount of data included in this project, while commendable, can be overwhelming at first for some readers.  But, I believe that the “cards” included later in the article that summarize each country’s record help in that regard.  An article by Source, also mentions The Guardian’s data visualization in reflecting on the difficulties in promoting visual literacy in an age of overwhelming amounts of data.

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