Tweet This, Facebook That: When LGBT niche publications embrace social media

LGBT niche publications have provided us with the news we need for decades. Now, they’re in danger–if they keep up their old media ways.

virtualequality I just started  reading Urvashi Vaid’s groundbreaking and still relevant book Virtual Equality (1996), which mentions the Gay Community News on the first page. I’d never heard of this newspaper, and wondered if it was still around. So I Googled it—how else does one find information in our hyper-networked culture—and found its Wikipedia page—the only other source for “true” information. According to the Wikipedia page, the Gay Community News was “an important resource for the LGBT community,” run out of Boston from 1973-1992. It closed down way before the old media vs. new media debate began, though its casualty was not the first.

As someone who believes in both journalistic integrity and  new media, I think about how LGBT print publications to exist alongside online publications and blogs. In the Chicago LGBT media landscape, the community recognizes publications like the Windy City Times, Chicago Free Press and Gay Chicago Magazine as established, important resources. Then we have the national, online publications including AfterEllen, Queerty and EDGE Publications, and blogs like Towleroad, Pam’s House Blend and Breeder’s Digest. Sites like Queerosphere, a community-moderated and edited site featuring LGBTQ news, blogs, articles, videos and links, aggregates this news and lets users vote it up or down in a similar way to Digg. How can these old and new media resources work together to keep as much relevant LGBT news coming to readers?

Press Pass Q, a newsletter and trade publication for the LGBT Media Professional, recently published a re-cap of the National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association (NLGJA), which took place in Montréal from Sept. 10-13, 2009. I received this link courtesy of  widely syndicated gay journalist Rex Wockner, and this excerpt stuck out to me, specifically as it relates to the old media vs. new media debate:

“A lively exchange followed, one that underscored a tension within the professional association of NLGJA, between “old” media, or traditional LGBT journalists, and “new” media, the bloggers and citizen journalists who are sometimes viewed within the association more as political activists than practitioners of the craft of journalism.”

The newsletter goes on to discuss ways that LGBT organizations are trying to reach bloggers more than newspapers and magazines:

“Web-based LGBT radio broadcasting, combined with social media networking, also challenges print media, Rogers said. “The Michelangelo Signorile Show’ [on SiriusXM Satellite Radio] reaches more people in San Francisco in a 40-minute period via Twitter and Facebook than [traditional LGBT media]. That’s why HRC is pushing stories online and working with Pam Spaulding,” who is the editor and publisher of Pam’s House Blend, an interactive blog that has garnered honors as “best LGBT blog” by the 2005 and 2006 Weblog Awards. “Again,” Rogers questioned, “are newspapers the most effective way to move the message?”

Is this the end of niche LGBT newspapers and magazines? No, it’s not. These publications just have to quickly learn how they can reach those online users in a shorter amount of time— and how to make money off of them. Everyone, including LGBT people, are spending more time online, and on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

So how do LGBT publications reach these wired users? By going to the social networks where they get their news, learning about their reading habits, and talking with them directly about what they want to see. This is how Craigslist.org, the site on which the entire newspaper industry blames their downfall, became what it is today. (Advertisers stopped paying for classifieds ads in newspapers because they realized they could do this for free on Craigslist, hence the decline of classified advertising.) In this Wired magazine article, Craig Newmark of Craigslist.org explains his obsessive customer service habits. This is step one for what LGBT niche should consider doing—that and getting into Twitter and Facebook, and even hiring a social media editor, as the BBC just did.

If the “old media” publications can learn to do this, I think new and old media will find a happy balance.