Tracy Baim is the editor of a remarkable new book that should grab you, given the fact that you are reading this review in a gay newspaper or on a gay website. Gay Press, Gay Power – The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America is a fascinating and perceptive account of the history of gay news.
This sumptuous book, with 485 images, is divided into five parts including a history of the discrimination that gave birth to gay and lesbian publications, a series of essays by journalists in the gay trenches, the histories of ten gay publications in ten major cities, a study of the business side of gay publishing and a debate about the value of gay press in the online world of social media. The book is enlivened by the inclusion of some controversial voices and opinions. (Who doesn’t relish Yasmin Nair?)
Given the current nervous predictions about the health of gay media and the mainstreaming of gay writing, Baim, who is the publisher of Chicago’s gay paper Windy City Times and the author of several books about gay culture, is convincing in her optimistic assessment.
“There will never be a dearth of stories for us to do. There is always going to be more news for a particular community than can be had in a generalized newspaper. I feel very strongly that there will continue to be a need for the gay press. The challenge is for us to do a better job of it. Stonewall was a gay media game changer because it occurred in a moment of game changing overall. So much was happening all around it. The press was becoming more egalitarian overall. 1969 is a pivot point for the country,” Baim said.
“There was a ‘setting straight of the record’ energy in the early days of the gay press. It was all about representation and making sure that we were heard and seen. The straight media forced the formation of the gay press just like they forced the need of an African-American press because they stereotyped or ignored blacks and gays.”
When I wondered if the New York Times’ featuring of the gay voices of Frank Bruni and Steve Petrow might be the kind of mainstreaming that will kill the gay press, Baim said, “It validates what we have been doing. It validates the LGBT voice that has been going on for years. Yes, it’s terrific that a paper that just 30 years ago couldn’t bring itself to use the word ‘gay’ now features out gay columnists, but people like me will always love working in the alternative media.”
Gay Press, Gay Power is well balanced and frank in its presentation of both history and the exploration of the paperless future of gay words. Baim sees this terrain clearly and her presentation is honest.
“We should be wary of online writing. My worry about the web is the less-than-archival nature of that writing,” she said. “The problem with individual websites is that they can disappear from view.”
When I asked Baim how she felt about the standards used by online gay writers and venues, she diplomatically and correctly said that she would not want to generalize.
She agreed that the youngest gay readers have different expectations and will not be sentimental about losing the feel of paper between their fingers as they turn pages.
“The good sign is that there is an increase in shared gay news because of social media like Facebook and Twitter,” she said. “Windy City Times has more readers online than we do in print.”
About the dire financial realities of gay publishing, Baim said, “I don’t really have an answer about how money and the lack of it will work in the future. I wanted the book to make a case for looking for creative solutions. We are going to be where readers want us to be. I am not sure where that will be in terms of print five years from now.”
Call me old school, but I received the review copy of Gay Press, Gay Power as a PDF attached to an email. This is really the kind of delicious book I’d like to hold in my hands, keep on a shelf, or read in bed by the light that annoys my husband when he is trying to sleep.