Sarah Pettit‘s life was cut short in 2003 by lymphoma, but her work as a senior editor at Newsweek and a pioneer in gay media had a lasting impact. Pettit’s emergence as a groundbreaking journalist began in 1989, when she became the arts editor for the now-defunct OutWeek, a New York gay and lesbian weekly that stirred national debates about ACT UP, gay rights activism and “outing” public figures.
In 1992, she and Michael Goff created Out magazine, the nation’s first lifestyle magazine targeted to gay men and lesbians. After Goff left in 1996, Pettit was named editor-in-chief and continued in that role until 1998.
In 1999, Pettit became the arts and entertainment editor for Newsweek magazine, a post she held until she became ill in the spring of 2002. In an e-mail memo to fellow staff, Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker and Executive Editor Dorothy Kalins praised Pettit’s contributions to the magazine.
“As our Arts Editor for the past four years, she pushed to make our coverage of books, art and architecture more sophisticated and provocative, and at the same time to give more serious and timely coverage to pop music, movies and television,” the editors wrote.
Michael Goff, who counted Pettit as one of his closest friends, said her transition to Newsweek exemplified one of the qualities he most admired in her: the ability to change her world view without changing what she stood for.
“We’ll never know where this incredible evolution might have taken her,” he said.
Steven Petrow, former NLGJA president, called Pettit “one of the most influential gay journalists of our time.”
“When she spoke, as she often did on gay rights issues and journalism issues,” Petrow said, “she did so with an intellectual rigor and passion that was persuasive to anyone within earshot.