The other day, I was waiting to see one of my dentists (yes, I’m at the point where I have lots of dental professionals) and I picked up a copy of The Advocate sitting in the magazine rack. While I read the magazine’s website, it had been awhile since I’d actually seen the magazine. I was struck by two things: (1) how really thin it was and (2) what a really great magazine it is to look at and read.
As a college student in the early 1980s, I used to go to a headshop in Columbia, Missouri and buy the Advocate. For a kid in the closet, the magazine provided a view to the gay life that was I so curious about. It’s where I first learned about AIDS, about the gay civil rights movement during the 1980s, about LGBT literature, and about a coterie of writers and activists who would influence the next few decades.
So the news of continuing problems at Regent Media, which owns the Advocate and Out are troubling both from a journalism perspective and to the larger LGBT community. Big banks are alleging the company bilked the banks for $90 million by cooking the books relating to Regent’s film business. The company, which also owns Here! television, is the biggest player in LGBT media even after gutting most of its adult titles and the fall of Alyson Publishing.
Given the company’s reputation for not paying freelancers and angering employees, the blogs have been full of schadenfreude-laced stories noting the problems at the beleaguered company. But underneath the chatter is a larger question about the fate of the two largest national LGBT magazines. While Out and the Advocate have been rescued from the ruins before, that was in a very different media climate.
Listen, I know the criticisms of the magazines. Too celebrity focused, too much skin, too much emphasis on white gay men, too many straight people on the cover. I’ve read the criticisms of The Advocate’s columnists being too conservative and inappropriate. I mean, would any other venerable magazine turn over its columns to a porn producer pushing his anti-Muslim/pro-Israel agenda?
But national magazines are important. They are places where long-form journalism can still take place. Take a look at Andrew Harmon’s profile of Ted Haggard and you understand how rare those kinds of stories are in the LGBT press. Or take Obama’s first interview with the LGBT press. There’s a reason the White House chose the Advocate. Or even look at the Power lists created by Out, which makes news and pushes the boundaries of who we consider “gay” (although, in a sign of the problems at Regent, the famous Michael Musto “Glass Closets” article can’t be accessed). They are also beautiful magazines to look at, with award-winning designs and covers.
Now, I love local LGBT newspapers a lot. And I can’t get enough of LGBT-focused blogs and online journalism. But, for me, they still don’t have the significance of national magazines that moved from headshops in college towns to Barnes & Noble. Having a national voice–and platform–for LGBT media is important, even as the coverage of LGBT lives has increased in the traditional media.
So I’m not ready to dance on Regent Media’s grave quite yet and I don’t take any joy in the problems at The Advocate and Out. They are part of our media history and we should be fighting to keep them alive.