By Mark Segal (Publisher, Philadelphia Gay News)
What surprised me most at the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association annual convention in Boston last week was the concern for print media.
Granted, print media is having a hard time at present; it doesn’t know how to monetize its online material and print circulations are on the decline. So, that led me, at the last minute, to completely change my acceptance speech for my induction into the NLGJA Hall of Fame.
First, to give some perspective to audience members who didn’t know me, I detailed my activism background. Those of you who have read this column regularly know that the timeline went: Stonewall, Gay Liberation Front New York, the founding of Gay Youth, disruptions of “CBS Evening News” with Walter Cronkite … then the founding of PGN.
I first told them of our early days in which we put up with bombed vending boxes, vandals destroying our office, only having one IBM Selectric typewriter and using press type for headlines. We even had The Thunderbolt, the nation’s white supremacist magazine, put us on their hit list. No journalism organizations allowed us to join (now I sit on their boards).
Then to give them optimism, I explained that PGN now owns its own building, equipment, all our bills and taxes are paid to date and we employ a full-time staff of 14 with full benefits. That is success in print media.
Then the important part — how did we become so strong? It’s a simple formula, at least to me. A strong business department that makes the funds to hire award-winning journalists to put out not an LGBT newspaper, but the highest-quality journalistic newspaper that serves the LGBT community. It was easy to explain that. PGN is the most-awarded LGBT publication in the nation. Yes, I said that with some of the other publishers present.
Stories that readers can get only in your newspaper bring readers, so publications shouldn’t be afraid of controversy and strong opinion pieces, and allowing those who disagree with you to do so in your letters to the editor or in op-ed pieces. But the most important is investigative reporting. Here I recalled Tim Cwiek’s 10-year saga on the Nizah Morris case, which prompted a new report by the city’s Police Advisory Commission, and rule changes at the Philadelphia Police Department. No other paper that I know of would put the resources into such a story for so long.
Hard news and features keep you relevant. We were out front on the Boy Scouts and the city’s decade-long battle with that group began in our pages, while we also covered the dangers of pumping parties, requesting a reporter to spend a night on the streets with homeless gay youth.
Media has changed and print must embrace and innovate. I explained that we have partnerships with philly.com and Philadelphia Business Journal, the first such partnership in the nation. Our work with the Philadelphia Multi-Cultural News Network, which not only allows PGN to work with a full range of diverse publications but has helped more than 20 newspapers, making Philly a vibrant, diversified newspaper city.
I had much more I could have added, but my time limit was running out. My desire was to bring new ideas and optimism, and I believe I succeeded.