Sunday, March 27, 2016

Frontiers news editor Karen Ocamb laid off by new owners

by Chuck Colbert

Frontiers Magazine news editor and veteran journalist Karen Ocamb broke the story in a Feb. 25 Facebook posting:

“I was just laid off as news editor of Frontiers Magazine and FrontiersMedia.com. The company, Multimedia Platforms Worldwide, is making major changes to the magazine and is building a new website — all of which will be announced later.

“I have never been laid off before so even saying, ‘laid off,’ feels odd. I started my career in the gay press after meeting Frontiers founder Bob Craig in 1988. My first piece for the magazine was about ACT UP storming the FDA and the simultaneous protests here in Los Angeles. It has been an honor and privilege to have covered the HIV/AIDS and LGBT movement since then.”

Bobby Blair, chief executive officer of Multimedia Platforms Worldwide, which also owns New York’s Next magazine, FunMaps, Guy magazine, and Florida Agenda, said the company "found $1.1 million of efficiencies" across the companies, primarily by "reducing print staff." He added that at the same time, the company has created a new website, www.wirld.com, with content focus on Millennials.

"Unfortunately, Karen fell where we realized we were moving toward a digital and Millennial audience, and we wanted to give the generation of Millennials a real shot at creating our content," said Blair.

He added, "Karen did an incredible job and is very much missed. We would like to use her services in the future from time to time, if she would like to."

Karen Ocamb, former news editor
of Frontiers in Los Angeles
In an email interview, Ocamb elaborated on the dismissal. Asked how much a surprise this was for her, she said, “About two weeks before I was terminated, there were rumors that I was on a list to be let go. But since no one from the company had raised that as a possibility, I set it aside and did my work.

“News had always been an anchor for the magazine, no matter how many changes Frontiers went through over the years. But I had my suspicions about how I might fit in. So when I was called in from vacation for a five-minute meeting, I was pretty sure I knew what would happen. Nonetheless, as intellectually prepared as I might have been, there’s still a toll letting go of my long career of community service through Frontiers,” said Ocamb.

Asked if she had any future employment prospects, she said, “I do not have anything lined up yet. I have applied for a consultant position with the National AIDS Monument and the City of West Hollywood that would be a perfect fit, since the reason I got into gay journalism in the first place in 1988 was because I had so many friends dying and I thought reporting would be a contribution I could make to the movement. I have been lucky enough to have a number of editors suggest I pitch them for freelance work, which I am thinking about. I’m already a news junkie in withdrawal, watching CNN and MSNBC nonstop with no place to post. But I’m taking a break first.”

Ocamb also discussed her career with Frontiers:

“My first story for Frontiers was in October 1988 when ACT UP stormed the FDA and I covered the ACT UP protesters who called for parallel tracking of experimental AIDS drugs. I came from a mainstream journalism background so I got a crash course in advocacy journalism and the delicate balance I had to maintain between reporting on people who became friends through other venues such as my 12 Step program. Even the appearance of a conflict of interest could cloud my reputation and soil my goal of delivering reliable news. I determined to never hang out with any of the people I covered, with the one exception for a period of time of attending church and having Sunday brunch with HIV-positive attorney John Duran, with whom I challenged rabidly anti-gay Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. I have tried to honestly and fairly report on the spectrum of the LGBT community, from ultra-conservative, pro-life Log Cabin Republicans to ultra-liberal Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I’ve had my share of death threats and angry critics — but I also had the great honor of covering the AIDS crisis. I tried my best to measure up to what I felt was a spiritual obligation to report both the truth and give dignity to people as they were dying.” 

Ocamb also discussed what her being laid off means for LGBT journalists in gay media in the context of the trend away from hard news reporting towards entertainment and lifestyle reporting.

“I’m an old-school journalist so it’s odd to have become a story,” she said. “However, I do recognize that my longevity and my institutional memory suggest that I might bring something unique and valuable to LGBT journalism. Nonetheless, no one is indispensable. I see my being laid off as a purely financial business decision, no matter what direction the new owners may choose. I think the kind of in-depth reporting I do changed fundamentally with confessional blogging, citizen journalism and short-attention-span tweeting of the news. In that glutted context, media outlets — LGBT and straight — are trying to get eyeballs, clicks, buzz in any way they can. I have been encouraged to see some trending back toward long form journalism — but who knows. It’s a rapidly changing media environment.” 

And yet, Ocamb said, it is important to have LGBT reporters covering “our community” in gay media.

“We discovered the importance of covering our own community long ago, when Lisa Ben published an underground newsletter in 1947 called ‘Vice Versa’ to let lesbians in Los Angeles know where to go, and when Mattachine folks at ONE Institute published ONE Magazine in the 1950s that tackled issues that no one else dared speak about, including homosexual marriage. ONE Magazine boldly pressed a lawsuit against the U.S. Post Office that resulted in a lawsuit and a Supreme Court decision that helped pave the way for the sexual revolution in America,” she explained. “But we are still either invisible or controversial or special to the mainstream media, no matter how integrated and acculturated we become. I recently reported on the San Diego police shooting of a gay man and another gay man’s civil rights lawsuit against the San Diego police that suggest that there could be a virtual ‘God squad’ within the department. Mainstream media has not connected the dots, nor seen anything [extraordinary] about either story. 

“However, we see the nuances, the backstory, and the holistic context that comes with being second-class citizens still fighting for equality. Sometimes, when you are blissfully engrossed in being privileged, you don’t know what you don’t know. Or care. But we must. We report on the scope of our very existence.”

LGBT editors and others praised Ocamb’s work.

“Wow, what a loss for [Frontiers],” said Cynthia Laird, news editor of Bay Area Reporter, on Facebook

“New management always thinks they can ‘improve’ the company, ... usually by making huge mistakes like this,” said Chris Cash, managing partner of Georgia Voice. “And I mean HUGE.”

Washington Blade International News Editor Michael K. Lavers offered his perspective.

“Karen has truly paved the way for those of us who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work in LGBT media,” he said in email correspondence. “I very much appreciate the friendship and the guidance and support she has shown to me throughout my career. I only wish her the very best, and I very much look forward to learning more about her next steps."

David Badash, founder and managing editor of The New Civil Rights Project, offered his thoughts.

“LGBT media is simply following most mainstream media in downsizing staff and gutting budgets so that for too many outlets, who once served as the tribal drum of their community, the only hires are at-home freelancers and the main editorial seems to be infotainment and listicles,” he said in email correspondence. “I don't mean everyone is caving in, but some heavy hitters are. Forget even the prospect of investigative pieces, because they require time and budgets that are beyond the reach of most strapped LGBT media outlets.”

Bob Witeck, chief operating officer and founder of Witeck Communications, said, “I know from experience that Karen embodies everything it means to be a master journalist — her extraordinary attention to detail, a Rolodex equal to none, and a perspective drawn on decades of reporting on our lives and times.”

Mike Rogers, co-owner of RawStory.com, offered his thoughts. “I'm adding my voice to the group of folks above who are not only concerned about what this means for [Southern California] reporting, but also for those who have come to depend on her reports from California to the rest of the country. Since we first met in 2008, I've been a huge fan,” he said.

Jay Blotcher of Public Impact Media Consultants, said in email correspondence, “Allow me to add to the deserved pile of bouquets regarding her dazzling career — and the outrage over Ocamb’s unjust dismissal from Frontiers. This would suggest that yet another LGBT media outlet has decided to jettison real news and focus solely on infotainment. Her separation is a terrible business decision that diminishes the entire LGBT media landscape. Let me be clear — infotainment is different from entertainment. Infotainment may include a speck of news, but it is wrapped in a lot of glitz and dazzle. It accentuates photos and brief items, rather than bona fide reporting.”

TOP STORY
Volume 17
Issue 12

4 comments:

  1. When you're young, you're too inexperienced for jobs, OR you don't have the necessary education. When you have BOTH the education AND the experience, possibly some wisdom and intelligence to go along with it, you're just too damned old, because now the uneducated, inexperienced can be hired off the street for a dime a dozen. Never mind that they're untrained and totally inefficient since they've never worked before...they're CHEAP. Never mind that the experienced and educated can do the job less expensively with their efficiency gained by their experience and APPLIED education. The pattern has been here ever since CPAs and accountants have taken over the leadership of companies as the CEOs. All they are able to see is the bottom line, not the cost, in terms of humanity, quality not even eventual dollars and cents, of getting there.

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  2. P.S. Ms. Ocamb can always go to work for Walmart and/or work as a night auditor for inexpensive motels. That's what I did and only had to learn to live on $6.50 per hour with no benefits instead of $50.00 per hour with full benefits. That's not bad, now is it?

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  3. Laying off one of the most respected journalists reporting on LGBT issues so millennials can create content for one another is like booting out Picasso so that his students can run the studio. Such a typical move for today's money-grubbing media owners. They take over a respected media property, gut its staff, and still expect to make money hand over fist. It hasn't worked anywhere else, I doubt it will here either. It seems this amounts to one more reason not to rely on the LGBT infotainment for actual news and analysis. What I wish for Karen is a nice reporting job covering her beat for a major media outlet that will understand and value all she offers them--and their readers. We always hear that the LGBT leadership "cannibalize" one another and drive away perfectly good, competent people. I'd put this in that category.

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  4. I just read this. A big loss for Frontiers. Karen is the best.

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