Tuesday, April 14, 2020

TRANSITIONS AND MILESTONES

(What's happening at your publication? Let us know. Email editor Fred Kuhr at editor@presspassq.com)

THE CENTRAL VOICE, based in Middletown, Penn., has entered into a content sharing agreement with the PENNSYLVANIA CAPITAL-STAR, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news site covering state politics, government and policy, which in turn is part of THE NEWSROOM, which oversees similar bureaus in 11 other states and Washington, D.C.
Dean Wrzeszcz

METROSOURCE, based in Long Beach, Calif., marked its 30th anniversary in its February/March 2020 issue. It was also MICHAEL WESTMAN’s first issue as editor in chief.

OUT & ABOUT NASHVILLE, based in Nashville, Tenn., entered its 20th year of publication with its January 2020 issue.

PRESS PASS Q, the only trade publication for professionals working in LGBTQ media, enters its 22nd year of publication with its April 2020 issue.

DEAN WRZESZCZ, a former copy editor and contributor at New York City-based GAY CITY NEWS, passed away on April 3, 2020, from COVID-19. He was 62.

TRANSITIONS AND MILESTONES
Volume 22
Issue 1

Media outlets persevere amid COVID-19 crisis

by Joe Siegel

LGBTQ media across the country are struggling to meet the needs of their readers in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Many have cut back on entertainment and nightlife coverage and have asked staff members to work from home if possible.

Stay-at-home measures have also forced some outlets to innovate in how they reach readers. For one, Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, has launched a daily broadcast on Facebook Live to address the crisis.
Washington Blade

“We in the LGBT community have had to deal with an epidemic before without any support from the government or society,” Segal wrote on March 24. “At that time, it was LGBT media that did the job of informing people and getting them to protect themselves. The difference now is that this health crisis is one that the entire nation is going through, and therefore people do not feel ashamed to talk about it. Through a crisis, we get stronger. Now is a time to talk and bond with your friends, family and co-workers. It’s also a time to be responsible. We’ll all get through this and life will continue, but before that happens, we have a job to do: keep our community informed.”

Sam Martino, editor in chief of Trenton-based Out in Jersey, along with publisher Peter Frycki, posted a message to subscribers on March 27.

COVID-19 is a very serious threat. This is an extraordinary, fast-moving situation, and we appreciate your patience,” they wrote. “By far the hardest part of 'social distancing' is not being able to take part in the communal activities we as an LGBTQ community value most. We will have to postpone some laughter and good times as a community. Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones during this difficult time.”

Also on March 27, the Dallas Voice published a scathing critique of the way the Trump administration has been handling the pandemic.

GoGuide
“The federal government’s response to COVID-19 has been abysmal, in large part because we don’t have a real president,” wrote commentator D’Anne Witkowski. “We have Trump. And this reality show is way too real for him. If only he could shout, ‘You’re fired,’ at COVID-19.”

New York City’s Gay City News published a list of which health services were open or closed for the LGBTQ community.

The coronavirus crisis has brought much of society to a screeching halt, but many organizations will continue to provide the essential services that are necessary for LGBTQ communities in New York City and the surrounding region,” wrote Matt Tracy on March 20.

The April issue of Iowa City’s Go Guide was to be devoted to covering the pandemic. “So many in the medical profession are swamped,” explained publisher Tim Nedoba. “I'm working with local and county public health officials to get out the most accurate information possible.”

Florida has seen a tremendous uptick in COVID-19 cases, which has had a huge impact on the coverage LGBTQ publications provide for readers.

Wilton Manors-based South Florida Gay News has slashed its entertainment, lifestyles, and features coverage as a result of events being cancelled.

“It’s definitely hurt our ad revenue and the longer this continues the more we will lose,” said associate publisher Jason Parsley. “We drastically cut our page count — last week 28 pages, this week 24. Normally we’re 40-60 (pages). We’ve eliminated our weekly events calendar and scaled back our non-local coverage in print. We used to also have many weekly photo galleries featuring local events. Obviously that’s all stopped as well.”

South Florida Gay News
In a message to readers of Livonia, Mich.-based Between The Lines, co-publishers Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz assured readers that their coverage would continue.

“We remain committed to publishing and using all our resources — print and digital — to connect our community to the needs and resources available, and to provide some level of comfort through connectivity,” they wrote in the March 19 issue. “Fear can be paralyzing. Empathy, love, caring and support can and does mitigate some of that fear.”

The Dallas Voice offered some solace to their readers by running a column entitled, “Dealing with the trauma of quarantine.”

“I want everyone to come out of this ok, but I also want us to learn how to be our brothers’ keepers, too,” wrote contributing columnist Sandra Kelley. “Right now, despite the stress and the trauma, we have an opportunity to build the kind of world we want to live in. I know it is hard, sometimes, to see the bigger picture when what is right in front of you is so scary. But there is a bigger picture, and we have the chance to make it a better picture. Like the caterpillar coming out of its cocoon into a new world, we have the chance to emerge from the cocoon of COVID-19 quarantines into a new and better world, too.”

TOP STORY
Volume 22
Issue 1

COVID-19 and AIDS: A tale of two pandemics

by Joe Siegel

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a large toll on the United States in the last month. To date, there are over a half million people suffering from COVID-19 and more than 22,000 deaths. Worldwide, as of this writing, there have been over 1.9 million people reported with COVID-19 and over 116,000 deaths.

Many are comparing certain aspects of this current pandemic to that of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. According to the World Health Organization, 32 million people have died of AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic out of the 74.9 million who have been infected. 770,000 died from the disease in 2018.

Emmy Award-winning journalist Hank Plante, one of the first openly gay television reporters in the country, covered the AIDS epidemic on a regular basis.

In an interview with Press Pass Q, Plante noted individuals with COVID-19 are not being vilified the way gay men with AIDS were in the 1980s.

Hank Plante
“People with the coronavirus are being met with sympathy, but generally no one cared about people with AIDS except for gays and lesbians, a few politicians, and some — but not all — health care workers,” Plante said.  “Today, of course, everyone cares about this new disease because everyone’s health is on the line, and it affects more than just marginalized groups like we were.”

Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, offered a similar take. “We were made to feel ashamed. It was the gay disease, very different than today. The major similarity is the incompetence of our government to deal with it early.”

“The biggest difference is the urgency I suppose,” added Troy Masters, editor and publisher of the Los Angeles Blade. “It was our crisis alone, we were pariahs, abused and largely ignored until the tide turned due to the efforts of activism. With COVID-19, the outbreak was not specific to any one group of people and the urgency has been breathtaking.”

Masters sees some similarities regarding which medications are being proposed to treat COVID-19.

“Trump's promotion of hydroxychloroquine reminds me of the desperate use of AZT, the first drug that showed anecdotal evidence but turned out to be poison,” Masters said. “From that experience and because there was a lack of drugs and a very slow development process, ACT-UP formed to in part urge a quicker path to approvals for drugs that showed better efficacy but did not embrace every drug that came along regardless of efficacy.  Both TAG (treatment activists group) within ACT-UP and many of the actions taken by ACT-UP itself were deeply data-driven and opposed by many of the drug companies and agencies, leaders and community members that blocked progress.”

During the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, added Segal, “The only information we could get was what LGBT media gave us. LGBT media was our lifeline. Today, every form of media is getting information out.”  

Plante also noted the difference between news coverage now and then. “The news coverage is quite different today in that it is ubiquitous. Very few of us in the mainstream media were covering AIDS in the beginning.  President Trump talks about the coronavirus everyday, but that's because he sees it as a public relations battle and a re-election threat. President Reagan, on the other hand, never said the word ‘AIDS' until five years into the epidemic.”

Plante also pointed out that in the 1980s Dr. Anthony Fauci, now the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “was and is the voice of scientific reason.”

“Nancy Pelosi was a new member of Congress in 1986 and made her top priority dealing with AIDS in her San Francisco district,” Plante added. “Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was then-mayor of San Francisco, had an AIDS budget for her city that was bigger than Reagan's AIDS budget was for the entire nation. And healthcare workers are once again risking their lives to save their patients from a mysterious virus that appeared suddenly, and whose end we can't foresee.”

SIDEBAR
Volume 22
Issue 1

Washington Blade contributor from Cuba released by ICE

by Fred Kuhr

Yariel Valdés González, the Washington Blade contributor from Cuba who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for a year, has finally won asylum in the United States. He was released from ICE custody in Ferriday, La., on March 4, 2020.

Blade International News Editor Michael K. Lavers picked González up from the River Correctional Center, a privately run detention center in Louisiana. A day later, Lavers and González flew to Miami so that he could be reunited with his aunt and uncle. He now lives with them in the Miami suburb of Cutler Bay.

Yariel Valdés González
“I really feel that I am alive now,” González, 29, told Lavers in the Blade. “It is a wonderful feeling to feel free and to be able to take control of your life and above all knowing that you will not be persecuted again because of your ideas or your work.”

González entered the U.S. on March 27, 2019, through the Calexico West Port of Entry from Mexico. He requested asylum based on the fact that he was persecuted in Cuba as a journalist. That led him on a long and winding road, being bounced from detention centers in California, Mississippi and Louisiana. He was actually granted asylum last September, but that ruling was appealed.

While in detention, González interviewed other LGBTQ asylum seekers he met and documented the conditions inside ICE facilities. He told the Blade, for example, that his hands, legs and waist were shackled every time he was transported by ICE. He also said he and others were often subjected to “racist and xenophobic abuse,” and that detainees who fall ill are placed in solitary confinement.

But now, González wants to move forward and leave the past behind him. “The only thing I want to do now is to start over again from scratch,” he told the Blade, “getting rid of everything negative in my life in order to focus on my new future and on all of the opportunities that I have in this country with the support of the thousands of people who have shown their love and solidarity with me.”

IN THE NEWS
Volume 22
Issue 1

The role we play in the pandemic

by Mark Segal
(Mark Segal is the publisher of Philadelphia Gay News. This column originally appeared in PGN. It is reprinted here with permission.)

We are LGBT media. We were the lifeline during HIV/AIDS, and we will be there for our community now. Here’s how we at PGN are dealing with it. 

Mark Segal
We had a meeting with staff at PGN, and we have a plan which staff helped create, and I used to create company policy. Bottom line, the best thing we can do for our community and our own peace of mind is to use precaution, don’t overreact and continue life as best as possible. And being in open communication with others is key, along with having proper information from professional news organizations, not random websites, or people pushing any agenda other than public safety.

I am very proud of our profession. TV news is going on, as usual, getting information to the public; daily newspapers and wire services are doing their part. Rex Wockner, who many of us in LGBT media read, is continuing to get information about the virus to our community. We will do so proudly as well. Here’s an example of how we are doing that — by keeping in contact and letting all know what each is doing. Transparency is the best thing to do at this point.

Every single department at PGN is doing her/his/their part to get you the news you need as this health emergency continues. I am a PROUD publisher as I witness our staff assure that this paper gets to your hands or eyes.

We in the LGBT community have had to deal with an epidemic before without any support from the government or society. At that time, it was LGBT media that did the job of informing people and getting them to protect themselves. The difference now is that this health crisis is one that the entire nation is going through, and therefore people do not feel ashamed to talk about it. That is good since communication is the best we can all do to normalize a situation that will ultimately become worse before it gets better. 

We are the adults in the room and need to tell our communities how this is affecting them and what they should responsibly do. We also must give the most current and accurate information that we know. Thus far, we know that those with compromised immune systems need to take extra precautions, including people with underlying health issues like heart conditions and high blood pressure and respiratory issues. Let’s also remember those with HIV/AIDS, and, of course, our seniors need us. The best we can all do — and those of us in the news business know it’s a priority — is to get and give proper information. And we do know the procedure, and we know who this hits. 

Through a crisis, we get stronger. Now is a time to talk and bond with your friends, family and co-workers. It’s also a time to be responsible. We’ll all get through this and life will continue, but before that happens, we have a job to do: Keep our community informed.

GUEST COMMENTARY
Volume 22
Issue 1

Our mission continues amid crisis

by Kevin Naff
(Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. This editorial originally appeared in the newspaper’s March 26, 2020, issue and is reprinted here with permission.)

Despite the economic chaos and uncertainty unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Blade staff continues to work hard bringing our readers the local, national, and international news needed to navigate this crisis.

Kevin Naff
On March 24, the White House pool report for the world’s press was written by the Blade’s Chris Johnson, who spent the day shadowing President Trump, even as Trump continues his reckless attacks on journalists.

Our own Lou Chibbaro Jr. is working hard to cover the virus’ impact on D.C., just as he covered the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. And Michael K. Lavers is interviewing LGBTQ activists around the world, including in hard-hit Spain, to assess the unique impacts on our community overseas.

Sure, we’re all in this together, but the LGBTQ community suffers unique challenges. Our elders are more likely to live alone and suffer from isolation and depression; our youth are more likely to be homeless and thus susceptible to the disease; we are disproportionately entrepreneurial, putting many of our businesses in jeopardy; the HIV-positive among us are more susceptible to infection; LGBTQ and HIV-positive migrants face considerable risk. We’re working to cover all of these stories and more impacting the LGBTQ community.

Small businesses, including the Blade, are particularly vulnerable right now, as the government ponders massive bailouts for undeserving cruise lines and airlines, while tossing crumbs at small businesses, the backbone of the United States economy. If you are in a position to donate to support our work, please visit bladefoundation.org.

Indeed, as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garrcetti told the Los Angeles Blade’s Karen Ocamb, “This community has been through tougher days than this and the most important thing is to not only be resilient but to be calm. … 
The overwhelming majority of people are going to not only make it through this but we will come back, but we can be leaders.”

He’s right. When the world turned its back during the height of the AIDS crisis, it was LGBTQ activists who led the way, fought for new drugs, held the government accountable, and shamed religious and political leaders into action.

We must take up that role again today, telling the truth about President Trump’s irresponsible and dangerous approach to the coronavirus. He uses the power of the bully pulpit to spout misinformation that proved fatal to one man who ingested chloroquine based on Trump’s ill-informed recommendation. Worse, Trump ignored warnings in his security briefings about COVID-19 for weeks in January and February, costing us precious time that has led to the deaths of more than 22,000 Americans. The final toll will be far higher and likely more than the death toll of our deadliest war, the Civil War, which claimed roughly 750,000 American lives.

He talks about being a “war-time president,” yet refuses to invoke the Defense Production Act to procure desperately needed personal protective equipment for hospital staff and first responders. His failure to supply adequate tests for the virus is an inexcusable dereliction of duty. We are seeing the full scope of what it means to elect a realty TV show host with no government experience to run the country. We can only hope the latest polls showing Joe Biden with a landslide-scale lead hold up.

In the meantime, stay safe and off the streets and practice social distancing. The Blade will publish in print as long as is feasible as well as online.

Most importantly, don’t panic. We’ve survived a pandemic before and will persevere again.

GUEST COMMENTARY
Volume 22
Issue 1

Pressing Questions: Watermark of Orlando, Florida

Interview with Publisher and Editor Rick Claggett
by Joe Siegel

Geographic coverage area: Central Florida and Tampa Bay, including Daytona Beach, Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota.

Year founded: Watermark Media was founded by Tom Dyer in 1994. In 2016, the paper was sold to Watermark Publishing Group owner and longtime Watermark employee Rick Claggett.

Staff size and breakdown: A staff of 7, including Central Florida bureau chief, Tampa Bay bureau chief, business manager, art designer, sales director and two senior account managers.

Physical dimensions of publication: Just under tabloid size, measuring 10.25" wide by 11.5" high.

Average page count: 56 pages, ranging from 48 to 72.

Key demographics: 26 to 64 years of age with a mean income of $90,000.

Print run: Up to 20,000 copies depending on the issue.

Web site: www.watermarkonline.com

*****

PPQ: What feature or features of Watermark have been the most popular with readers?

Publisher and Editor Rick Claggett: In each issue of Watermark, we have what we call the In Depth section. In this we find stories of national appeal and talk about how this concept affects our local community. Our feature on those who seek to contract HIV on purpose has been the most popular of these and continues in popularity years later. We also feature an LGBTQ wedding in each edition under the heading Wedding Bells, which proves to be popular as well.
Rick Claggett

PPQ: Who came up with the name and what is the inspiration for it?

Claggett: Tom Dyer named the paper Watermark when he began it in 1994. His idea was that the newspaper should represent the community as an exemplary business, something that identified the community, as a watermark on a sheet of paper would.

PPQ: What challenge has your publication had to overcome since its 
inception? 

Claggett: In the beginning, Watermark's biggest challenges were visibility and acceptance. With those two obstacles came the third, sustainability. 

PPQ: What challenge or challenges is Watermark facing now?
Claggett: At times it feels the challenges we face now are opposite of those we faced in the beginning. With an abundance of acceptance in our areas, we have to be creative to stay relevant in a social media world while navigating a biweekly publication. Time is the biggest challenge.

PPQ: How has Watermark changed since it was first launched?

Claggett: Aside from the physical, what's changed most is how we deliver our purpose. Watermark's purpose at its inception was to build a level of communication that did not exist. It was to inform and build community. While we still do that, the manner in which we do has expanded to include multiple products and events.

PPQ: What one change would you like to make?

Claggett: I would like to see Watermark have the resources to expand into communities that are currently undeserved.  

PPQ: What has been the biggest news story or stories Watermark  has 
covered?

Claggett: The most impactful stories we have written would be those surrounding the tragedy at Pulse. Since this happened in our hometown, it was important for us to handle every story with respect to the community we serve. One of our prouder features came in the form of a View Point column from Hillary Clinton, written specifically for our publication.

PPQ: On the Kinsey Scale of 0-6 (exclusively straight to totally gay), 
how gay is your publication?

Claggett: 4. Although we always look for the gay angle, we feature many allies. 

PPQ: Do you see yourself as an activist journalist? If so, in what 
way? 

Claggett: Watermark definitely falls under activism. We cover the LGBTQ community, and by that very nature we are activists. We take a facts-only approach to our news stories, but our mission is to advance LGBTQ rights. 

PPQ: What's the most surprising feedback you've received from a reader?

Claggett: Shortly after the attack at Pulse, a group from Venezuela was traveling through Orlando to gain perspective on how Central Florida fought the battle for LGBTQ rights. When my editor at the time and I met with them, they said they received their information regarding Pulse from Watermark. It surprised me that people in other countries looked to us for information.

PRESSING QUESTIONS
Volume 22
Issue 1