Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gay Media Struggles to Cover International News With Limited Resources

One can very easily conclude that the majority of Americans' perspective on world events remains sadly myopic in scope. More than half of people who live in this country do not even have passports. So the question the media -- both mainstream and LGBT -- must answer is how does it report on events outside the United States based on the reality of many of their readers, viewers and listeners.

I examined this question in Press Pass Q's feature story this month. The attacks against Pride marchers in Moscow in late May, the continued systematic oppression and even death of gay men in Iraq, Iran and other countries across the Middle East and gay rights advances in Latin America are a sampling of the LGBT-related stories which have made international headlines over the last year. Editors and even writers are quick to point out that those who consume their product have a keen interest in what happens overseas. The reality, however, remains that many of these outlets simply do not have the resources to adequately cover these stories. The United States is certainly not immune to events beyond its borders. The September 11 terrorist attacks shattered this illusion forever. Newspapers and other media outlets continue to curtail their international coverage due to the general malaise of the industry, cost cutting and other factors. The need to cover overseas story remains vitally important as the world becomes increasingly smaller and more inter-connected. The current state of this coverage, however, will continue to raise more questions about what reporters and editors decide to cover and the thought processes behind these decisions.

Violent attacks on Pride marchers in Moscow. Gays systematically jailed and murdered in Iraq. Civil unions in Mexico. Those are just some of the international stories involving gays that made headlines this year.

The question for many in the GLBT media, however, is how to cover such stories from around the world without the resources to do so. Beyond that, are readers even interested in international gay news?

San Diego-based freelance journalist Rex Wockner provides many GLBT publications in the United States with international coverage. And many more rely on the Associated Press and other newswires.

On the other hand, Sirius Satellite Radio’s OutQ employs correspondents in Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Israel, and other countries. And in the print world, Gay City News contributor Doug Ireland, for example, routinely covers overseas news for the New York-based weekly.

While he lives in New York City now, Ireland lived in France for 10 years and cultivated a network of contacts among human rights activists around the world. Paul Schindler, editor of Gay City News, said Ireland is, therefore, able to supply him with original copy each week.

Sirius OutQ News Director Tim Curran said he feels his listeners remain interested in international coverage. A recent survey of the radio outlet’s website featured stories from Russia, Thailand, Canada, Uganda, Kenya, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom in addition to domestic coverage. Curran proudly pointed to this coverage — and in particular his coverage of Moscow Pride in May — as proof of Sirius OutQ’s commitment to international news.

“I deliver those stories because I think people are interested in them,” he said. “I don’t think ‘Dateline Moscow’ is a turnoff for a gay audience if it’s a gay story that’s interesting and illuminating of their lives.”

Curran conceded, however, that GLBT media could improve coverage of international stories if they had more resources.

“Given the resources gay media have – they’re nothing like the New York Times, the Washington Post or CNN – [they] do a pretty good job,” Curran said. “They do make an effort to bring stories in from all over the world. … But with more resources, a better job could be done.”

Tammye Nash, editor of the Dallas Voice, located not all that far from the Mexican border, agreed. Her coverage remains focused on the Metroplex, North Texas, and neighboring states. The Dallas Voice also ran a series of articles last summer examining the impact the immigration debate has on GLBT immigrants.

Nash added that she periodically covers Mexican stories, such as the civil unions bill signed into law earlier this year in the state of Coahuila, due to the large number of people of Mexican descent who live in Texas. She said she would like to cover more of these stories, but a lack of staff and resources limit her newspaper’s scope.

“Other than me, I have two writers on my staff on the news side,” Nash said. “We have to rely on some outside sources like Rex Wockner, like the Associated Press. … We just have to make priorities about where we are going to put our efforts.”

George Baker, editor of Seattle Gay News, regularly uses these sources for the bulk of his international coverage. He added that he covers Canada, in part, because of the Emerald City’s proximity to the Canadian border and Vancouver. Baker said his readers remain less interested in Vancouver than in Canada as a whole.

Canada is one of a handful of countries to have legalized marriage for same-sex couples, while Russia, Israel, Iran, and other nations have made headlines in recent months due to violent clashes during Pride events and outright oppression of their GLBT citizens.

One of the big international gay news stories this year so far concerned Iranian police arresting more than 80 people in early May at a birthday party in the city of Isfahan. Both Wockner and Ireland reported extensively on this raid, along with the plight of gay Iraqis whom police and fundamentalists within the war-torn country continue to target. According to Gay City News’ Schindler, openly gay U.S. Rep Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and out lesbian U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) referenced Ireland’s reporting in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to demand an investigation of these reports.

Schindler said he feels the GLBT media – like mainstream outlets – largely ignore international stories until they become “a flash point in our own lives.” Schindler added, however, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks proved the media can no longer ignore overseas news.

“The world is increasingly connected,” he said. “We cannot dodge any bullet, nor from an ethical standpoint can we afford to ignore the huge majority of the world and of GLBT peoples who do not live in the [United States].”

Baker, in Seattle, agreed. He said GLBT media have a responsibility to report these stories.

“If they are hanging or beheading gay men in Saudi Arabia or Iran, the story needs to be told,” he said. “[Gay media are] shaping it and putting it in the foreground. We can’t leave it up to a handful of activists somewhere crying in the wind.”

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