YOUR NEUTRAL APOSTROPHES SICKEN ME

(Now with UPDATE)   I am a former member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists[’] Association. The “nation” implied is of course the United States. NLGJA has, without a doubt, the best pronunciation of any acronym in world history: Negligée.

I refused to renew my membership when I found that:

  • I was spammed almost weekly with E-mails from Negligée staff on uninteresting topics. Their names, which they can no more help than I can mine, are unusual to the point of bizarreness and sat there in my inbox pretty much daring me to figure out how to pronounce them. (To say the same thing another way, their names may not be their fault, but I found them weird nonetheless.) I was also campaign-spammed by one candidate for vice-president whose name was weirdest of all.
  • Like so many of our dear American friends, America is all they could talk about. The Canadian chapter folded and was reborn so many times I lost count. This itself is indicative of Toronto mediocrity, not to mention a tendency to write “Toronto, Ontario, Canada” with equal signs. This mediocrity increased geometrically rather than linearly when combined with Negligée’s own.
  • These people are boring as shit. It seems their entire purpose in life is to be as middle-class and mainstream as humanly possible. (Getting a job at USA Today would be a feather in their cap!) They have the same kind of hopelessness as the Advocate and its readers. They may grow up gay, but either it never dawns on them, or they actively suppress the realization, that they are pretty much clueless and have no edge whatsoever. You could model this as “cool”: Cool cannot be bought; cool simply is, and they simply aren’t. The only thing that makes them special is being queer, rather than, say, being interesting. And I can assure you that being queer in the writing profession is hardly very special.
    • It’s like those utterly banal married couples you occasionally meet. My mental image is of one of them changing the sheets in their lovely and well-appointed home on a “laid-back” Sunday morning, whereupon it slowly dawns on him that he ain’t got no spark and the best he can expect in life is what he’s already got. (Makes for a great scene in a dull gay novel published by Alyson, doesn’t it?)

There is surely a need for an association of lesbian and gay journalists. I see little need for the association we actually have.

The Weblog problem

Now, then: In 2003, Negligée’s annual convention, which I did not attend, held a panel on Weblogs. The session included none of the many dozens of active queer Weblog writers who might actually know something about it, but did include the very ungay Matt Welch. I told you these people were clueless: They’re the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists[’] Association and they can’t even scare up actual lesbian and gay bloggers.

I wrote in to fact-check that at least some of the panelists were queer:

This is the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. How many of you are actually queer, and how many of you actually write blogs? What, in effect, are your qualifications? I especially want to hear from Matt Welch, who seems to have been selected because he was handy, well-known, and, presumably, cute.

Welch responded:

Oh, I’m queer as a three-dollar bill. Or at least, some of my best friends are….

I think you are reacting to the fact that this panel was conceived, planned and apparently summarized several eons ago; hence the old-timey description. I think they chose me because I live nearby, and Eugene Volokh hadn’t yet started blogging when they dreamed this up. Also, since I’ve written a fair bit about journalism, and am currently working on a big Columbia Journalism Review piece about blogs, I’m not the most inappropriate guest imaginable… I think it could be good. We’ll see!

And I responded with “Like there weren’t queer bloggers last February. Or three Februarys before that. I could have provided a list three screens long in 2000.” Welch: “I’m sure you would have added great expertise to our unsatisfying panel, and you will certainly be the first person I suggest should I bow out, but you sound about as fun as eye surgery.”

Scott Gutman, another panelist, replied:

I do not write blogs…. I was invited to join the panel to bring in some perspective from NLGJA members in broadcasting. When Tom proposed the panel, it sparked a dialogue about sources among several of us on the programming and host committees. I told him that we recently had several producers in my newsroom who loved to find all sorts of stories online…. I was part of a contingent that didn’t mind using the papers or online media sites as important sources, as long as we can verify the info independently and that there was a legitimate news peg (not just stealing someone’s enterprise story)…. Anyway, I’m not sure I can add a whole lot of info on the history and role of blogging – just the impact in a major TV newsroom.

That sounded fine, actually, and still does, though it reiterated yet again the well-worn bias that real journalism is assumed reliable while Weblogs are assumed not.

Tom Musbach (of, significantly, PlanetOut, the Borg of gay media) wrote:

I can assure you that NLGJA organizers approved of this panel session for the L.A. conference because it will be interesting, challenging and informative.

If, however, you do not feel that this panel has much to offer you, I encourage you to select a different panel from among the others offered during that time slot.

In other words, if you don’t like it, don’t show up.

Negligée’s 2004 conference program makes no mention of Weblogs, incredibly.

Here we are in 2005. Are things any better?

Nope.

This year’s Negligée convention, scheduled for late September in Chicago, promises the following sessions, as listed in the printed pamphlet:

Are blogs the new frontier in LGBT [sic] media?

Blogs are new to the LGBT media landscape, and they’ve turned some people’s Web sites into independent journalism outlets. Established media entities also are getting in on the game with blogs that augment traditional news coverage. Some offer investigative work not found in other places; others are more like daily commentary. Where should they fit in the LGBT media world? Are there journalistic standards being applied to such blogs? Find out firsthand from bloggers on this panel.

Moderator
Beth Callaghan, editor-in-chief, PlanetOut Inc.
[Panelist]
Wayne Besen, blogger, Waynebesen.com

The rise of blogs: Tips and advice on covering a rising new medium

This panel will examine how blogs increasingly are becoming a force for companies around the globe. Now, many CEOs are actually starting up their own blogs, disseminating information more frankly than they do in public, and employees are often delivering tips on potential stories.

Moderator
Cliff Edwards, technology writer, BusinessWeek
[Panelists]
Martha Irvine, national writer, Associated Press
Karen Hawkins, freelance journalist
Stephen Baker, senior writer, BusinessWeek

There’s so much wrong with this I barely know where to start.

  1. Blogs are not “new to the LGBT media landscape.” Queer bloggers are such established pioneers in the field that books about Weblogs acknowledge as such. Brad L. Graham’s Bradlands has been online since July 2000, and its longevity was discussed at length in We’ve Got Blog (to which I contributed an unrelated article). Tom Coates has blogged since November 1998. Even I’ve been doing it since June 1999. Is this another way of saying “I just found out about Andrew Sullivan a couple of weeks ago”?
  2. I don’t understand this question: “Where should they fit” – which? blogs of all kinds or merely the blogs run by traditional media outlets? – “in the LGBT media world?” Why is it up to anyone to decide where they “fit”? I didn’t know we were being assessed. They fit where they already are, as Weblogs. Don’t try to pound a square peg into a round hole. (Especially don’t try to do that if you’re unfashionably late.)
  3. “Are there journalistic standards being applied to such blogs? Find out firsthand from bloggers on this panel.” There are no bloggers on the panel as listed in the printed program (though Besen was added to the online listing). Are there journalistic standards applied to Jayson Blair’s articles for the New York Times? Why are we having an entire discussion of “journalistic standards” for Weblogs but not for, say, the work of Negligée’s members in the mainstream media?
  4. Why do conference attendees require “[t]ips and advice on covering a rising new medium”? What’s there to talk about? A Weblog is a source. You cite it and fact-check it the way you cite or fact-check any source. Or could it be possible that Negligée members are so clueless that they need remedial training in applying what they already know to a medium they clearly do not already know? (What the hell have you been doing with your Internet Explorer for Windows the last four years? Reading PlanetOut and BusinessWeek?)
  5. Why is there an emphasis on corporate Weblogging? Why is it interesting that “many” CEOs are writing Weblogs? (How many are “many”?) Why do unaffiliated Webloggers, and those who are merely employees of a company, count for nothing? If anyone deserves less attention, it is chief executive officers, who already have their own publicity staffs and, in all likelihood, a golden parachute waiting for them after they run their companies into the ground. Which would have been more relevant, a blog by Enron’s CEO or one by its accountants?
  6. What does “employees are often delivering tips on potential stories” mean?
  7. Why is BusinessWeek, which barely began blogging in April of this year, so important it can dominate the second panel?

On the Web site, I read of a third panel:

Journey to the Blogosphere!

For many readers, blogs are a must-read, places where they can find news and gossip tailored to their interests. But for some in mainstream journalism, blogs have become a fearful presence. Bloggers drove the CBS “Memogate” scandal, flaps over White House press access, and the outing of a conservative congressman. Where will the bloggers go next and how will the rest of us deal with it?

Moderator
Joshua Jennings Moss, managing editor, FoxNews.com
[Panelists]
John Aravosis, blogger, Americablog
Wayne Besen, blogger, Waynebesen.com
Geraldine Sealey, senior news editor, Salon.com
Eric Zorn, blogger, Chicago Tribune

Now, that’s more like it. I don’t know what standing anyone working for Fox News might have (surely a curious place for a gay person to work), but at least the panelists have online experience. I have small concerns:

  • The description is so vague I’m sure this will end up as a free-for-all with the panelists talking about whatever they feel like.
  • Why is Besen on two panels? Not enough gay bloggers to go around?
  • And why, I must ask, is the world divided into “bloggers” and “the rest of us”? If we have learned anything from millions of Weblogs, it is that the reading medium of the Web is also a writing medium. You too can be a blogger, honey.

So that session sounds promising. What of the other two? I speculate that each will involve a panel of dilettantes addressing an audience of ignoramuses. Those two conference panels, as listed, display a devastating ignorance of the Weblog medium. I find it outrageous that a club full of journalists cannot get its facts straight, arrive at an actually relevant angle, and locate sources who are hiding in plain sight.

Fact-checking various arses

I mailed everyone involved in these panels (save for Karen Hawkins; found her blog but not her address) and asked questions about these upcoming panels. At press time, none had responded at all.


Update

(2005.08.09 15:54)   I mailed the URL of this posting to all the sources mentioned (plus NLGJA’s executive director), with ample advice that their comments are for attribution, and here’s what I got back:

John Aravosis

Joe, in the future, if you actually want a response, I might suggest that you don’t be so rude right off the bat with people you don’t know. And secondly, don’t threaten to publish their response and then expect them to actually give you a response, let alone treat you seriously. It makes your note sound like a publicity stunt rather than a serious attempt to address a sincere concern.

I responded, in part, with: “It’s called a question for attribution, John, and has been an accepted practice in journalism for generations.” Aravosis:

See, that’s what I mean. You sound like kind of an ass, and I don’t even know you. Why do you think anyone would put you on a panel when this is the first impression you give? I know I wouldn’t, and I didn’t know you until now. So you basically proved the point you’re trying to fight, which is why people like you don’t get invited on panels.

Eric Zorn

I can’t speak for my fellow panelists, but I’ll tell you what Mike Royko used to tell people who taunted him and dared him to respond to some thought or idea of theirs and then strutted triumphantly when he ignored them: I’m not a dog that chases after every stick someone wants to throw.

Yes, I have views on what you wrote in your post – and those views are by no means entirely critical. You do raise some interesting questions in your aggressive way. And you shouldn’t make too much – anything – out of the fact that I don’t choose to spend my time this week formulating a response. Nothing personal. I ignore a lot of people.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.08.09 07:54. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
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