Whither NLGJA?

The leading professional organization for LGBT journalists is facing a crisis that threatens its very survival. In a changing media landscape and a tough economy, how does a small nonprofit live up to its mission and retain members?

BY Christopher Lisotta

December 20 2008 12:00 AM ET

On December 16
the board of directors of the National Lesbian and Gay
Journalists Association sent out an e-mail to its members,
who are mostly working writers, editors, and
photographers in outlets as varied as national
magazines and local radio stations. The e-mail was not a
Happy Holidays message or even an electronic pep talk
to its many members working at media companies who are
facing layoffs, budget cuts, or worse.

The e-mail did
not “bury the lede,” to use a journalistic
term that describes putting the big kicker at the end
of a story. “We need your help,”
NLGJA’s national president, David Steinberg, wrote
bluntly. “Today, we ask all NLGJA members to
join together to show support for our mission and
programs by making a gift of at least $25 by the
year’s end.”

The money will be
used to help fund NLGJA’s ongoing education program,
a newsroom outreach project, internships, and its
Rapid Response Task Force, which works
behind-the-scenes to ensure fair and accurate coverage
of LGBT issues. In years past NLGJA had the money to cover
all these programs through dues plus corporate and
foundation grants, but in today’s economy
that’s no longer possible.

“It’s been rough, no question about
it,” Steinberg said on the phone a few days
after the e-mail went out. “I don’t think it
was a surprise to many of us -- we’ve been
in a recession for a year. And next year is going to
be really tough as well.”

First off, some
disclosure; I am a former NLGJA Los Angeles chapter
president and I serve on the local chapter’s board.
NLGJA was an important organization for me when I
began to write full-time about eight years ago.
Founded in 1991 by the late Leroy Aarons, NLGJA was an
outgrowth of a survey Aarons did for the American Society of
Newspaper Editors of LGBT journalists in newsrooms
(Aarons, the senior vice president for news at TheOakland Tribune at the time, publicly came out
when he presented the report). In 1992, NLGJA held its
first national convention, where The New York Times
announced it was adding domestic-partner benefits.
Over the years the annual NLGJA conventions have been
must-attend events for networking, socializing, and even
newsmaking; major media players like Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw,
Judy Woodruff, and Harry Smith showed up to moderate
and participate in panels. And along the way NLGJA
helped develop style guides and worked with media
companies as they added nondiscrimination policies and
addressed domestic-partnership issues.

As a working
journalist who freelances for a number of different outlets,
I’m more than aware it’s a tough time in the
media industry. Thanks to the explosive success of
websites like Craigslist, there has been a precipitous
decline in classified advertising revenue at big daily
newspapers, devastating the bottom line of outlets from
The San Diego Union-Tribune to The New York
Times.
Add to that the general advertising
malaise, which has depressed revenues in not just print but
also TV and radio media. The current issue of TheNew Yorker noted newspaper readership has been
dropping modestly for decades, “but the Internet
helped turn that slow puncture into a blowout.”
The Advocate has not been immune to
changing times; as part of a major redesign the print
magazine is going from biweekly to monthly publication.

Tags: Business

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