Op-ed: The Future of LGBT Journalism

A student journalist outlines Northwestern University's effort to assure the future of fair and extensive media coverage on LGBT issues.



This October, six months after we started planning, we launched the Medill Equal Media Project (logo shown at left). With the help of two devoted faculty advisers, a team of about 15 students worked throughout the summer to find engaging, original stories about how LGBT people live, think, and, well, vote. Throughout this month, we’re refining those pieces, sharing our work, and looking for other ways to urge college newsrooms to cover LGBT issues. 

One reporter met an Army officer and her partner adjusting to life near Fort Bragg after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Another reporter analyzed funding sources for LGBT health centers and asked how they might shift after the election. Some of us are working toward careers in gay media, while others are reporting on LGBT issues for the first time. Each of us is committed to honoring the true stories our sources shared. After all, who better to say how LGBT people will be affected by this election than LGBT people themselves? 

Our tagline, “Responsible Coverage of LGBT Lives,” reaffirms our commitment to a mission of journalism rather than advocacy. As a project covering LGBT issues exclusively, we anticipated qualms about our objectivity or ability to report “both sides.” We wanted to spotlight LGBT people in their own words rather than the words of their opponents, but knew we wouldn’t be good journalists if we pretended each story had only one side. Just as we started this conversation, Margaret Sullivan’s New York Times op-ed nailed it for us:

“Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don’t want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.”

We want real answers too, and we know we won’t get them by pretending all sides of the debate over gay rights are equally fair and factual. Why, for instance, did we see four debates with zero questions about LGBT issues? Certainly the economy is driving the conversation this election season, but given the candidates’ opposing viewpoints on nearly all things LGBT, it would be irresponsible to pretend LGBT people’s lives won’t be affected after November. 

The Equal Media Project will be online well after Election Day, and this year’s stories aren’t the last you’ll hear from us. We hope to continue the project even in nonelection years, though we’re still figuring out how to improve on this first run. We’re open to discussions about how to make this work sustainable at the college level, bringing us the exposure and experience in LGBT media we can’t yet find anywhere else.

One day, we hope, LGBT coverage will be a core facet of a college journalism education. Until then, please share our work, point us toward similar projects, and let us know what we can do better. It’s been a learning experience for all of us, and we hope it won’t stop there.

CAMILLE BEREDJICK is the editor in chief of the Medill Equal Media Project; a senior in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University; a co-president of Northwestern’s student chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; and a former editorial intern for The Advocate.

Tags: Commentary