Good to the Last Drop

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com August 15 2013 4:00 AM ET

After nearly 10 years of steamin’, the news and politics blog Pam’s House Blend published its last post July 1. Comments posted to the Blend on that final day reflect ubiquitous gratitude for the distinctive forum offered to LGBT people who didn’t always feel at home in mainstream gay digital spaces. While the Blend never inhabited a brick-and-mortar headquarters, it unequivocally became the go-to locale for news, discussion, and exploration of identity inside a community that was all too often portrayed as monolithic.

When Blend founder Pam Spaulding wrote her first post back in 2004, she never anticipated that her little site would become one of the most award-winning, well-regarded blogs in the country. The Blend was consistently rated among the top 50 political blogs, and Spaulding and her team were featured on MSNBC, TruTV, and countless other networks.

"I started the Blend in 2004 as a journal or diary for me to shout out into the digital void in frustration of the spate of antigay policies under President George W. Bush,” Spaulding explains. “I also found it fruitful to use the blog to discuss issues that I didn’t see around the blogosphere at the time, such as the intersection of being black and gay, or even gay and in the South."

Indeed, the Blend earned a reputation as a safe haven and open forum where folks could ask questions about race without the shame and guilt that seems to stunt so many such conversations. Spaulding cultivated the attitude that there were no “dumb questions” when it comes to discussing race.

"Americans spend more energy trying to avoid the topic because it is outside people’s comfort zones and can be unnecessarily combative,” Spaulding says. “[The Blend] helped fill that ‘safe space’ void."

Creating that safe space to facilitate open, honest discussion within and outside the LGBT community, the Blend was also a uniquely miraculous combination of circumstance, passion, and tenacity, the likes of which are unlikely to be repeated.

"It would be hard — no, impossible — to replicate what happened on [the Blend],” says Spaulding. “Because I think we are seeing the slow death of blogs. Not because of the lack of content and stories to cover, but because of the sheer number of them, as well as other outlets for people to engage. … I think we’re in a period of short-attention-span theater because of the media overload. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for long-form commentary or citizen journalism; I just think it cannot be sustained in the manner and model in which [the Blend] existed."

The Blend also existed in a peculiar time in digital history. As so-called citizen journalism was on the rise, traditional media outlets were struggling with how to address independent bloggers who attracted ever-growing audiences. The Blend fed a clearly present desire for in-depth, long-form reporting, essays, and commentary, supplied for free.

In 2008 the Blend was one of the first LGBT blogs to be formally credentialed among the press pool to cover the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Spaulding herself was one of the first LGBT reporters to get access to the White House, in 2009, when she interviewed the then-deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Brian Bond — who mistakenly thought the blogger, not being “mainstream press,” wouldn’t ask him tough questions on the record. Needless to say, Bond was wrong, and Spaulding grilled the out official on what LGBT activists saw as President Obama’s lackluster support for the community. She captured the entire exchange on video.

Spaulding’s original reporting, including video and commentary, shone a light on what life was like for LGBT people living in North Carolina, where the cultural demographics were rapidly shifting toward a more inclusive attitude, but state legislators continued to double-down on regressive policies. North Carolina’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage served as a pivotal moment for activists like Spaulding, who says the law’s passage in 2012 was “frustrating.” But the coverage Spaulding and her team produced around the vote remains some of her proudest work.

"The exposure and coverage by [the Blend] of the corporate opposition to Amendment 1, along with the massive opposition by people of faith and ministers of color, was a game-changer,” she says. “It blew away the assumption that minorities — particularly the religious black community — was a monolithic bloc opposed to LGBT rights. The vote bore that out."

Spaulding never shied away from emotional topics, like the intersection of faith and LGBT identity. And before long, the Blend grew to include a stable of bloggers representing a diverse swath of the entire LGBT population. The Blend featured the first transgender regular blogger on a major LGBT site in Autumn Sandeen, a Navy veteran whose groundbreaking coverage on the murder trial and eventual hate-crime conviction of Allen Andrade, who brutally murdered Colorado trans woman Angie Zapata, was syndicated on national television. Along with Alvin McEwen, Spaulding helped to represent the intersections of black and gay identities. And Spaulding proudly notes that while she was based in the South, her contributors hailed from all across the country — from the Carolinas to Oregon, from Massachusetts to California, from Washington State to Washington, D.C.

Since the Blend’s closure, some of Spaulding’s most prolific co-bloggers have migrated to other sites, including several key voices who now pen the Blend's ongoing posts, now hosted at progressive site FireDogLakeBut without Spaulding leading the editorial team, the unique tone that the Blend adopted is, sadly, unlikely to return.

"I was hoping that by the time I threw in the towel that there would be more lesbians of color or more Southern voices blogging and doing citizen journalism,” says Spaulding. “For instance, after nine years, there has been no other voice in North Carolina that has risen to step into my shoes. Matt Comer, the editor of QNotes, represents traditional media, but it's tragic no one has felt the call to start up a political blog focusing on issues of intersection that has national reach."

Spaulding openly acknowledges that the time and effort required to sustain a blog like the Blend is a formidable hurdle. What’s more, the dedication required to run the Blend failed to yield the financial security one might expect to enjoy from a top-rated site.

Despite its countless accolades and ever-increasing traffic, the Blend never gained the type of financial foothold that some more mainstream, news-heavy LGBT blogs have secured. Spaulding believes the reason behind that is two-fold. First, Spaulding’s refusal to run what she calls “skin ads” — services targeting gay men with often racy images — that pay handsomely kept the Blend’s earning potential relatively limited. And, “while the work at [The Blend] was important, it didn’t necessarily entertain in the same manner as those blogs that would generate advertising of that sort anyway,” says Spaulding, referring to higher-traffic sites largely targeted to and run by gay men like Towleroad, Joe.My.God, and Queerty. “At the same time, [Blend] readers were looking for connections to the content to their lives as LGBTs, people of color, people not from gay ghettos. That kind of content may generate awards and reach readers of influence and even get me invited to speak on the panels at important conferences, but it doesn’t pay the bills.”

Which is why, throughout the Blend’s existence, Spaulding held down a full-time job in addition to her tenacious blogging. But the toll of working essentially two full-time jobs — while only receiving the salary of one — eventually wore on Spaulding, who struggles with several chronic health conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. A decade of hard work depleted Spaulding’s reserves to the point that she decided to close up shop in July.

These days, Spaulding is eager to focus her energy on healing — and catching up on sleep. With her uncanny ability to keep a finger on the pulse of burgeoning media trends, Spaulding has promised to continue aggregating news stories along with her trademark wit through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And she hopes to take on public speaking endeavors to share her experience with a new generation of intrepid media moguls.

“I want to encourage the new generation of activists,” she says, “that are willing to put the time and effort to bring voices of the people to the attention of those making decisions about our lives.”

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Spaulding still maintains a personal blog at PamSpaulding.net, where she writes about nonpolitical passions including health, pit bull advocacy, and her favorite — if much-maligned — band, Journey. Archives of the Blend are available at PamsHouseBlend.FireDogLake.com