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HuffPo/Gay Voices Editor Noah Michelson on the Importance of Being Earnest

HuffPo/Gay Voices Editor Noah Michelson on the Importance of Being Earnest

by Karen Ocamb on February 22, 2013

(Editor’s note: Unfortunately, I had to drop out of this weekend’s 2013 LGBT Media Journalists Convening in Philadelphia, sponsored by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and coordinated by The Bilerico Project’s founder Bil Browning. Frontiers will be represented by publisher David Stern. This year’s theme is coalition building and some of our top reporters and bloggers will hear experts in the fields of immigration reform (including Angelinos Lavi Soloway and Bamby Salcedo), international issues, the aging queer community, transgender-specific issues, and the labor movement. Cleve Jones and David Mixner will be the Friday night quests and Philadelphia Mayor Nutter will speak at Saturday’s lunch. You can follow the event via Twitter hashtag #LGBTmedia13 and Bil will be giving regular updates on the Bilerico Project Facebook page and Bilerico’s Twitter account.  Bil’s posted the list of attendees here - one of whom is Noah Michelson, editor of the must-read Huffington Post/Gay Voices. Here’s an expanded version of my story on Noah for Frontiers marking HuffPo/GV’s one year anniversary – Karen Ocamb)

Noah Michelson on the Importance of Being Earnest

In 2005, what most LGBT Angelenos knew about Arianna Huffington was that she still had her Greek accent after living in America since 1980, had once been a prominent conservative columnist and that she didn’t out her prominent Republican husband Michael after their divorce. She’s also smart, gay-friendly and fiercely independent. In 2004, she told her friend Jon Stewart she supported Democrat John Kerry because, “When your house is burning down, you don’t worry about the remodeling.”

What media junkies and Westside intellectuals also knew was that Huffington ran a prestigious invitation-only salon—more Dorothy Parker and Algonquin Round Table than Virginia Woolfe and the Bloomsbury Group. So when she announced in May 2005 that she was launching The Huffington Post, some long knives came out, but most were excited about a liberal counterpoint to the right-wing Drudge Report. Indeed, IN Los Angeles magazine (which merged with Frontiers in 2009) published Huffington’s column to inspire LGBT readers.

It wasn’t until October 2011, however, that the Huffington Post created a “vertical” space for Gay Voices—edited by Noah Michelson—that quickly became a “must-read” not only for LGBT people but for many others who call Huffington Post “home.”

“We make a point of supporting and featuring other LGBT websites, whether by sourcing them in one of our aggregated write-ups, linking directly to their sites and stories or featuring writers and editors from other periodicals as bloggers and talking heads on HuffPost Live, our living streaming network,” Michelson said. “In many ways we’re always looking to curate the best of the world—and the internet—and we owe a lot to the incredible work being done by the other journalists and bloggers who are in the trenches alongside us. What’s more, by collecting, collating and curating the view points of other sites and journalists, we’re able to be more thorough and get a bigger picture of an event or story, and that in turn makes our vertical even stronger and more diverse.”

Despite working on a year’s worth of blogs, there are some he still finds moving—such as the mother of a 6-year-old who had fallen in love with the character of Blaine on Glee. “[I]t’s been an incredible pleasure (and honor) to watch as her journey with her son (who is now 8 and identifies as gay) continues,” he said.

Or the November 2012 blog by Andy Marra entitled “The Beautiful Daughter: How My Korean Mother Gave Me the Courage to Transition.” “I’ve probably read it 16 or 17 times, and I still have a hard time making it to the end without tears in my eyes,” Michelson said, noting that the piece is up for a GLAAD Media Award.

But Gay Voices is also powerful. Last April, Editor-at-Large Michelangelo Signorile wrote, “Is James Beard Rolling in His Grave Over Foundation President’s Award From Anti-Gay Boy Scouts?” James Beard was gay, Signorile noted. In less than 12 hours, the foundation returned the award.

“[O]ne of the most important tools—or weapons—that we have as a movement is our ability to raise awareness whenever possible,” Michelson said. “Seeing stories being tweeted, shared on Facebook and commented upon thousands of times shows just how important these issues are and how many people are deeply invested in progress. I also think that organizations and politicians are realizing how little they can get away with, now that the whole world is watching—and talking—about what they’re doing. In the past, a homophobic or transphobic event or statement could go unexamined. But with so many eyes on all corners of society and culture at all times—and with the help of LGBT media who can provide the rallying call, we’re hearing more apologies for inexcusable behavior and seeing tangible changes come from the pressure that we’re all putting out there.

“But I also believe that changing people’s minds or offering them a new way to think about the LGBT community can be as important—if not more important—as having an impact on public policy,” Michelson said. “Being able to help people have those ‘ah-ha’ moments is perhaps the most thrilling and satisfying part of my job.”

Here’s the full email exchange with Noah Michelson:

KO: As HuffPo/Gay Voices hits its one year anniversary, what do you think has made the site one of the – if not THE – most trusted and viewed LGBT sites on the web?

NM: HuffPost Gay Voices has been in a unique position since it launched in October 2011. We are housed within the larger HuffPost site (which provided us credibility, resources and — perhaps most important — readers the moment the vertical went live) and because of this, we have as many (if not more) straight readers interacting with our content as LGBT readers. That means that our news stories, slideshows and blog posts are encountered not only by the members of the LGBT community who look to us as their go-to source for up-to-the-minute content, but also by those who otherwise might not read a story about a queer person or event and that’s exciting.

When I was brought on to launch the site I was given a lot of freedom to design the vertical exactly how I saw fit. When I was thinking about what kind of LGBT news site I’d personally want to visit, I knew that HuffPost Gay Voices had to have a really compelling mix of content that tackled the biggest stories of the day along with some fun, perhaps less serious or lower brow content. I want people to walk away from the site with a snapshot of the biggest, most important and most talked about stories and issues involving and facing LGBT people at any given moment. So whether they’re headed to vote or to meet friends for happy hour, hopefully they feel informed.

We also make a point of supporting and featuring other LGBT websites, whether by sourcing them in one of our aggregated write ups, linking directly to their sites and stories or featuring writers and editors from other periodicals as bloggers and talking heads on HuffPost Live, our living streaming network. In many ways we’re always looking to curate the best of the world — and the Internet — and we owe a lot to the incredible work being done by the other journalists and bloggers who are in the trenches along side us.

What’s more, by collecting, collating and curating the view points of other sites and journalists, we’re able to be more thorough and get a bigger picture of an event or story and that in turn makes our vertical even stronger and more diverse.

KO: You’ve enabled a number of people to express their views and tell their stories. What are a few that moved you personally and why? Which were most effective and why?

NM: Blogging on The Huffington Post allows politicians, celebrities, organizations and “everyday” people with something to say to or about the LGBT community to share what’s on their minds. While we also offer original and aggregated news stories, as well as slideshows and other features, our bloggers and their blogs are in many ways the life blood of the site.

A couple of the blogs that have personally moved me:

A. Just before I joined The Huffington Post, I met a mother whose (then) 6-year-old son had fallen in love with the character of Blaine on “Glee.” She wrote an incredible Tumblr post about her son and the love that she has for him and it went berserkly viral. I asked her to join HuffPost Gay Voices a blogger and in the last 16 months her blogs have been shared and retreated thousands and thousands of times. “Amelia” (she uses a pseudonym to protect her family’s identity) has become a kind of mother for everyone who has ever felt like they aren’t accepted — by their family, by their classmates, by society itself — and it’s been an incredible pleasure (and honor) to watch as her journey with her son (who is now 8 and identifies as gay) continues.

(A link to Amelia’s HP page: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Amelia/)

B. In November of 2012 Andy Marra wrote a beautiful piece entitled “The Beautiful Daughter: How My Korean Mother Gave Me the Courage to Transition.” Little did Andy know that a trip to Korea would not only turn into a quest to find her birth mother, or that upon finding her she would come out to her as transgender. Andy’s blog is an absolutely beautiful piece about bravery, strength, unconditional love and acceptance. I’ve probably read it 16 or 17 times and I still have a hard time making it to the end without tears in my eyes. And it seems I’m not the only one who feels this way: just last week Andy’s blog was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award in the “Outstanding Digital Journalism Article” category.

(link to Andy’s piece: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andy-marra/the-beautiful-daughter-how-my-korean-mother-gave-me-the-courage-to-transition_b_2139956.html)

An example of a blog post that has been effective:

C. In April our editor-at-large, Michelangelo Signorile, wrote a blog post entitled “Is James Beard Rolling in His Grave Over Foundation President’s Award From Anti-Gay Boy Scouts?” In it, Mike discussed how ironic it was that the president of the James Beard Foundation accepted an award from the anti-gay Boy Scouts, as James Beard himself was an openly gay man at a time when it was almost impossible to be so. It less than 12 hours after the blog was published (and went viral) before we heard from the James Beard foundation and they informed us that they would be giving back the award to the Boy Scouts. By shining a spotlight on something to which many people wouldn’t have given a second glance (and with the huge visibility that comes with a blog post running on The Huffington Post), we were able to raise some very tangible awareness.

(link to Mike’s blog: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelangelo-signorile/susan-ungaro-boy-scouts_b_1438367.html

and a link to the follow up: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelangelo-signorile/james-beard-foundation-pr_b_1439135.html)

KO: In addition to polls showing that the majority of Americans support giving LGBT people equal rights, it also seems the LGBT netroots and social media have had an increasingly more serious impact on public policy – such as ThinkProgress on Pastor Giglio and Change.org on the Boy Scouts. Do you agree and if so, to what do you attribute this new “power?”

NM: I do agree and I think that one of the most important tools — or weapons — that we have as a movement is our ability to raise awareness whenever possible. Publishing a piece like Mike’s blog about James Beard and the Boy Scout’s homophobia or ThinkProgress revealing Pastor Giglio’s anti-gay past is about holding people accountable for their actions. But that’s only the beginning. What’s perhaps most exciting for me are the lives pieces like those take on after they leave our hands and enter into the (digital) world. Seeing stories being tweeted, shared on Facebook, and commented upon thousands of times shows just how important these issues are and how many people are deeply invested in progress. I also think that organizations and politicians are realizing how little they can get away with now that the whole world is watching — and talking — about what they’re doing. In the past a homophobic or transphobic event or statement could go unexamined but with so many eyes on all corners of society and culture at all times — and with the help of LGBT media who can provide the rallying call, we’re hearing more apologies for inexcusable behavior and seeing tangible changes come from the pressure that we’re all putting out there.

But I also believe that changing people’s minds or offering them a new way to think about the LGBT community can be as important — if not more important — as having an impact on public policy. When we shared Janet Mock’s blog about coming out as transgender to her boyfriend we were inundated by comments from readers who said they had never met a transgender person and Janet’s beautiful blog made them think twice about what it means to be transgender. Being able to help people have those “a-ha” moments is perhaps the most thrilling and satisfying part of my job.

(link to Janet’s blog: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janet-mock/transgender-coming-out_b_1146414.html)

4. If you were to take a step back and think about the future – what do you think will happen to LGBT “legacy” media and LGBT journalism? How do you think LGBT people will get specific and nuanced LGBT information and reporting?

It’s a very strange time for media — LGBT and otherwise. No one is quite sure what the landscape will look like in three, five, ten years. I started in print media and I still have a great love for it and personally subscribe to a bunch of magazines. Though things are becoming more and more digital, I believe there will always be a place for print media. But I think there will definitely be a shift away from the ways we traditionally thought about LGBT journalism and reporting, especially as social media dictates even more of the hows and whens of receiving information.

I also believe (and hope) that there will be an even larger emphasis on the LGBT community itself contributing to LGBT media. Whether it’s giving us tips, sharing stories and adding their own thoughts or participating in our (now almost weekly) “Twitter Talkbacks,” our readers are helping shape the conversations on HuffPost Gay Voices and have become an valuable source of content. Because so much of what is going on in LGBT news directly affects the people who are reading said news, I think it’s crucial to include them as much as possible.

The more discussions we (and all LGBT publications and sites) can start and provide homes for, the more progress we’re going to see.

I also believe as we gain more acceptance, we will see more mainstream media groups paying even more attention to our community and reporting will increase across the board. While this can be scary for legacy media (as many worry about their audiences being taken away from them and this is a legitimate concern), I also believe that there will long be a need for smart, nuanced and informed reporting coming from LGBT media outlets. Larger mainstream sites and outlets will rely on this kind of reporting and I think some really incredible partnerships could spring up.

 

 

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