Editors at Mainstream Magazines: Ghetto or Gestalt? Event
left) Moderator Marcus Mabry and panelists Maer Roshan, Arlyn Tobias Gajlian,
Adam Moss, Emil Wilbekin, and Henry Scott
a transcript of mediabistro.com's March 12 panel, "Gay Editors at Mainstream
Magazines: Ghetto or Gestalt?" cosponsored by the National Lesbian
and Gay Journalists Association and held at New York's Obeca Li. Produced by
mediabistro.com editor Albert
Leeand NLGJA's New York chapter head Steve
Reed(also deputy wire editor for The New York Times), the
panel was moderated by NewsweekInternational senior editor Marcus
Mabry and included:
Arlyn Tobias Gajilan, senior editor
at FSB: Fortune Small Business and a veteran reporter on gay issues for
Moss, editor of The New York Times Magazine;
Roshan, former editorial director of Talk magazine;
Scott, media consultant for BusinessWeek, Nest, et al,and former president and editorial director of Out magazine; and
Wilbekin, editor-in-chief of Vibe.
Check out the party photos here!
Among those seen schmoozing: author Michelangelo Signorile, The New York
Times' Stuart Elliott and David Carr, Hintmag.com's
Horacio Silva, CosmoGirl!'s Deborah Baer, and Women's Wear Daily
media reporter Jacob Bernstein.
MARCUS MABRY, moderator:
Thank you so much for coming, on behalf of mediabistro.com and the NLGJA's
New York chapter. I'm the national secretary of the NLGJA and the head of our
diversity committee as well. It is the only body that actually works within
the news industry to foster more fair and active coverage of LGBT issues. I'm
very excited to be here tonight with some of the best editors in the business,
lesbian, gay, bi, or otherwise. I can't wait to hear what they have to say about
some of the issues that we'll discuss. Let's also keep in mind that our audience,
unlike most NLGJA events, but like most mediabistro.com events, is very diverse
in its own, let's say, sexual proclivities. With that in mind I am looking forward
to a very enlightening panel that is addressed to a very wide, diverse audience,
not necessarily to those that have prior knowledge or great awareness of LGBT
To start off with, I'd like to go down the panel and ask a
question. You are all from very vastly different media publications, from glossy
monthlies to general interest magazines to specific interest magazines. In that
regard, I would like to know how for each of you how being gay or lesbian does
or doesn't affect the editorial content of your publications.
MAER ROSHAN: Let me just start
by saying that I would never have suspected that I'd be the most overdressed
person on the panel. I am the only one looking for a job.
Being gay having an effect on the publications which I have worked
for in the past... The first publication I edited was QW, which was a
gay magazine and it focused on gay issues and it affected it a lot. I think
editors draw on their own experiences. There's no such thing, I don't think,
as a completely objective editor. We assign and are interested in what we experience.
Being gay informs what I assign as much as being Jewish or being Iranian or
whatever. It is one part of what I do, and I think that is why you need diversity
at publications. Because you need people that come from places that they can
assign stories that reflect larger realities and larger worlds.
ARLYN TOBIAS GAJILAN: I would
agree with that. I would hope that being a lesbian affects my job. That's probably
one of the reason my bosses hired me, along with being a woman and being a good
editor and being a person of color. You can really set those issues aside when
you come into work, and if you do you're probably not being a good journalist,
because part of what you are trying to do in a magazine is trying to get as
many different perspectives, as many different examples, in there as possible.
For me at a business publication, we do stories on the life/work balance, and
we talk about different kinds of families, and I've definitely pushed for a
lesbian family to be included, a gay family to be included. We don't have gay
stories per se, but when we do run a story we will try and be as inclusive as
Adam, before your info, I'm going to ask a follow up. There
may be some people here, particularly people who are not LGBT, who are somewhat
disturbed to hear these editors saying, "Oh sure, I bring exactly who I
am to the newsroom with me. Objectivity, what the hell is that?" Can you
deal with that, too, in your answer?
ADAM MOSS: I can deal with
it by saying that I agree. I'm not going to help you out here. I think when
you work, particularly at a general-interest magazine, you're going to tell
me you edit according to your interests. In a situation [like mine] where the
audience of the magazine that I edit is extremely broad, part of the job is
weighing my interests and things that I know and care about against some weird
assessment of what will be interesting to a really wide variety of people. That
tension is a tension that I work with all the time. But I don't work alone.
I work with a staff of about 12 other editors, so it really is the sum total
of all the things we find interesting, which is good and bad, for some of the
same reasons that Maer was talking about, because it's not an especially diverse
staff. One of the things we worry all the time about, is whether the magazine
itself reflects too narrow of a reality. But I just bring all the things that
I am to my job. And that includes, I think, being a journalist, and being a
journalist has some of that objectivity.
It's good to hear that.
EMIL WILBEKIN: I agree with
everyone else on the panel. I think you definitely bring your luggage to work
with you. Especially for me, it's a very interesting situation, describing urban
music and culture, which is typically, or historically has been, very misogynistic,
homophobic, and kind of limited in its thinking. It was a real challenge when
I became editor-in-chief to be able to fuse into such an identity and bring
up these types of subjects.
In the beginning, I was a little nervous, because you have to
walk this line. The one thing I guess that I had going for me was that I had
been openly gay the whole time I had been there, and I have been working there
now for 10 years. So people knew coming into that position that I was openly
gay, so it was not like I was trying to hide who I was, or that there was going
to be some kind of agenda of gay issues in the magazine now. And I think we've
met a really good balance of covering gay issues along with everything else
that is important to urban culture. In fact last year we did a story about the
gay hip-hop scene and it ended up getting the most mail from any story that
we'd ever run in the history of the magazine. So that was very affirmative for
me to see that wow, there are people listening who care, who will actually
respond and communicate with us.
You bring your interests to the table, you try to be fair about
it, you try to be objective. I'm not trying to turn Vibe into the "gay
urban music magazine," but gay issues are very important to urban culture,
and to the politics of urban music.
MABRY: Do you feel any pressure
as a gay African-American man to comment or to editorialize or have stories
even about the homophobic aspects of hip hop?
WILBEKIN: Well, yeah, absolutely.
There's pressure in that a lot of gay people come up to me, and they know I'm
the editor of this magazine, and they expect me to be responsible, the same
way that I'd be responsible for misogyny or anything else. I feel a responsibility.
I also feel pressure because hip hop is so much about "keeping it real,"
and if I'm not real, then I'm not being me. I include what's important
to me and that's real to me in the magazine.
HENRY SCOTT: I was an editor
at The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, and being gay had an impact
in that suddenly, for the heterosexual editors that sat in the news conference,
there was a palpable gay presence. They all realized, "Wow, we know somebody
who is gay." I have to think that it began to change attitudes and made
people think about gay issues or gay stories, when they moved on the wire, when
they perhaps didn't before.
At the same time, I found myself in an odd situation, because
I came out during coverage of a story where an insurance executive in Hartford
was murdered by two Catholic high school football stars he'd picked up in a
cruising area. Horrific story, but it had all the sexy elements, and as part
of my coverage, I'd assigned a reporter to write a story about the underworld
of gay cruising and its dangers. It outraged the gay community, including someone
I was dating at the time, who called me a traitor to our cause. So there are
complicated issues that sometimes come up. Some people feel you should be more
of an advocate than I think you should be.
What about that question of your loyalty? Let me ask the harder
question: Can you think of a story where you actually backed down, where you
actually didn't take the fight?
WILBEKIN: In terms of responsibility,
again, I think the perfect example is the gay hip hop story. That was really
weird because we had two different writers on the story. There were specific
things which I knew needed to be on the story. The whole staff, which is mixed
there is straight, gay, Latin, Asian, black, white they were all
very much for the story. I was a little nervous because I just didn't know what
the reaction would be, but everyone on the staff was like, "We have to
do this story. It's so important. There are so many people in the closet, there's
so much bisexuality, this and that, we have to address this." So we did
in fact do the story, and the reaction was kind of mixed. There were these letters
from kids in Arkansas and Oregon that were like, "Thank God you did this
story. I am a gay hip-hop kid living in Arizona, and now I know that there are
other people like that." The story itself was just kind of really interesting,
because it talked about the [homophobic] lyrics, the kids going to dance to
this music, and the kids supporting these lyrics. There were just a lot of different
levels in it. I got tons of calls and letters, and there were certain people
who would not speak to me after that story ran because they had felt like I
had betrayed them. They had felt like I had turned the spotlight on their lives,
that I dragged them out of the closet.
These were people who were on the D.L.
Yeah, these were people who were on the D.L. They were under the
D.L. [Laughter.] So there's a couple of clubs I can't go to because they're
just really crazy about the whole thing. So that's when you walk the line: You
think you are doing this very courageous thing, and you think you are taking
your own character and your own identity, and you're making this huge statement,
and then you have all these people send you crazy hate mail, and you have people
calling you and saying crazy stuff when you're out in public, and saying crazy
things to your friends.
The cases when I haven't [stood up for a gay story]... I almost
haven't not done it since I've been editor-in chief, because whenever things
at Vibe come up that are these moments where I am like "Oh, we shouldn't
do this," I kind of force myself to do it, because I think journalistically,
you have to think like that. You cannot be afraid. You have to be fearless.
I try to be more and more fearless even though it is very difficult personally.
MOSS: I get attacked for pretty
much everything I do. But I would say that there have been certain catalytic
things that I have a published from a gay perspective, most notably Andrew Sullivan,
about whom I get the most amount of negative letters, especially from gay people...
Can you all think of a story where initially where you decided,
"You know what? I'm letting it go, even though it offends me, worries me,
or bothers me"?
GAJILAN: Yeah, actually I'm
kind of jealous of Emil because his story ran. My story didn't run. This was
back when I was at Newsweek. I had pitched a story about transgender
youth, pegged to the graduation that summer of two Smith students who were in
the middle of transitioning [genders], and by the time that they had graduated,
would have been on T, all though that process, to a big degree. I pitched that
story to Newsweek at the time and it fell flat. Really flat. Really,
really flat. It was interesting to get those people, those men to talk
to me. It took a lot of negotiation, a lot of delicate work. When that story
died on the Tuesday morning list that Marcus knows about, it was really hard
to go back to them and say, "Sorry, this story fell flat." They wrote
me lots and lots of letters over the next couple of weeks trying to get me to
push this story through. And I really regret not pushing that with Newsweek
at the time. About a month later, Time magazine wrote the story from
a different angle. But at the time GenderPAC
in D.C. had become a lobby to be dealt with. So I wish I had pushed that story,
Do any of you ever receive pressure from inside or outside
of the publication, from, say, the business or advertising side, that maybe
a story was "too gay or "We're going a little too much in the gay
ROSHAN: Not really... I was
hired by Kurt Andersen at New York magazine, and the reasoning was that
a magazine about New York ought to have some gay viewpoint, not for editorial
reasons but for business reasons. Not for any other reason besides that. It
makes good editorial and business sense to represent gay people in New York
and in America. But the gay issue I created at New York is all gay, and
there were some pretty provocative things in it. In the corporate hierarchy,
there were some that were worried that it was too gay, but it did well
enough that they are going to do it every year now. I'm not invited to the new
gay party. But, no, I haven't really gotten too much of that.
Anyone else get that kind of negative response from their advertising
or business side?
MOSS: The fact is that I actually
edit a magazine that is pretty gay. I mean, we run a lot of gay material, and
it has never stopped anyone at the editorial side or the business side. If anyone
actually inhibits the amount of gay material we publish, it is me. I'm the biggest
nervous wreck about losing credibility as the editor of a general-interest magazine,
if I am perceived as publishing a magazine that is just too damn gay.
The one thing that I was most afraid of... We did an issue called
"Love in the 21st Century" in October, and the cover image that was
run was one of my favorite pictures ever published. It was of a woman and, as
it turned out, a person who was in the midst of turning from a woman to a man.
The picture was sort of in this '50s kind of tinge to it: There was tacky wallpaper,
there was a picture of a woman in a wedding dress. It couldn't look more Leave
It To Beaver. Yet you couldn't tell that the picture was of this transgendered
situation. And it was tricky. I thought long and hard before doing that, because
I thought, "This is it. This is going to be the moment that I stepped over
this line." But not at all, people loved it. Which says something about
the Times, or it says something about... something. But it made me happy.
What about that balancing act? A lot of us live that balancing
act every day or every week...
SCOTT: I was an executive
on the business side of the Times and was probably the highest ranking
out gay person at the time, and even then, it was easier to be gay in the newsroom.
There was sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" philosophy at least in
my early days [on the business side], and one of the things that made it difficult
sometimes when you came out as gay was you ended up being the poster boy for
gay issues. One of the more awkward times was a senior management retreat in
'94, in Princeton, New Jersey, for the senior business people at the company
about 200 of them that featured a comedian and magician who told
homophobic jokes. And I got up and walked out.
It was an interesting issue because the newsroom had come so much
farther than the business side had at the time. It was awkward. It was a difficult,
pressing case, but I felt like I had to do something about it. Then it kind
of put me in a strange place where there was almost oversolicitous behavior
on the parts of all these people, and it was one of those strange things where
you think you are going to be like everyone else, but I ended up being in a
It's difficult to be a publisher of a news paper and be an out
gay man or a lesbian. Not impossible, but difficult. It's less difficult in
magazines, and I think it has something to do with the nature of the publications.
Newspapers are generally very locally based and focus on the local community.
The publisher of a midsize newspaper plays golf with the guy who owns the auto
dealership. There is a greater need to fit in, to, if you're a man, have a wife
and belong to a country club. That seems less of a need in major national publications,
which magazines are. Magazine editors don't have to fit so neatly into a smaller
social milieu. I know of two gay publishers of very large newspapers who are
very much in the closet, because they feel they would lose their jobs or would
certainly be greatly damaged if they came out. So there is a difference there
ROSHAN: I know many journalists,
who are at newspapers and hard news journalists who are openly gay and out.
And I don't think that is valid...
Albert invited over a dozen female editors who could have been
on this panel, all of whom said no. These are people who we know are gay, they
know they're gay, and they didn't want to be here tonight. So the question I
raise is why? Is it harder for women to get to these positions and be comfortable
GAJILAN: It is different,
and it is still difficult for women. I know the publisher of a major business
magazine, and she is not out. I know several people who are at the upper portions
of mastheads at my company and they are not out, or are at least very quietly
out. It's definitely harder for women. You've got different issues, in addition
to being gay. You're ambitious, you're trying to move up. You've got to deal
with things like the fact that at the morning meeting you didn't watch Monday
Night Football,or you don't golf, although I guess lesbians do golf.
[Laughter.] So, yeah, it's definitely a different balancing act. I've
been lucky at the company I've landed at, because being a lesbian and a person
of color at my company actually has not been an issue. In fact, the way that
it has been an issue, frankly, is it has made this professionally lesbian, Asian
person, because all of a sudden I'm on all these panels and boards. Which leaves
me little time to do some actual editing, which is unfortunate.
WILBEKIN: That's related to
something I deal with that I don't think people realize is that I'm black and
I'm gay. I was on the Metro channel one time and Michael Musto asked me,
"What is more difficult for you, homophobia or racism?" I said, "Well,
let's go outside and try and catch a cab and see what happens." That seems
to come up a lot for me. I find that I show up at meetings and people are like,
"Oh, the messenger entrance is around the corner." And I'm like, "I
have a suit on, I have a Louis Vuitton briefcase. What am I delivering?"
Those types of things come up more. People don't expect me to be the age that
I am, people don't expect me to not be in hip-hop drag, and wearing extra-extra-large
stuff. So those types of questions come up a lot. Then you also deal with politics
with other gay people who are not of color. These are the types of things you
negotiate, and put money out when you need to on certain stories, and say things
when you need to at certain events, and represent in certain ways.
It definitely feels like a heavier burden, because when I go to
the ASME [American Society
of Magazine Editors] meetings, I see tons and tons of gay people we all kiki
and drink our white wine, and you know, "See you in the Pines, see you
in South Beach." There are two or three black people there, so it is a
weird situation of things that you deal with and balance.
Is there a particular reason why more LGBT people of color
don't make it up to those high editing ranks?
WILBEKIN: I don't know. I
mean in general I'm on the diversity board for ASME I just don't
think there are tons of people of color in newsrooms. If you're going to be
gay and of color, you're cutting the numbers even more. People get tired of
what she's talking about. I don't play golf because I don't go to a country
club. I might play handball, I might play tennis. That's the whole thing. There
are all these different cultural things that people get tired of trying to deal
with the fight of getting stories in about people of color, stories about
sexual identity, and then not fitting into the social scene as well.
A few questions have been submitted by audience participants
earlier, and I would like to ask a few of them. With all of these fabulous talented
gay editors out there why can't New York City create a decent gay publication?
ROSHAN: It's a good question
because I started QW. We had this very rich shipping heir who sponsored
us. And my experience with working in a gay publication was that it was the
hardest thing that I have ever done, including working at Talk. There
was so much rancor between men and women about the expectations of what this
magazine needed to do, between what you were supposed to write... There was
no [sense of] journalism as a function of being critical of the community or
exposing things within the community, which is part of journalism. You don't
want to only be a cheerleader.
I think we've passed the point of "We all know we're here,
we're queer, we're used to it." But there are major issues that we need
to deal with as a community, and I often wish there was some publication dealing
with them. If a mainstream publication dealt with them, they would be accused
of homophobia. These are things that the gay press should be dealing with. But
instead you have Keanu Reeves on the cover of a national gay magazine and you
think, "Is this the best we can do?" I think some of it is economic,
some of it is the lack of advertiser support, but a lot of it is lack of community
support that everyone places these things that they want gay publications
to do, and no one agrees on what they should be. It is not a good place for
any editor to be in. And I think that's why.
GAJILAN: Having worked in
the gay press in San Francisco briefly, I think it also has to do with money
and with management. I've been an editor in the gay and mainstream press, and
frankly in the gay press, the budget's tighter, with a much tighter deadline
often, and you don't manage people well because you're just managing the publication.
You're trying to meet a deadline. So you have talented writers who you don't
nurture because you don't have time. And those good writers find themselves
eventually in the mainstream press. They're just raided. That's probably one
of the reasons that the gay press hasn't grown as much.
SCOTT: I agree with all of
that. Some economic issues aren't unique to gay and lesbian newspapers, but
[are relevant] to all small community newspapers. I got my start in journalism
as editor of the Butner-Creedmore News, published in Creedmore, the former
wholesale mule trading capitol of North Carolina, circulation 1,000. I was the
sole employee, and I learned the power of a local advertiser when the guy who
had the Ford dealership pulled the only full page ad out of our six-page paper.
Gay and lesbian editors face that. The surest way to trouble is when you write
the great investigative story in the Hartford, Connecticut, gay paper about
how the emergency exits are padlocked at the local gay disco, and the gay disco
is your prime advertiser.
There is a very small advertising base for most of these papers.
At the same time, little money is put into them from an editorial point of view.
I was at a conference in Dallas in September and at the time, the folks from
Window Corp., which owns the New
York Blade,admitted in a panel discussion that they have one
full-time editorial employee covering the city of New York. They have correspondents
and freelancers, but that is rather slim pickings for a city the size of New
York. The other thing that is amazing is that when you pick up those papers
is they never seem to write about what we all seem to talk about, all the stuff
that we gossip about, laugh about and talk about that is fascinating in gay
life. It never makes it into the gay newspapers in this town.
MOSS: I would just argue one
other thing. While I don't disagree that there is actually an editorial need,
I think the editorial need is not felt by as many people as it used to be. I
think that you find that in mainstream magazines... What we are all doing up
here by putting gay stuff in the publications that we edit is we make it less
necessary not that it wouldn't be helpful and useful, but less necessary
to have a singular gay press. I was looking at an issue of The
Advocatelast night and there were a bunch of letters on Dan
Pallotta. And I was thinking, well, we did Dan Pallotta. There was the piece
Brock and we did David Brock two weeks ago. What, am I editing The Advocate?
My identity during the '80s and '90s, during the time when the gay movement
was at its most powerful surge, I was really interested in all things homo.
Maybe as I got older, also as times changed, as we began to live in more assimilationist
times, I saw that people began to get their stuff from the mainstream media,
which had absorbed a lot of stuff that wasn't being published before.
ROSHAN: But African-American
issues are dealt with by the mainstream press, but there are still a thriving
black magazines and BET. What is the difference?
SCOTT: I really think what
Adam is saying makes sense. I think there is a big difference because African-Americans
aren't as completely assimilated. I think it's interesting that the Staats-Zeitung
in the late 1890s and early 1900s was the third largest newspaper in New
York City, and the largest German-language newspaper in the world. The publisher
was a major powerbroker in New York State. Yet now it is a weekly and not a
daily, or maybe it comes out twice a month, it's published out of Florida and
has like 5,000 readers. Assimilation is the answer. The gay experience is actually
in many ways is parallel to the immigrant experience, now that we have more
political power and more clout.
ROSHAN: I'll think about that
the next time I stroll through Chelsea.
We're now going to have some Q&A from the audience.
QUESTION: I'm Ron Hogan from Beatrice.com,
and to follow up on what we have been talking about, I'm wondering whether perhaps
the lack of what you call a really great gay magazine is possibly due to the
diversion of queer talent in the mid- and late '90s into online media. The most
obvious site is PlanetOut.com,
but I think there were a lot of really active queer sites throughout the '90s,
and I'm just wondering how much that affected the print situation.
SCOTT: In a panel in Dallas
I was on, Megan
Smith [PlanetOut's president and director of the board] said that the combined
PlanetOut/Gay.com empire has
had $60 million invested in it. And for all of that, they have one full-time
journalist. So at least on the journalism side, I don't think a hell of a lot
has been diverted.
QUESTION: Hi, this is Tunku Varadarajan
from The Wall Street Journal. This is a question primarily for Adam,
but I would love feedback from others. You said, if my notes are correct, that
you "edited a magazine that was pretty gay already." What did you
mean by that? And could I know if the others agreed with that?
MOSS: I mean something very
simple, which is that gayness shows up a lot in the pages of the magazine, and
sometimes I do worry too much. We ran an issue a couple of weeks ago in which
the lead profile was of Steven
Merritt, and it didn't make any bones about his gayness. It opened with
a scene of him sitting there at four o'clock in the afternoon at a gay bar writing
music. And then two stories back was a piece by Frank Rich on David Brock's
[Laughter.] And I thought, well, will the readers tolerate this much?
One of the things I said when I started was that there was a tension all the
time about editing for a general interest audience and trying to figure out
all the time, with an audience this large as we have at the Times Magazine,
whether we are actually speaking to all parts or too narrow a part of that audience.
All I mean is that gayness shows up a lot, not that I think the point of view
of the magazine is gay in any way. I think the point of view is much more complicated
than that. It's gay and straight and a whole set of adjectives.
WILBEKIN: I would just add
to that. I think what Adam is doing is creating a great magazine. Gay topics
are very hot topics right now. Rosie's on the cover of USA Today, everybody
watches Will & Grace, all these things are much more in popular culture
now then they were, say, ten years ago. So I think covering it more is simply
covering what's going on as journalists.
SCOTT: It might be worth noting
that many of these subjects would have been written about 20 years ago. The
difference is that the fact that these people were gay might not have been mentioned,
because they wouldn't have been out about it. I read the Times Magazine
every week, and I don't have a sense that it is more gay. It's just more honest
about who its subjects are, and it talks about them and their lives in a more
full and honest way. That seems to be really what's going on.
ROSHAN: Except if one of those
subjects is Barry Diller, I suppose. [Laughter.] For all we talk about
gay editors rising into positions of power, there are still subjects within
the Times and within Talk even, though I was editorial director,
that weren't addressed. There is a long way to go. I think one thing that I
share with Adam and with everyone here is that the most opposition to us in
my experience doesn't come from people who say, "It's too gay, you can't
do it." It's when you're in a position of authority and decision-making
power in which you check yourself and second-guess yourself and wonder, "Am
I going too far? Is my audience not going to like what I am doing?"
You have to think about your audience as an editor, and you keep doing that
and second-guessing yourself a lot.
QUESTION: My name is Melissa Walker
and I'm from Rosie magazine, and I actually wanted to ask about the the
buzz, or your individual opinions as journalists, about what it means to the
gay community that Rosie [O'Donnell] is coming out, and the fact that it's a
mainstream women's magazine and that she's a mainstream women's figure.
ROSHAN: It's interesting to
hear you say that "she's coming out," because we did this story on
Rosie at New York magazine. I wrote the cover
story, and it was about outing people or the way the media treats people
who are gay and their coverage or their lack of coverage [of that issue]. We
mentioned Rosie and Rosie's publicist said, "This is ridiculous. Rosie's
always been out." So it's something that I've thought about often during
these last few weeks that this has been rising to a crescendo. But I'm glad
that she is actually coming out. I think it's a good and brave thing to do,
and I think it's going to change a lot of people's minds who, believe it or
not, didn't know that she was gay. They're not in New York probably. But I think
it is a good thing.
MOSS: What is the staff talking
about? How do you guys inside feel it's going to change the magazine?
Melissa Walker: I think people
were nervous at first, but we've actually gotten overwhelmingly positive response
from our readers and from middle America, people who say, "I'm from Tennessee.
I love Rosie, and I don't care." We've had many, many people writing in
to say that, and very few people writing in with negative comments. Everyone's
really happy about it.
GAJILAN: Has Rosie addressed
your staff at all?
Melissa Walker: No, she hasn't.
ROSHAN: How is it going to
change the content of this magazine?
Melissa Walker: I don't think
that we are sure. Our April issue has a story about the law in Florida that
bans gay couples from adopting, and that was the main reason that Rosie pushed
this. She wanted to change that. We've had great response. It's been out for
two days, and we've already have hundreds of people write in and say, "I'm
writing letters to Jeb Bush." So that was our first thing, I don't know
what is coming in the future.
QUESTION: Hi, I'm Jessica Seigel.
It does seem that from what has been going on in the panel that lesbians are
afraid at least now to come out. That would suggest that women's issues perhaps
aren't considered to the same extent that men's issues are. I've certainly felt
that about The New York Times Magazine, that it seems very male. Now
I haven't known if that was gay male or straight male, so I'm just wondering
what you do to really consider getting women's opinions in, particularly when
lesbian editors do seem to just not feel free to come out.
GAJILAN: Adam, when are you
going to give me a job? [Laughs.]
ROSHAN: Stand in line. [Laughter.]
MOSS: I don't know that I
would share your assessment of the magazine as too male. I think it is streaky,
and that it goes in periods when it is very male and in periods when it is more
female. We have a hard time keeping the magazine consistent. That is a kind
of internal directional problem that we have. I think that the way you try and
deal with that is you focus on it. You try to think of stories that are interesting
that appeal to whatever parts of the population that you think you're not appealing
to at any given time. We have lots of women on the staff. Some of them may even
be gay, I don't know in some cases.
WILBEKIN: I don't know how
many of them are lesbian or not, but we have a lot of women on staff. They will
often times, in an issue critique about the gay hip-hop stories, ask, Would
we consider doing the lesbian version? We just try and make sure in general
that we are inclusive about everything. I have to force myself though not to
just always take the male, gay approach to things. We have a story on Me'shell
[Ndegeocello] coming out and she talks about her girlfriend, her experiences.
We run a different risk in that hip-hop guys glorify lesbianism as this erotic,
sexual turn-on, so I don't want play into that too much either. But I know that
if we run a fashion picture and it's two women walking through the woods in
their Gucci underwear, which we did do, no one even bats an eye. But if I had
two guys doing that, it would be a bigger thing. So I think it is a weird balance
Jessica Seigel:My question really was not so much about lesbian issues which do seem
to come up, but really about women's issues. Gay men have so much influence,
and male issues really do seem to be of your concern. Certainly, Mr. Moss, what
you mentioned about the magazine, occasionally, you have a special issue about
women as if to stick all the women's issues in one pop rather than have consistent
MOSS: I'm not sure how many
other people would agree with that. I'm not sure that I do agree with that,
but I will tell you about this special issue on women, which we are never doing
again. It was done because it's much easier for the business department to sell
The New York Times Magazine as a women's magazine. Every chance they
get... For example, Fashions of the Times and a lot of the "Part
2" magazines, they sell as women's magazines. They want that, and if there
is any pressure, it tends to go that way. "Why can't you give us more to
sell that will appeal to the cosmetics advertisers?"
In that case [of the women's issue], it was them coming to us
and saying, "We want to do an all-photo issue." The problem is that
when you are doing an all-photography issue is that you need a lot of editorial
paging. Otherwise, it just doesn't work. It just feels flat and thin. We were
looking for a topic that would sell enough ads that it would create enough edit.
That's why we've done Hollywood, and that's why we are forced into these ghetto
subjects that appeal narrowly to one advertising market basically the
fashion and cosmetics market. That was the reason we did that issue. I think
that the net effect was exactly what you described. For that reason it was a
mistake. It was back to creating a women's page, which is not something that
we want to do. But that "Mean Girls" story was read by a lot of women.
Maybe that was just the projection of a misogynist gay male editor. But it was
suggested, written, and edited all by women.
ROSHAN: I also reject this
notion that just because you are a gay male editor you give short shrift to
women. I think it is a stereotype that we should be over by now.
QUESTION: [from Dale Hrabi]
Earlier in my career, I was part of the launch team for Maxim magazine.
I was the only out gay man that helped that venture begin, which, as you know,
is very successful. In the course of doing that, it was very difficult time
for me, because I used to sit in staff meetings with ostensibly straight men
who would obsess at length about putting things up people's asses. And I used
to get attacked for a fashion layout where I had to nerve to show, for instance,
a man wearing loafers where you could see his ankle, because that was very gay
supposedly. You are all now in a position, relatively highly placed, to green-light
stories that explore gay issues that "promote the gay agenda." But
what about the other side of the coin, which is to halt the homophobic agenda,
which is mainly what I've done in my career working on mainstream magazines?
WILBEKIN: Since hip-hop music
is so misogynistic and homophobic, one thing that I made it my business to do
is not to edit out certain things in stories. We would do a story on India.Arie
and she would talk about her gay fans and how that inspired her and stuff like
that. But also, to show the balance, we did a story about a website that posted
homophobic lyrics and took them to task. And it's certain language within pieces
and how they refer to people. It's like, "Well, maybe we don't need that
whole quote." We run into it with everybody. It's not just homophobia,
it's misogyny as well. With our readership, the demo is 18 to 34. Obviously
it skews a little younger and a little older. But in general we reach a lot
of young multicultural kids. How can you teach them to be socially responsible?
You normalize everything, so that gay and lesbian and women are not some weird
thing. You know gay people, but do you go up to them and call them faggot? No.
Do you call you mother a bitch? No. That's the approach that we try to take.
We did an Eminem cover, which was a crazy experience for me, because
we have to deal with his homophobia. I cannot edit this magazine and deal with
that in that story. I didn't know that he was going to get nominated for so
many Grammys and then our lovely PR department would have me on TV arguing with
the GLAAD [Gay and Lesbian
Alliance Against Defamation] people about his right to speak out. That was psycho.
[Laughter.] But by the same token, I don't think that gay people would
be happy to not express themselves the way that they want to. So it's just a
really weird thing. I think it's just a constant fighting where you have to
check yourself a lot and push it.
QUESTION: [from David Martin,
director of communications at In
The Life Media] There's a lot of talk recently about a gay cable
television channel. As some of you know, In The Life has been around
for 10 years trying to do real stories about the lifestyles of the gay community.
My question is: If they have a gay cable channel, will there be more jobs for
journalists and more opportunities to show real lifestyles about the gay community?
Or will it be more campy movies and shows that have fictional characters portraying
ROSHAN: I would say the latter,
because that's what sells. A gay cable channel is going to be a commercial channel
and In The Life is public television, and that's why public stations
do what commercial stations don't do. That is why public stations exist and
commercial stations feed the lowest common denominator. It's money-driven. That
is the world we live in, I guess.
QUESTION: My question is for Emil.
Earlier, you touched on issues with non-black gays. Is it that, during your
career, there were expectations from certain colleagues who were gay but not
black that never panned out? Can you elaborate? I'm curious to know what that
was all about.
WILBEKIN: No, it's not like
that. I just think that I am carrying more loads on my shoulder than normal.
It's not that no one else has cultural things that they have to deal with, but
I often times find myself in conversations with people where they don't understand
my blackness, and they don't understand my gayness, so I feel as if I have to
kind of make an extra effort to explain things, or to justify my decision-making
about stories, and try to explain to them, for instance, that, yes, most of
the coverage in the magazine is black culture. It's not considered a black magazine
at least not internally from us. It's people of color, and we cover the
hottest things urban, which happens to be black artists. It is kind of flipping
the script on the '50s and '60s. So, just as a lesbian of color might add something
more to be being black, a gay man adds more drama.
[from Jacob Bernstein, media reporter for Women's Wear Daily]
I wanted to go back to what this guy from In The Life was just talking
about, because I think it's a topic that needs to be made clear. To what extent
has gay appeal ceased to be about politics in the age of protease inhibitors
and assimilation, and isn't it always about the exposed angle at this point?
Isn't it always about campy movies now and pop-culture sensibility?
SCOTT: I think that's a fascinating
question. I don't know that I have an answer, but I spend a lot of time asking
myself that. It wasn't until recently, in an all-gay men's psychotherapy group
I went in one day and announced I no longer considered myself to be gay,
just simply a happy homosexual. Because the images of gay life that I see presented
in the gay media seem utterly irrelevant. Like Adam, I know nothing about opera.
I don't watch old Bette Davis movies. I don't shave my chest. I don't take steroids.
I don't know what being gay is anymore. I don't have a sense that there is community,
and I think that is going to make it very difficult for gay media, because I
don't read gay magazines. I read one when I worked at one. I can't imagine that
I am going to watch an all-gay channel. I like Will & Grace, so I
think that doesn't auger well for specific gay-oriented publications and cable
QUESTION: Hi, Gary Shapiro here.
I write the Knickerbocker column for TheForward newspaper. This
is for Maer Roshan. How good was the gay coverage at Talk magazine, and
if you care to answer this part, why did the magazine fail and what are you
going to do next?
ROSHAN: I'll handle the first
part. I think the gay coverage at Talk magazine was pretty fair. In the
March issue, we had a story that will never see the light of day by Michelangelo
Signorile on bad gays. It was called "Evil Queens," and I was very
happy that I got that past Tina. It was about Mohammed Atta and Hitler and about
all these evil queens coming up, what that meant, how the culture was dealing
with that, and why the culture was so fascinated with the idea of the evil queen.
I recently read a Neal Travis [gossip column] item in which he talked about
Talk magazine outing a notable personage in the March issue that will
never be published, and of course that was Hitler. [Laughter.] So I think
we moved the magazine to do better than before I got there. What am I doing
next? Watching Oprah and waiting for offers.
QUESTION: [From Michael
Shepley] I remember 7 Days and what a wonderful publication it
was, but we didn't know that Adam Moss was a gay editor at that time. Now we
seem to know who gay editors are. I'm just wondering, when you guys go for interview
or when you went for interviews 10 years ago and in your positions now, do you
expect that people will know you're gay? Do you not bring it up, or do you expect
that your publicity will precede you and you won't have to talk about?
MOSS: I hate coming out. Every
time I have to come out is just an excruciating experience. One of the positive
aspects in being known as a gay editor is that you don't have to have that conversation.
When I first came to the Times,I was relieved that I was at a
social event with my boyfriend when I met the managing editor and subsequent
editor of the paper, so I never actually had to have that conversation. That
was a huge relief. At 7 Days, when I was so confused about being out
not about being gay, but nervous as hell Leonard Stern, who owned
7 Days and who also owned The Village Voice,had invited
me to dinner at his very fancy, dripping-with-money townhouse on upper Fifth
Avenue. I actually invited a woman to go with me. This was to the house of the
owner of The Village Voice. I was that terrified of it, and at the very
last minute, I had this crisis of conscience and I dumped the woman I was going
to go with and brought my boyfriend. They knew, and I didn't have to tell them.
They were wondering why I was bringing this woman to a dinner party. So, in
general, I'm relieved. Luckily I haven't had to have that conversation in a
WILBEKIN: I think I've become
more comfortable with it over time. I'm going to tell a great anecdote about
Maer. Very early on when I became editor-in-chief [of Vibe], Maer said,
"I really want to pitch a story about you for New York magazine,
being openly gay and editing this magazine. And even though everyone pretty
much knew that I was gay, I just wasn't comfortable with it at that point. I
wasn't comfortable with myself as an editor-in-chief, let alone an out editor-in-chief.
I just didn't know if that would complicate things. So I said, "Please
give me a year. I'll let you do it in a year." Then Out magazine
called about being on the Out 100. I realized that these are moments
when you do have to do it, regardless of whether you are comfortable with it
or not. You are a role model, someone in a position of power, and unless you
want things to stay the same, you just have to go out there and do it, regardless
of what your mother's friends are going to think. And I had that exact thing
happen with Maer's gay issue I was on his "Power Outage" list
with a picture and people sent it to my mother and said, "This is a great
article that your son was in," and I was thinking that she would be freaked
out, but she was really proud.
ROSHAN: I hate the idea of
being a "gay editor," frankly. I'm gay, I'm happy about being gay.
Inasmuch as being defined as a gay editor makes people think that's all your
capable of, we all have to prove that's not all we are capable of. I
think 95 percent of all the stories that I have edited have been about non-gay
issues. Transcription by Adam Wasserman.