The message Tuesday morning in Lory Student Center Room 210 was clear: media coverage of the GLBT community in Colorado has been inadequate and, in many cases, a result of hindsight.
A panel of five experts on the topic told a room packed with about 70 local residents and students that news organizations need to become more involved with issues surrounding the GLBT public.
“In some ways, we have committed the sin that some of our coverage … is reactionary,” said John Tomasic, the state editor of the Colorado Independent, an online daily political publication. “Something happens, you respond and then write the story, and that isn’t always the best way to do it.”
More specific to gay marriage, Andy Stoll, the executive director of the Lambda Center, a resource center for the gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning and ally community in Northern Colorado, said he felt like while the media does well in covering the issue, it gets tangled up in smaller, somewhat unrelated issues, including state policy regarding GLBT.
In 2006, both Amendment 43, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and Referendum I, which would have extended domestic rights to same-sex couples, were brought to the Colorado ballot. Amendment 43 passed, and Referendum I was defeated, leaving many GLBT people with few options for rights in relationships.
Stoll said he felt that, during this year, while the GLBT community watched these issues closely, the media’s focus shifted with the tides of public opinion.
“In 2006, the media did a good job initially in presenting the reality of what marriage means to a GLBT person,” he said. “I think where the media failed . is when they got bogged down in the debate, to try and start conversations that don’t really go anywhere.”
Speaking about his own experiences with the press, Joe Peterson, a CSU student and activist who aimed to push a measure that would have given GLBT community members in civil unions in Colorado the same rights as married heterosexuals, said he felt there was a tendency for some publications to focus on the wrong parts of an issue.
“I felt that, in looking at Coloradoan and Fort Collins Now, they did a good job getting the tone of the message (of my proposal), but they did a lot of reporting that was centered around the young people pushing the initiative than the initiative itself.”
Melanie Asmar, a reporter for Westword, a Denver-based alternative weekly said journalists sometimes need help in generating material about GLBT issues.
“I think that a lot of times media reporters are expected to come up with their own ideas,” Asmar said. “So if someone is really into something, it’ll get a lot of coverage. And if not, sometimes (an issue) can fall by the wayside.”
Tomasic said he noticed this discrepancy in coverage as well, noting his own publication’s oversight in some instances. But as a political newspaper, he said he felt its focus tended to encapsulate issues like gay marriage in larger questions, focusing on how things tie together when events happen.
“For us, it’s a human rights issue. It’s tied to a lot of other stories,” he said.
Rather than just focusing on the where, what and when of an event, Tomasic said his reporters hope to find how each event is tied to a separate issue, giving them a chance to ask a different set of questions.
“We look for a larger context to put it in,” she said.
But Christopher Hubble, the lead organizer of Soulforce in Colorado, an organization dedicated to relieving the GLBT community of “religious and political oppression” according to their Web site, said the passivity of some publications can force the hand of activists in creating the news.
“When an issue isn’t getting covered, we can use civil disobedience, and so we can create an opportunity for journalists to cover an issue,” Hubble said as he spoke about the struggles GLBT activists face in getting attention for their issues. “In that sense, we’ve had good coverage.”
But, he added later, “Why is it that it is necessary for people to go out and get arrested to get an issue covered?”
In defense of reporters, Asmar spoke about the importance of some journalists in using events to spur discussion of big issues.
“I feel like … reactionary is kind of a harsh word,” she said. “Giving an issue context is a better way to put it. If there’s nothing going on at the time, I think it’s hard to go into a story without the news hook. There’s no reason to get into it.”
To improve, Tomasic suggested that writers leave their offices and desks and get involved in their stories.
“These kinds of issues — civil right issues, human rights issues — only come alive when you’re on the spot and you’re live-blogging at the case,” he said.
By chasing the story, he said reporters can better capture the whole picture of the issue in their story rather than just following leads and events.
“You must report the story as much as you can.”
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