By: Mark Fitzgerald
One year later, newspaper coverage of gay march on
Washington, D.C., lives on in traveling exhibition sp.
NEXT TUESDAY, APRIL 25, marks the second anniversary of the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, an occasion unlikely to be noted by newspapers with much more than a mention in the daily almanac.
Yet, for more than a year, the gay march has been on scores of newspaper front pages in cities and small towns all across America.
The march lives on in “Front Page,” a traveling documentary exhibition that presents the front pages that 156 newspapers from all 50 states published on Monday, April 26, 1993, the day after the landmark gathering.
“Front Page” has almost no accompanying text. It is simply, and literally, an exhibit of front pages mounted on 20 panels and arranged alphabetically by state. The majority of the papers, or 107, have circulations over 100,000, and 87% carried a story about the march on the front page.
If it includes no commentary, however, “Front Page” has a message, says its creator, New York City attorney and gay activist William K. Dobbs.
“This was the most extensive and prominent coverage of gay people probably ever,” Dobbs said. “And the press pretty much did a decent job on this story.”
Indeed, Dobbs regards it as something of a turning point ? although not a complete route around the corner ? in gay coverage, because the reporting concentrated on the mainstream rather than the bizarre.
“Major papers, for the first time, were taking gay and lesbian rights issues seriously,” he said.
“Front Page” made its debut at the 1993 National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) convention in New York City. Dobbs presented it then as a sort of content analysis of the nation’s largest papers, representing more than half total daily newspaper circulation (E&P, Oct. 9, 1993, p. 14).
Dobbs found that 87% of the papers covered the story with a front-page picture, 6% used a photo or teaser to refer to an inside story, and another 6% had only an inside story.
Two papers in the exhibit, the Christian Science Monitor and the Bisbee (Ariz.) Daily Review, had no next-day story at all.
But now that the exhibit has been traveling for so long, Dobbs finds audience reactions to the coverage more interesting than statistics on content.
“Because there is no commentary, it draws in a lot of people” who have no particular expectation, Dobbs said. “It happened that there was a big story the same day about Boris Yeltsin [winning a key legislative vote in Russia], and I’ve heard people say, ‘Hey, did you see the big exhibit on Russia?'” Dobbs said.
“Front Page” has traveled to colleges as varied as the University of Pennsylvania ? where it was co-sponsored by the Annenberg School of Communication ? and Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, a school of 18,000 students and staff that counts 35 members in its gay and lesbian group.
Though it appeared at the NLGJA, Dobbs said the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of Newspaper Editors turned down his offers to exhibit at their conventions.
Traveling with the exhibit has given Dobbs a chance to observe gay coverage across the country. Press on his own exhibit, he says, has been almost uniformly positive.
“Because it is about newspapers, it usually gets the local press involved,” he said. Still, he says he is occasionally reminded of how far mainstream newspapers have to go in incorporating gay sources into everyday stories.
He was most struck last Valentine’s Day when he was with the exhibit at Central Michigan University.
“To me, Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to weave a gay [interest] into the stories,” Dobbs said. “But I was most disappointed when the paper I grew up with in Michigan, the [Detroit] Free Press, had a story that was something like ‘How to catch a man.’ The story was so much about . . . [traditional] sex roles.”