First-Ever Partnership of Gay Paper & Network TV Affiliate–And It’s In Bible Belt

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

In what’s believed to be a first-ever partnership between a gay newspaper and a mainstream network-affiliated television station, Out & About Newspaper in Nashville is producing a weekly program for the cable outlet of the CBS affiliate WTVF NewsChannel 5.

“Out & About Today” broadcast its first show Saturday June 11 on Cable Channel 50, part of WTVF’s NewsChannel Plus network. The first show featured an interview with John Siegenthaler, the former The Tennessean editor who is the founder of Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center in Nashville.

Two of the three hosts of the new show are Out & About Editor Brent Meredith and Community Relations Director Pam Wheeler, but they first had to pass an audition, said the paper’s publisher Jerry Jones. “We had about 25 people audition,” he said in a telephone interview. “We were serious about this.”

Jones said the paper was approached this spring by WTVF President and General Manager Debbie Turner who wanted a show for the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender (GLBT) audience as part of a rollout this summer of five shows aimed at diverse audiences.

“I think this is the first time a network has ever done this kind of programming before,” he said.

WTVF, which is the number-one rated broadcast station in the Nashville market, is owned by Norfolk, Va.-based Landmark Communications Inc., publisher of 17 daily newspapers and numerous free and community papers. The chain’s commitment to diversity was the driving reason behind the gay-oriented show, station chief Turner said.

“The corporation, and this station, are looking to increase inclusiveness and to be more diverse (internally),” Turner said in a telephone interview. “This is just one more way to do on the outside what we are trying to do on the inside.”

Three gay papers compete in Nashville. Turner said she chose the three-year-old Out & About because of its focus on news, and from strong recommendations for publisher Jones that she heard from people in the GLBT community. “That’s not to say that the others aren’t good publications in the community, just that we had to pick one,” she said.

Not surprisingly, the show generated controversy right from the start.

“Well, we live in an interesting area of the country, and certain religious groups would prefer we do not do this, and certainly have vocalized those views with me, and we’ve had a good dialogue,” Turner said.

The actual program — which runs on Saturdays at 9 p.m. and is repeated Sundays at 10:30 p.m. — is “very tame and professional in content,” Turner said. “It’s talking heads — not, you know, risque video.” She has shown the content to critics, but hasn’t changed any minds, she said.

The first show, for instance, also featured an interview with the national chairman of the Human Rights Campaign, the big gay rights lobbying group, and a segment on a lesbian entertainer. Once a month, Jones said, the program will feature a business segment on a gay or “gay-friendly” enterprise.

“It’s not necessarily the content of the show they object to,” station manager Turner said, “They just don’t believe this is a market that should be served.”

WTVF has a strong partnership with other newspapers, most notable Gannett Co.’s The Tennessean. The station is looking at two Hispanic papers as it considers whether to partner with a paper or a community organization for an upcoming Hispanic-oriented show on NewsChannel Plus, Turner said.

Out & About is a monthly newspaper with a 10,000-copy press run that began in Nashville and is now distributed in all the major cities of Tennessee, Publisher Jones said.

“We do something that’s unusual in the gay press: we mail copies to subscribers free of charge, all they have to do is ask for us,” Jones said. Some 3,000 subscribers have taken the paper up on its offer, he said.

“It is expensive, but it’s also been a huge selling point to our advertisers,” he said.

The paper’s Web site, http://www.outandaboutnashville.com, gets about 10,000 downloads for PDF’s of the paper each month, Jones said.

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