Sexuality In The Newsroom p.13

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Gay journalists discuss concerns about coming out in
small markets; Anchorage editor forming networking group sp.

COMING OUT TO families and colleagues can be difficult enough, but in a small market or in a situation where there are few ? or no ? other gays in the newsroom, the situation may be exacerbated.
"I'm not sure how you approach sexuality in the newsroom. The fact that some people don't like it does matter somewhat, for better or worse," noted Steve Friess, a reporter for the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star.
Speaking on a panel during the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention in Washington, Friess, who was especially concerned about coming to a smaller market from papers in New York and Chicago, said he decided to be open about his sexuality. The situation was helped by the fact that there was an "openly out" editor at the paper.
Covering the police department, however, was another story.
Friess decided not to come out to the cops, but he would not lie, either, if asked directly.
One day, however, Friess' editor called him in and said he was glad Friess felt comfortable being out in the newsroom, but he wondered how the reporter was handling the matter at the police station.
"It was like taking an issue that was mine to debate and involving my editor," Friess said, adding that he "ultimately calmed him down."
"At the time, I didn't know how to take it, but a few months later, I realized [it was] offensive," he commented, pointing out that reporters aren't given the same grilling regarding their political views.
Friess said he believed the editor was being pulled by more important strings. "They said they didn't care, but they did, in a way."
Dennis Chapman was a chef and musician in Washington and Boston before returning to Sioux Falls, S.D., to care for his mother.
Chapman was hired as a restaurant writer for the Argus Leader, where he knew he would have a rough time when he took on the big restaurants ? if they were lousy, he would say so.
In his fourth column, Chapman said he "pushed buttons everywhere" and one restaurant owner called the newspaper trying to get Chapman fired.
The owner charged, among other things, that Chapman had been trying to ask the waiter out and that he had taken bribes, but his managing editor was concerned only with the bribery charge, which Chapman assured him was not true.
Chapman was disturbed, however, by the letters to the editor about him published in the newspaper.
"If they were about any other group, they would never have been published," he said.
In some cases, editors mean well but have difficulty understanding.
Cheryl Phillips, a reporter at the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune, said when she was being interviewed for a job there, she had dinner with an editor, who told her that because he was a vegetarian in a meat-eating state, he could relate to how she felt as a lesbian.
Phillips said she gently explained that it was a little different.
On her first day in the newsroom, the editor asked Phillips if she'd like him to make an announcement about her sexuality.
She asked him if he would make an announcement that he was dating a woman.
"The people in this particular newsroom" just have not met many gays and lesbians, she said, adding that it has been "an educational process there."
"The main thing has been the lack of knowledge. People think because I'm out that I am an activist," Phillips said, noting that because she covers politics, she is especially careful not to be an activist.
While some audience members said they did not like being asked questions about gay and lesbian issues ? especially stupid or silly questions ? Friess said, "If you are the only gay person, you shouldn't resent that. If you're asked all the time about how they're handling stories, you may get real tired of it, but it's really important," he said. "The right reaction is to give your input and be honored you were asked."
One audience member pointed out that she believes there is more danger in not being asked and later seeing a mistake in the paper that makes her cringe.
Because so many NLGJA members are from large markets, members from other areas may feel isolated, explained Kim Severson, entertainment editor of the Anchorage Daily News.
During the session about being the "only one" in the newsroom, Severson passed around a sign-up list, hoping that the issues of importance to small-market journalists can be focused and brought to the attention of the board and perhaps generate a small-market task force for networking and support, and maybe a newsletter.
Anyone interested in becoming part of such a group should contact Severson at the Anchorage Daily News.
On her first day in the newsroom, the editor asked Phillips if she'd like him to make an announcement about her sexuality. She asked him if he would make an announcement that he was dating a woman.


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