LGBT Publications: How Editorial Content and Circulation Cater to the Community
By Dustin S. McManus, 2012
Media plays an important role in representing and communicating amongst groups of people in society, specifically minority groups that may find themselves alienated from broader outlets. Magazines and publications play an important role in tailoring their content to specific audiences, facilitating a sense of community and reporting on issues relevant to the audience that subscribes to them. This is especially true of LGBT publications, many of which were established as alternatives to mainstream media publications that lacked any sort of reporting style and connection with this community.
James Baxter, a writer who founded the Raleigh, N.C. based gay and lesbian publication The Front Page, which would later merge and become a part of another North Carolina based LGBT publication Q-Notes, notes the importance of an LGBT publication in establishing communicative channels between a group of similarly identified people. Baxter stated that “there would have to be some kind of mass medium of communication” for a community and that “if there was going to be a community in North Carolina, it needed to be statewide” to reach a mass audience.
The editorial content present in the local to Chapel Hill publication Lambda, the regional Southeastern magazine Q-Notes and the nationally circulated Out Magazine provide both shared commonalities and unique differences based upon their geographic scope and the subscribers each is marketed for.
The oldest student publication in the United States targeted at the LGBT community, Lambda is product of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s student organization GLBTSA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Straight Alliance) since 1976. Published each semester of the school year, Lambda is the campus’ only LGBTIQ-Affirming magazine.
Specializing in a feminist, non-racist and socially conscious perspective, Lambda’s primary goal is the quest for social justice for everyone, no matter their gender, race or sexual orientation. In their pursuit of social justice, Lambda publishes many stories that center around news and issues for the LGBT community in hopes of enlightening, informing and progressing the liberation of the LGBT community and creating a knowledgeable, unified voice for a minority group facing off against oppression.
Founded in 1983 as a monthly newsletter to the Charlotte, N.C. based LGBT organization Queen City Quordinators, Q-Notes is a publication that serves the LGBT throughout North and South Carolina as a bi-weekly print magazine with the largest circulation in the Southeast for an LGBT publication. Though mainly confined to those two states, Q-Notes’ 11,000 print circulations reaches areas of the states of Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, while reaching subscribers as far north as New York. The publication is geared more towards a tabloid style format, focusing on all types of coverage from news, politics, arts and lifestyle.
From its humble beginnings, Q-Notes has undergone several defining evolutions in its nearly 30 years of existence, including layout and editorial design changes, as well as re-defining their news editorial techniques. The scope and power of this publication is no less evident than its ability to conduct and publish interviews with both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic Candidate Primary. As of 2009 the publication’s editor, Matt Comer, decided to take Q-Notes in a new editorial direction, streamlining the magazine’s reporting on mostly future-oriented stories and goals while dialing back coverage on past events.
A nationally published magazine, Out is an LGBT features publication centered around themes entertainment, lifestyle and fashion with particular draw and appeal to the LGBT community. Founded in 1992, Out is now the highest circulated monthly LGBT publication in the country reaching over 200,000 subscribers. The publication models itself off of the editorial styles and content of other popular national publications such as GQ and Esquire, two prominent men’s fashion and lifestyle magazines.
One of the stalwart editorial decisions of the magazine was its avoidance in publishing extremely suggestive sexual material or classified personals which enabled the publication to come off as more of a welcoming, mainstream magazine that led to more advertisers jumping on board than with other LGBT publications, such as The Advocate when it was first published. The publication has come under attack from lesbians who believe that the self-defined LGBT publication tailors its editorial content nearly exclusive to gay men.
Each of these three publications has a clear focus on presenting stories and reporting news that in some ways affects the targeted LGBT community. This may not always translate into content that is one hundred percent LGBT-related, but that is unequivocally meant to pique some sort of interest within the community. All three publications possess strong opinion and editorial pieces, signified by striking first-person writing voices. Additionally, each publication has at least one feature story that fits into the lifestyle/culture/entertainment content spectrum, be it a piece in Lambda about a public perception of pride parades or Out’s cover interview with pop star Britney Spears.
These commonalities signify and indicate two editorial elements that no matter the geographic circulation or marketing strategies of each publication, the content is not affected and meant to attract and hold the interest an overall LGBT community. It’s clear that these publications want to provide powerful, opinionated voices that express controversial and fortuitous stances on issues or matters relating to the LGBT community. On top of opinion pieces, the features each publication chooses to publish provide a clear lens into some facet of an overall LGBT lifestyle that may otherwise be overlooked by another editorial team at another magazine not specifically targeted to this community. These are fun pieces meant to entertain any reader, but are fine-tuned in attempts to appeal to a mass LGBT audience.
Researching archival issues of Lambda and the editorial content present in many of their issues, it’s evident that this publication out of all three does its very best to produce content and stories for every segment and facet of the LGBT community. In one sample issue, Lambda provided a story centered around a gay man juggling his sexuality with his cultural heritage, a lesbian discussing the battle against stereotypes, a story urging that bisexuality be recognized as a legitimate sexual identity, and several pieces regarding gender expression and the understanding of the queer.
While not all of their stories are confined to a local angle or person, Lambda provides the best variety in articulating issues and matters related to every possible spectrum of the LGBT community while serving a tight-knit local community. Lambda also does excellent coverage on international issues, such as publishing a story about moving forward from the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and having a photo story about an LGBT organization in Peru. Clearly focused around the issues facing the LGBT community, Lambda provides comprehensive editorial coverage of all types the reach beyond the limits of just a locally produced North Carolina magazine in order to appeal to a wide and diverse LGBT audience.
Analyzing the archives of Q-Notes produced a solid sense of their editorial patterning for their LGBT audience. Q-Notes works to provide a consistent blend of national headlines and issues affecting all members of the LGBT community while honing in on specific regional and local areas of interest for its geographic circulation. Striking a consistent balance between profile and feature stories centered around culture and lifestyle with hard news and reporting regarding national incidents affecting the rights and perception of the LGBT community, Q-Notes is a publication that is inclusive enough for the average reader while finely tailored to keep its appeal to its regional subscribers.
A sample issue of Q-Notes contained a cornucopia of stories that represent its editorial attitude of producing some sort of content for everyone. The lead story was locally and regionally based in travel options, events and activities for gay and lesbians in the area. Q-Notes tackled national headlines regarding Rick Perry’s presidential campaign and a piece regarding different perceptions on monogamy for gay and straight people. Regional and local stories included local spin on an HRC gala, a profile of the Vote Against Project and its efforts to stop the passage of North Carolina’s Amendment One and a film addressing HIV made in the Triangle area of the state. With such a variety in its editorial content and the proximity context of each story, Q-Notes comes off as an LGBT publication that caters to the community’s need for news, while retaining entertainment value in its creative feature stories.
Conducting research into Out’s editorial archives led to the discovery of a firm editorial identity for the publication, one that very rarely wavers from issue to issue. Out defines itself as a features publication, plain and simple. It focuses the bulk of its editorial content on profile pieces of celebrities, feature stories about topics in entertainment, fashion, food and culture and lengthy photo spreads showcasing designer clothing or interior decorating. Very rarely does Out delve into deep issues affecting the LGBT community. It instead tailors its profile, feature and columns to topics of interest for members of the LGBT community.
In a sample issue of Out, there were four distinct profiles chronicling the careers of actress Gillian Anderson, fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, a musical duo THEESatisfaction and an upcoming actress starring in a new HBO comedy. Layered between those were feature stories about the television show GCB, the new menswear director for Louis Vuitton and the film director of a low budget horror film. Out’s main editorial mission seems to be a publication with high entertainment value focused on areas of art, entertainment and lifestyle that would appeal to a mass, national LGBT community. While some of their profiles did delve into questions regarding heavy LGBT issues, such as Anderson’s flirtation with lesbianism and Gaultier’s thoughts on gender expression, Out focuses the bulk of its editorial content around features that would appeal mostly to a more affluent, male-oriented part of the LGBT spectrum.
An essential aspect to consider with these LGBT publications is how they are marketed to their audience and how that element, as well as the geographic circulation of a publication, can influence and determine the type of reporting and stories that are chosen to be presented within the publication. Archival research for Lambda, Q-Notes and Out reveals clear editorial patterns and attitudes based on locational factors. Lambda works to reach out and provide pertinent news and information affecting the LGBT community for its local readership. Q-Notes combines its regional circulation and appeal presented through fun features and profile stories with content that resonates with all members of the LGBT community nationally. Out strictly tailors its editorial content with strong features and editorials specifically targeted at LGBT interests in attempts to simply entertain a broad, national LGBT audience.
Out appears to not be as hard-hitting in its reporting and coverage of LGBT issues, or as inclusive to the interests of every different identity within that community like Lambda. Q-Notes comes out looking like the effective combination of Out’s national reach and editorial mission to entertain with Lambda’s local focus and inclusivity in their editorial content to portray stories and issues affecting all segments of the LGBT identity. Observing these three publications provides a clear sense of how a publication’s geographic circulation and editorial content works to establish its place and reach among a community, such as the LGBT one, harkening back to the words of James Baxter.
- Interview with James Baxter by Chris McGinnis, Friday, September 21, 2001 K-0840 in the Southern Oral History Program Collection #4007, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Lambda Spr. 2012: 1-25. Print.
- Lambda Spr. 2012: 1-25. Print.
- Q-Notes Feb. 2012: 1-67. Print.
- Out April 2012: 1-88. Print.