Today Marks Fortieth Anniversary of Upstairs Lounge Fire in New Orleans

For the last few months, I’ve been working on a media history project involving the fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans. The fire caused the death of 32 men and women–most of whom were gay. The death, the fire and the aftermath are often marked as the “Stonewall of New Orleans” meaning that the fire and the loss of so many from the gay community sparked the modern movement in New Orleans.

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Did The ‘Liberal’ Media Force Tebow’s Cancellation Of An Upcoming Speaking Engagement?

The big news last week was that college football great and NFL no-so-great Tim Tebow had cancelled his April speaking engagement at the First Baptist Church of Dallas—if you haven’t heard by now it’s a megachurch headed by pastor Robert Jeffress, who isn’t really keen on gays and lesbians, the Mormon, Jewish or Muslim faiths, or President Obama. And of course the media is now being credited and, in some cases, blamed for Tebow’s decision.

I have to say I’m surprised by Tebow’s move. Do I think it is a good move? Yes! But I’m still surprised. I think even three years ago this would have been one of those instances that a evangelical Christian in Tebow’s position would have milked dry. Being bullied about his beliefs and all. I’m surprised the narrative didn’t go something like, “I’m not going to be told by the media or any one else how to serve, God!” I imagine that he would have then gone on every available news and religious program to talk about how he was being railroaded for his beliefs by the evil, liberal media and the “gay agenda.”

But times have changed. Tebow knows that a speaking engagement like the one he had booked for April in Texas could damage his image for years. However, his manner of announcement, with a vague, at best, post on Twitter and Facebook (at least that’s where I saw his post announcing the cancellation). He kind of eased out of the appearance with very little to say about it.

So what happened next? Well you’ve seen it. Stories from both those who have a new found appreciation for Tebow and those who felt disheartened by his announcement. The one side congratulating him for his courage and standing up to what many have called hate speech and the other side calling him a coward, who has succumb to the pressures of the wicked world (I’ve actually seen the word wicked thrown around).

All that to say, yes I do think the media holds athletes and public figures more accountable when it comes to LGBT community. We’ve seen story after story in the last year, where folks are learning that difficult way that even indirect hate doesn’t play out in the media. I would credit Greg Doyel’s February 18 column on CBSSports.com with shedding some mainstream attention on the Tebow speaking engagement. If you missed it, you should read it. Doyel sums up the entire argument in the first sentence—“Tim Tebow is about to make the biggest mistake of his life.” I don’t see anything wrong with the media “scaring” Tebow into a good decision. Isn’t the media supposed to hold public figures accountable for their actions? I don’t think everyone has the same opinion. A post and the comments that followed on The Blaze is evidence that some folks feel pretty strongly the other way.

What do you think about Tebow’s decision, and what was the media’s role?

Oh and here’s a video from The Right Wing Watch that show cases the American Family Association’s reaction to Tebow’s news.

Illuminating the Past: Interview with Reporter Covering the AIDS Beat in New Orleans During the 1980s

When I defended my master’s thesis in the spring of 2011 I knew the work was far from perfect. What is that they say? A shoddy thesis is a done thesis. I’m not saying my work is shoddy just far from perfect. But one of the things that was missing was an interview with reporters who were covering the AIDS epidemic in New Orleans (at both the mainstream and gay and lesbian newspapers). A couple of weeks ago I conducted the first interview on the road to perfecting my research.

The following are highlights from my interview with John Pope, who was the AIDS beat writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune beginning in 1985.

John Pope became the AIDS beat writer for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans in the summer of 1985. Before Pope began working the beat, the newspaper relied on wire news stories and a few local written pieces, which were picked up by other, randomly assigned reporters. Pope began working for the Times-Picayune in 1980 when the newspaper merged with the city’s evening daily, the States-Item, where he was a general assignment reporter. Pope, a native of New Orleans, recounted his first AIDS assignment as well as the events that led to him covering the disease on a full-time basis.

Continue reading “Illuminating the Past: Interview with Reporter Covering the AIDS Beat in New Orleans During the 1980s”

Alaskan Lawmakers Apparently Forgot We Live in a World With YouTube

On Friday, February 15, members of Alaska’s House Majority (Republican) Caucus laughed after being posed a question from a reporter on the body’s position on same-sex civil unions or marriages. Caucus members had gathered to report it’s guiding principals, of which civil unions or same-sex marriages did not rank.

Video of the exchange can be seen via YouTube, and the caucus felt a need, on Monday, to release a statement in regards to the incident. The statement alluded to an inside joke as the reason for the laughter, but, of course, the viewer is not privy to inside jokes. The laughter seems as though it is in response to the legislators’ feelings on civil unions and same-sex marriage.

YouTube, for all of its faults, makes the world a more scrutinized place. Some might say we all have to be too politically correct. I think we are all just a little more accountable for our actions, words, or both. Politicians would do well to remember that.

Less than 10 years ago who have known about this exchange in Anchorage, Alaska? The folks in attendance and maybe the folks who read or watch the news in the city, and then only if those outlets chose to run or to air the exchange.

The reaction and the apology also point to a cultural change in the US. Would the same group have felt the need for such an apology five years ago or even a year ago? I don’t think they would have. What do you think?

Change Always Seems Slow Especially for Traditional Media

A story broke over the weekend of an Atlanta wedding photographer who’s advertisement was rejected from an Atlanta wedding magazine because it feature two women getting married. The photographer, Anne Almasy, responded with an open letter on her website. The letter prompted a response from the magazine editors.

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In brief, the response was apologetic but it sounded a little too familiar. Familiar because it sounded like the choice to reject the ad was made not because of sound or, at least, established protocol but on a gut reaction. A gut reaction that the publishers are more than likely wishing they would have mulled over a little longer.

Almasy’s letter has been reposted via social media sites and featured on larger blog sites since she first posted it, which means negative attention for Weddings Unveiled, the publication that first rejected the advertisement.

I had a several reactions to story, but my initial reaction was how had a wedding magazine not prepared for this? How? Why? In 2013, when same-sex marriage is legal in nine states as well as the District of Columbia, representing 15.7% of the US population (based on 2011 population). Additionally, two Native American tribes—have legalized same-sex marriage, and Rhode Island recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states or jurisdictions.

These are questions the media has to ask itself. What is the newspaper’s policy on running same-sex engagement and wedding announcements? Will our wedding magazine feature same-sex weddings? How do we defend our stance to the public? Do we announce this using our editorial or commentary space?

We have seen from this instance what can happen when a media outlet doesn’t plan ahead. When media professional act on a gut feeling or hunch or act in a discriminatory fashion, it gets notice. Just do a quick Google search for “gay couple denied wedding announcement in newspaper.”

The media should already be prepared and ready to move forward, but if you’re not just take a look at Anne Almasy’s website and the responses to her post.

A Tornado In Hattiesburg Brings Back Old Journalistic Memories and Impulses

In August 2005, I worked at a newspaper in Meridian, Miss. during one of the worst natural disasters in history, Hurricane Katrina. I remember getting up for work that morning (I was the assistant sports editor so morning meant like 10 a.m.) and arriving to only to wait a few hours before the storm arrived. We knew it was coming, but we weren’t prepared for the aftermath. How could we be?

I remember how hectic newspaper life was for the month after Katrina made landfall. Even in sports. Every week there was a “first since Katrina” story. It was a crazy time that I never want to relive, but, admittedly, it was kind of thrilling as a journalist.

On Sunday, around 4:45 p.m. or so, I was working in my home office—like any good PhD student. Tornado sirens began going off, but they had been most all day long so I just kind of ignored them. After I posted the blog I had been writing, I went up stairs for a little catnap (another trait of a good PhD student is being able to take short naps and awaken refreshed).

The sirens went off again—this time so did the electricity. The combination of the two caused me to take notice this time. I came down stairs looked out the peephole—as if I had heard an unexpected guest knocking at the door. I wish it had been an unexpected guest. I ran for the closet under our staircase in the living room. We store all of our cleaning junk in there like the vacuum and brooms along with our bulk warehouse store supply of paper goods.

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To the Top: A view of the University of Southern Mississippi campus entrance on Monday.

I ripped open the door and evicted the vacuum, and there I stood half in the closet and half out waiting for the worst. The sound of the wind got louder and louder (and by the way it didn’t sound like a freight train, which is what every person in the history of tornadoes says on the nightly news). It reminded me of the sound of a washing machine. Anyway 15 seconds later it was gone. I was fine. The apartment was still standing, and naïve as it sounds I just thought the world around me was fine too.

I was wrong. The world around me was not fine.

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A car parked in front of Southern Hall on Monday at USM.

It still amazing to me that something that moves so fast and so unpredictably can do so much damage in so little time. It was here then it was gone. Scary isn’t it?

After seeing all of the damage to building and homes just blocks away from my own apartment, I’m happy to report that we were without electricity for 24 hours and that we still don’t have cable or Internet service. I’m happy I missed the Grammys on Sunday night (from looks of things on Twitter, I’m really happy). I’m happy that we have to take a detour around the hardest hit areas, which adds about 15 to 20 minutes to even the shortest of trips. I’m happy because I can see the alternative from my front door.

So I say all this to say that maybe I haven’t fully recovered from being a journalist. I still have this need to know what is going on. To see it first hand. I want to hear other people’s stories from the tornado—that may just be human nature.

I know this blog is a departure from my usual material, but this has occupied my thoughts for the last few days. I needed to share.

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USM’s alumni house after a tornado touched down on Sunday.