Respect, accuracy key to coverage, GLAAD strategist says

by YEVGENIYA KOPELEVA

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation offered a presentation on media essentials on Oct. 16, 2007, in support of Pride Week at the University of Utah. Adam Bass, the Northwest media field strategist for GLAAD, encouraged aspiring journalists to recognize and write effective pro-LGBT messages.

“A good example of an effective pro-LGBT message could be something like this: University of Utah Pride is an opportunity to showcase our diverse student body and let every student know he or she is valued as a member of the community,” Bass said.

GLAAD’s media field strategy teams provide training to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and straight allies illustrate more effectively the power of local media to encourage respect, inclusion and acceptance. In addition, the teams work closely with organizations and individuals to develop strategies and contacts, create news coverage and train spokespeople. Bass’ role is to be a community and media resource for whoever is writing or speaking about the LGBT community.

He encourages people to correct misrepresentations and factual errors in the media by responding with a message that will educate and inform others. “When you respond to a story or an article, do stay positive and be for, not just against something,” Bass said. “Don’t make it us versus them.” He believes it is vital to stick to what you know, since the message must match the messenger, but also said not to be afraid to be on the offensive. Bass told the audience to remember to reclaim facts and valuable statements with proper language and not to repeat the opponent’s negative message.

For example, when writing letters to the editor, Bass said it’s essential to respond to the defamatory coverage by clarifying the misconception or inaccuracy of an opponent. “The strategies for writing a letter to the editor are: making a strong affirmative statement, tell your personal story, support your statement with facts and strengthen the existing positive message of your organization,” Bass said.

Once you have created an effective message, the next step is knowing your audience. Bass said there is no such thing as a general audience; rather, individuals need to speak to the “movable media,” those who will be affected by the issue or subject. “It’s important to tell your personal story and to let your message come from experience, but to also know your boundaries,” Bass said. He encourages people to use “buzz” words like freedom, justice, democracy, love and commitment to build bridges with readers or the audience. The goal is to convince your audience that your position is reasonable and persuasive.

“It’s simply about taking the personal story and making it a universal message. For example, try using the Oprah effect; ask someone to sit on a couch and tell you their story,” Bass said.

On the other hand, the goal of writing an opinion editorial is to summarize an issue, develop a persuasive argument and propose solutions. The strategies behind writing an opinion piece are: Begin with your personal story, include facts and make the complex issue clear. “Whether it’s a letter to an editor or an opinion editorial, it’s essential to keep it short and concise, to be specific in the response and to not assume audience knowledge,” Bass said.

He said he approached the editor of the Daily Utah Chronicle at the U about publishing the word “homosexual” in a story. In response, the staff committed to altering their pre-existing style rules to appropriately address the LGBT community. “The explanation of the term as a scientific branding propagated by a number of anti-gay publications made it clear to me that we should include more specific instructions on use of the word in our own style guide,” said Matthew Piper, editor-in-chief of the Daily Utah Chronicle.

GLAAD, the third largest LGBT civil rights group in America, strives to change hearts and minds by altering the way media portray the LGBT community. “We are a media advocate and watchdog for the LGBT community,” Bass said.

The organization was founded in New York City in 1985 in response to the defamatory anti-gay media coverage during the beginning days of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States. GLAAD’s mission is “to promote and ensure fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”

GLAAD strives to meet people where they are and to foster broader conversations with anyone and everyone. “We talk about stories to open hearts and minds,” Bass said.