Vanderhooft pursues passion for writing through QSaltLake

by YEVGENIYA KOPELEVA

While writing her honors thesis in the English department at the University of Utah, JoSelle Vanderhooft discovered the Salt Lake Metro and her passion for journalism.

Her love for writing began with being the newspaper editor for the Hillcrest High School newspaper in Salt Lake City and a staff writer for Salt Lake Community College’s Horizon. After dedicating long hours to both newspapers, she decided to take a year off journalism and pursue her other passion: theater and playwriting.

It was seeing the Salt Lake Metro flier in the English department during her senior year in college that made her realize she wanted to “get back into journalism.” Vanderhooft graduated from the U with a bachelor of arts in English and theater studies in May 2004.

She then began as a freelance writer for Salt Lake Metro because it was the only paying job she could get after graduating. “After awhile, I just got into the routine of it, realized I not only liked it, but really, really liked it, and stayed,” said Vanderhooft, 27.

Salt Lake Metro, a newspaper for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population that began in May 2004, changed its name to QSaltLake in March 2006 in order to incorporate “queer” into the title as part of the new staff’s vision of being inclusive. QSaltLake distributes 9,000 copies a month along the Wasatch Front as well as in selected cities in Nevada, Wyoming and Idaho. The biweekly newspaper has grown from 20 pages to 40 pages since the beginning of 2007. Vanderhooft became the assistant editor of QSaltLake in 2007.

The June 2007 Pride issue featured 64 pages filled with articles, advertisements, features, a schedule of the three-day event, a map of the festival grounds and the parade route, a variety of Pride-related news and arts and entertainment stories. “Lots of people want to advertise in the Pride issue because it’s the issue that everyone picks up and advertising in it gives them a lot of attention,” Vanderhooft said.

QSaltLake features news of interest to the LGBT community and keeps the population informed of upcoming events. “It’s intentional that the newspaper is more news than arts,” Vanderhooft said. “Since we try to cover as much as we do in a two-week cycle, most of the time the hard news stories just seem to outnumber the arts stories,” she said about striving to keep a balance between news, arts and opinion.

When choosing content for news and features, Vanderhooft looks for people doing things and relevant news about issues that may affect the community. “It’s about going to bars and finding those face-to-face conversations or knowing that people talk and stories get back to you,” Vanderhooft said. “Columnists are sometimes well-known or are interesting people who have cool ideas. And word of mouth is how we find people to write for the newspaper.”

Out of all the sections in QSaltLake, Vanderhooft enjoys writing the Gay Geek column the most because it blends two sides of her personality. “We are geeks, we like our toys, gadgets and ‘Star Wars,'” said Vanderhooft about the unique column she created in January 2007. She uses the column to publish fantasy stories and poems.

QSaltLake’s success is a result of societal values and the changing views of what being gay means in the 21st century. Vanderhooft believes the importance of LGBT issues in today’s world is the reason people are more respectful and accepting of the LGBT community.

Her goal is for QSaltLake to keep growing, being more diverse and inclusive, reaching out and “not closing themselves within the community.” Vanderhooft hopes to add more content relevant to transgender and bisexuals because she feels “there needs to be more coverage of these individuals who are ignored a lot of the time.”

She strives to seek columnists who are willing to cover topics pertaining to the LGBT community. “Don’t assume a writer is gay,” Vanderhooft said about reading LGBT newspapers. She believes anyone can write for a gay newspaper as long as they are educated and do their homework.

When interviewing members of the LGBT population, she advises future reporters to let people know you are comfortable with their sexual orientation, to be compassionate, read reactions and body language, to try to do the best you can and don’t look at it as us versus them. “It’s about tone,” Vanderhooft said.