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.

NLGJA low on numbers, high in benefits

by STEPHANIE FERRER-CARTER

They are called under-represented, minority groups for a reason. Groups that fall under this category often have their images skewed, stereotyped or all together forgotten in America’s newsrooms.

In 1975, the National Association of Black Journalists was founded in an attempt to combat this growing problem. Other ethnic minority groups — Hispanic, Asian and Native American — followed suit, establishing their own associations all sharing the same goal, an effort to find a solution to misrepresentation through education.

Then, in 1990, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) was founded. It was time to address the needs of a group that was not identified by their ethnicity or race, but by their sexual orientation.

Headquartered in the nation’s capital, NLGJA has spread across the nation into 25 chapters, located in cities or states that have at least 10 official members. According to NLGJA executive assistant Brian Salkin, the Indiana chapter and the Nashville, TN, chapter were the most recent to be instated, Alaska will be the next state to add a chapter.

“As an organization we do primarily three things: we first advocate for fair coverage of LBGT issues in the media, we advocate for equal work place benefits in news media and related fields and we train professionals,” Salkin explained.

According to NLGJA’s Web site, approximately 1,300 “journalists, media professionals, educators and students” who are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual and transgender have become members in NLGJA’s nearly two decades of existence.

Two of those members reside and work in Utah. Salt Lake City is one of four cities and states that are categorized as significantly smaller groups called satellite chapters.

The low membership in Utah may come as a surprise considering the benefits NLGJA offers. The group strongly advocates for equal work-place benefits, and labels itself as a support group, providing a wide variety of programs such as the Diversity Oversight Committee and Podunk, a task force for the group’s smaller markets. NLGJA also posts job listings, events calendars and provides resources, such as an official LGBT style guide.

“And then there are the intangible benefits,” Salkin said. “It serves as a huge networking pool for our members and people who want to be members .… It provides you with someone who you can relate to as a fellow journalist who is out.”

NLGJA is especially student friendly. For an annual fee of $25 aspiring journalists can apply for scholarships and internships that are offered through the group. An Excellence in Student Journalism Award with $1,000 in prize money that student members can qualify for is offered. And perhaps most importantly, students can find professional mentors willing to share the experiences and challenges of being gay and working in a newsroom.

Much like gay journalists, Salt Lake has some stereotypes of its own to break. JoSelle Vanderhooft, NLGJA’s Utah representative and assistant city editor at QSaltLake, said the state’s reputation makes her somewhat of a “celebrity” at NLGJA conventions. “They say, ‘Wow, Utah. What’s that like,’” Vanderhooft said.   

What is Utah like?

As far as media coverage, QSaltLake and the Pillar are two examples LGBT media publications in the state.

In Vanderhooft’s opinion, KSTU FOX 13 has provided some of the best LGBT coverage in the state. However, a story by another Utah television station about gay men soliciting sex in Memory Grove, a park in Salt Lake City, warranted Vanderhooft’s harshest criticism.

“It was ridiculous. They made a lot of assumptions. If I had known about it I would’ve called NLGJA’s rapid response task force,” Vanderhooft said. The rapid response task force referring is a part of NLGJA that examines specific complaints from media consumers and journalists. 

Her criticism has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Vanderhooft said she felt the story did not have accurate sources. Vanderhooft fully believes a “straight” journalist is just as cable of covering the LGBT population as a “gay” journalist would be; it just takes a little more effort. “You’ve got to be educated. You’ve go to do your homework,” she said.

Gay or straight, bisexual or transgender, the fact is, a journalist is likely to be asked to cover a story involving the LGBT community at some point in his or her career. NLGJA is there to act as a watchdog, but more importantly, to help journalists make sure their coverage is accurate.

“We’re actually having conversations about gay marriage … it makes for a different newsroom,” Vanderhooft said. “Ultimately, I’m looking forward to the day we won’t need to say LGBT media and people just write about it.”