5 Things we learned from listening to audiences when launching a LGBTQ+ collaborative

Queer Media Collaborative By Dana Piccoli, project manager

In early 2022, News is Out, a pioneering queer media collaborative featuring seven legacy media publishers (Bay Area ReporterDallas VoicePhiladelphia Gay NewsQ Voice NewsTagg MagazineWashington Blade and Windy City Times), officially launched. With generous funding from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge, News is Out organized and distributed a survey that was answered by more than 1,100 LGBTQ+ readers and led 13 focus groups.

The News is Out publishers worked together to encourage readers to provide extensive feedback on the types of topics they would like to see covered by News is Out, as well as their thoughts on current representation, how they consume their news, and willingness to pay for content that aligns with their values.

Mark Segal, founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, said he found great value in this community outreach.

“We at PGN have taken the pulse of our readership throughout our 46 years with various surveys and readers polls, but the News Is Out survey/focus groups took a deeper dive and gave us a new perspective on how the news we provide is consumed and used, and that relates to being able to serve our market better.”

In the survey, News is Out asked participants if they would participate in a focus group offered by their local queer media outlet, and over half agreed they would be willing to be contacted. News is Out completed 13 focus groups with diverse participants, ranging in age from late teens to late 70s and from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Their feedback is invaluable for editorial direction and how LGBTQ+ communities view brands and brand loyalty. As a thank you for their time and effort, participants received a $75 gift card from American Express or Target, both of which scored 100% Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index scores.

We learned five essential things by listening to audiences as we prepared to launch News is Out.

There is value in financially supporting a news organization whose vision and mission align with the community

A quote that resonated with News is Out members came early on in our focus groups. When asked if people would consider financially supporting an LGBTQ+ media outlet aligned with their values, a focus group attendee said yes because “there is value in supporting the things that bring value to us.”

This sentiment was reiterated many times over the 13 sessions, showing that people are willing to support news and coverage that touches them personally as people and as part of a marginalized community, whether with donations, memberships or subscriptions for extra content. Paywalls, however, were universally disliked.

Readers appreciated being asked and compensated for their time

Focus group attendees appreciated getting face time with publishers, editors and the News is Out team. Attendees were candid about their thoughts and eager to have their feedback heard and potentially implemented.

A couple of attendees said they signed up for a focus group because of the gift card. Still, most came to share insights, and help the individual publications and the collaborative create the best content and experiences possible.

LGBTQ+ communities don’t always feel represented in the media

Over half of the survey respondents said they didn’t feel represented in the media at all, and an additional third felt only somewhat represented. This sentiment stems from several factors, including sexual orientation or gender identity, race, political stance, economic status, age and location.

A recent Gallup poll found that more than 5% of the U.S. population now identifies as LGBTQ+, the largest number on record. With an estimated 18 million people identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community, this is a massive segment of people who do not see themselves reflected in media.

People who live outside big cities reported feeling left out or invisible in national and queer media

We heard in focus groups that queer life outside big cities is often ignored. While larger cities have more resources and queer spaces, LGBTQ+ people live in all corners of the country and come from all walks of life. Even those in areas in closer proximity to big cities shared their frustration at not feeling seen.

This is particularly true for those in Southern and Western states, home to the largest population of LGBTQ+ people who are raising families.

For News is Out, this sentiment reiterated that there is an untapped audience that needs to be served in ways it has never been.

Brands that support LGBTQ+ issues year-round are more important to the community than brands that support just during Pride

Questions about brands brought mixed feelings with both survey takers and focus group attendees. Some were turned off by the commoditization of Pride and the notion of “rainbow capitalism,” while others were happy to support businesses that support the LGBTQ+ community.

For the LGBTQ+ community, brand support is a two-way street. The community has a long memory of brands supporting or not supporting LGBTQ+ people and issues. This topic is particularly sensitive right now as brands weigh how and when to support the community during a deluge of anti-gay and -trans legislation. Participants looked more fondly at brands that support the community throughout the year vs. those who only show up in June during Pride season.

Some of the brands that came up positively were American Airlines, AARP, Subaru, Target, Bristol Myers Squibb, Netflix, Patagonia, and Toyota.

Here are some additional takeaways from both the survey and focus groups:

  • 80% get their news from digital sources.
  • Over 60% of survey respondents were interested in content that centers on LGBTQ+ people and issues, LGBTQ+ rights, lifestyle and culture, legal issues, and the aging LGBTQ+ population.
  • Over 75 percent of survey respondents were eager to sign up for the upcoming News is Out newsletter.
  • Newsletters also came up in focus groups as a valuable tool to receive information in quick and interesting ways.

With this knowledge, the News is Out team is working to provide the kinds of content potential readers are looking for and fill the gaps where other national news outlets are underserving our communities. With the combined outreach of seven publishers, bringing in a combined monthly view rate of 1.5 million readers, News is Out has an opportunity to become a significant figure in LGBTQ+ media and community advocacy. The first collaborative news initiative for News is Out will be focused on the recent “Don’t Say Gay” and anti-trans bills affecting LGBTQ+ youth around the country. The article, featuring all seven publishers, debuted the week of May 2.