Sunday, 14 October 2012

Media, Identity and Changing Times

It must have been back in 1999 or 2000 that I was travelling in the back of a cab from the Sheffield gay club Planet (long since closed).  I had a young man by my side, a copy of the magazine Boyz (with the infamous naked 'Backroom Boy' photo - which they no longer seem to do) and a copy of the newspaper Pink Paper.  I thought if this gay malarky means you end the night with an attractive male friend, a free magazine with soft porn and a free newspaper, this is my sort of sexual identity.

Scroll forward to the latter part of that decade, and I would provide copies of the Pink Paper to my Law and Sexuality students in a bid to immerse them in 'gay' news and events, and as a way around the apparent reluctance of straight students to visit 'gay' websites.  Then, in 2009, the Pink Paper suspended their hard-copy print run.  They suggested it could be temporary due to the decline in ad revenue but I observed at the time (as did many) that a print return was unlikely.

So it continued, with a reasonable website, but failing to replicate the experience of the newspaper edition.  Pink News continued to grow as an online news player, and did it better in a fresher, more responsive way than the Pink Paper.  Tris Reid-Smith - who I felt had been a dreadful editor at Gay Times causing it to have a weird personality disorder- ran both the Pink Paper and Gay Times until jumping ship and heading up a new venture - Gay Star News.  This new service - which launched at the start of the year - has demonstrated itself as having a fun, interactive, responsive and winning outlook on 'gay' news.  Reid-Smith has done a tremendous job, clearly assembling a terrific team and carving out a clear ethos which works with their readers.  The site is by all accounts going from strength to strength.   

So it is that Gay Star News served as perhaps a further nail in the coffin of the Pink Paper - increasingly lacking in energy and seeming to be on life support.  In September 2012, the decision was made to put the poor thing to sleep after 25 years.  

Consequently, earlier today I finally removed the RSS feed from my blog, and as part of my return to blogging, can pay my over-due tribute to an important publication, now sadly a part of history.  

As sad as the demise as something which evokes powerful memories is - at least for those of us in our early 30s and above - we can also rejoice in the continued operation of a range of online media services.  The Pink Paper was important as a free news-sheet, a way of obtaining 'our' news not contained elsewhere, of promoting a sense of community and identity.  Today, someone contemplating 'Coming Out' (and last week saw National Coming Out Day) can interact with people via countless sites such as LadsLads, Fitlads, Gaydar, Squirt and so on, and increasingly via Apps such as Grindr or Skruff.   They can explore how their identity is reported and formed in the mainstream media, specialist media and via blogs and social media.  

The Pink Paper's demise can arguably be seen as part of the process of a dramatically changing sexual landscape - arguably fuelled by unprecedented legal change -and a warning to other media outlets of the importance of recognising such a change, and responding to it, and an evolving use of media. 

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