When I first launched lgbtSr.com I started looking around for contributors. The intention was to have a variety of voices and writers on the site. I was looking at different news items out there in the lgbt Intersphere (or blogiverse or webaxy or whatever you want to call it) and I saw some articles from a writer named David Webb (The Rare Reporter, as you’ll see). I reached out to David, we spoke on the phone that same day, and he’s been contributing since then. He’s a veteran reporter and I thought an interview would be a good way to get to know him better. I think you’ll agree.
David’s in Texas, by the way. I read his column in a Florida paper, called him from New York City, and here we are.
Why ‘The Rare Reporter’? Where did that come from?
DW: About 10 years ago when I was a staff writer for the Dallas Voice a public relations representative for Razzle Dazzle, an LGBT charitable event, was particularly pleased about a story I did announcing the upcoming event. The former television reporter called me and said that she viewed me as a rare reporter. It was unusual for me to get such a compliment because I often wrote about controversial issues that displeased a lot of people in the community. The publisher of the Dallas Voice and my colleagues thought it was humorous because I had been called so many unfavorable things in the past and they nicknamed me The Rare Reporter. When I started writing a column I struggled for a long time to create a name for it. Suddenly it occurred to me my moniker was The Rare Reporter, and so I made it official.
I first noticed your writing at South Florida Gay News and I know you’ve been reporting in the LGBT media for a long time. How did you get started?
DW: I worked in the mainstream media after my graduation from the University of Texas with a degree in journalism. I covered just about every beat imaginable for several years. In 1981 when I first heard about the “gay cancer” afflicting men in San Francisco I became intrigued and started reading everything I could find on the subject. When it became obvious that a horrible epidemic was spreading through the country and that cases had been found in Texas, I started seeking out patients, interviewing them and writing about AIDS. The epidemic sparked unprecedented activism by gay men and lesbians, and I started writing about that as well. I saw a great need for information because most mainstream newspapers in Texas shied away from the subject at first. Even alternative publications in Texas preferred to limit coverage of gay issues to the occasional small report. I remember having some pretty horrific arguments with an editor about her belief that I was devoting too much of my time to gay issues. Today, she acknowledges that she was wrong, and that I was correct that the issue was of huge importance to both gay and straight people.
DW: Print publications no longer can compete effectively in the area of breaking news. The public wants to know what is happening immediately and they turn to television and the Internet to satisfy that curiosity. Younger people simply don’t like to sit down with a newspaper. As a result subscriptions are down and so is advertising revenue. That has forced newspapers to drastically cut editorial staffs. There is less investigative reporting and a lot of news in smaller areas simply goes unreported because newspapers have become more oriented toward pleasing the community and not stirring up controversy. Newspapers are now struggling to present coverage of breaking news on the Internet as quickly as it happens, much like you see with television reporting. It is requiring print publication editors and reporters to become adept at multi-media skills to accomplish that goal. Newspapers are also struggling to find ways to generate income from their Web sites through subscriptions and advertising revenue.
You live in Texas. Is there a difference, and do you have a preference, for local reporting versus what you might write for, say,lgbtSr.com?
DW: Reporting for an LGBT audience — even in a large metropolitan area — is much like writing for a small town newspaper. The readers are far more engaged with the staff of LGBT newspapers than the readers of mainstream publications. It is often difficult to convince these readers that the reporting of news that portrays certain LGBT people and groups in an unfavorable light is as important as good news. There is less interaction with readers when I write for national publications. I like and am committed to both types of coverage so I guess an even mix of both best suits me.
Is there any advice you could offer someone new in the journalism game, regardless of their age?
DW: I think reporters and editors should be multi-skilled. Today, it is necessary to be able to shoot videos, take pictures, write, edit and stay abreast of all technological developments in media. Beyond that, I think journalists should learn a little bit about all media beats, such as crime, politics, sports, entertainment, business, etc., before deciding to specialize in any one area of coverage. The business is getting really competitive so a journalist who can do it all is obviously more valuable than one who has limited abilities.
Is there any one particular story you’ve covered or incident in your reporting career that stands out?
DW: I wrote an investigative story a few years ago about the large number of unsolved murders of gay men in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That story sort of haunted me because it appeared clear that all of these men were killed by someone whom they had met for an anonymous sexual encounter. It is sort of spooky to know there is a killer or several killers out there somewhere who lured gay men to their deaths and are likely still free to kill again.
This site is primarily aimed for those of us over 50. What’s the best thing about living long enough to be in that category?
DW: After having watched countless friends die during the AIDS epidemic, I’m just grateful to be alive today. I feel fortunate to be able to pursue the work I love and my other interests, such as travel, my friends, my family, my pets, nature, the arts and whatever else attracts my attention. I have a much greater appreciation for life today than I did 30 years ago.