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It’s one of the most obvious and oft-repeated truisms of the day that the news business is a wildly different beast than it was two decades ago. Fair enough, but that doesn’t mean there’s no fun to be had in looking back at the dinosaur days of media.
My first job in D.C., fresh off the graduation stage with bachelor’s degree in hand, was as a junior reporter for tax issues. As an indicator to just how ancient the world of 1989 now is, my employer was then on the cutting edge of information delivery, sending out morning tax law and policy updates via fax.
In those days, nothing said ”breaking news” like yellowing stacks of slick fax paper that incessantly curled upon themselves to become a little pile of scrolls.
For me, in addition to shuttling around town in taxis to collect various documents from federal agencies to be copied endlessly by the Xerox machine that was larger than many present-day family sedans, I got the opportunity to cover congressional hearings on tax and banking policy. These generally had all the excitement you’d expect — one thing that hasn’t changed about Washington is that for every hearing filled with equal parts stirring oration and crazy talk there are a hundred snoozers. Perhaps the only truly exciting moment I witnessed was then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan making a comment about Wall Street to the Senate banking committee that caused every reporter at the press table to frantically jump up in a cacophony of screeching chairs and run pell-mell to the bank of phone booths outside the hearing room to call in the breaking news.
Which then, presumably, went out via the beeeee-whirrrrrr-eeeeeeee of the fax machine.
I don’t recall this in some effort to point out to all these whippersnappers how easy they have it with their smart phones and their live-tweeting and their documents in easy-to-transport PDF formats. I’m actually in awe of how quickly things have changed and how much more we can know about the workings of our government (at least, for those who choose to pay attention).
I recall it because the change fascinates me, both as a journalist and a gay man. At that same Senate hearing, I chatted briefly with a reporter from a major newspaper who gave me some friendly tips about how to handle covering the Hill. A few weeks later I bumped into him at a Sunday night gay bar and he ran away with the same nimble speed he had from the hearing room.
I wasn’t in the closet, really, but neither was I truly ”out” at work. It was a subject I avoided — I heard the vicious comments from other employees about my semi-closeted lesbian supervisor, and I took the warning. At the time, I felt I had to make some decision between having the mainstream journalism career I’d worked for and having the openly gay life I longed for.
If there’s anything I’m jealous of with the current generation of gay and lesbian journalists, it’s that. While far from perfect, Washington journalism is far from the rigid closet it once was. To work in the ”gay” press is no longer the mark of an outsider — I’ll never stop feeling the little thrill every week knowing that I’m sending my own reporters to cover the White House, Capitol Hill, City Hall, any place where the news we cover happens. It’s an accomplishment not just for Metro Weekly, but for all the publications, blogs, freelancers and others who make up our vibrant LGBT media.
As we kick off Pride season, I’m proud to no longer have to choose between my career and myself, and proud that so many journalists never had to choose at all.
You can email Sean Bugg at or follow him on Twitter @seanbugg.
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