Comment: How PinkNews.co.uk changed the gay media
PinkNews.co.uk founder Benjamin Cohen reflects on the first two years of this unique publication.
PinkNews.co.uk was born minutes before the 38th anniversary of the Royal Assent of the Sexual Offences Act – the legislation that partially decriminalised male homosexuality in England and Wales.
This weekend we have been celebrating four decades of laws making the lives of British LGBT people better.
I was also celebrating two years of this website.
When I registered the domain name and put a basic website online in July 2005, I don’t know what I was expecting to achieve.
My main motivation was my failure to get any articles on gay issues commissioned by The Times and TimesOnline, where I was working as a columnist specialising in business and technology.
There were a couple of pieces I wanted to write, so I decided to publish them myself.
A couple turned into a handful and I decided to put them together in one place – PinkNews.co.uk.
Then the search engines found the website and people started to visit.
It quickly became clear to me that there was a demand for quality gay journalism and I started to dig around for new stories.
The site grew and it started to take up a lot of my time.
By November 2005 I was publishing six or seven news stories a day and the level of traffic coming into the site was continuing to mushroom.
Unfortunately, I fell ill with what was later diagnosed as an attack of multiple sclerosis, and this brought PinkNews.co.uk to a standstill.
However, the volume of queries wondering what had happened to the site made me realise its importance and that it needed to become a business with funding, staff and advertisers.
January 2006 saw the company raise some seed funding and open an office with myself as editor and Marc Shoffman as correspondent.
As a real publication, we began to break new ground in gay journalism, with an aspiration to a level of professionalism that I don’t believe had been seen before in the pink press.
We got on the political map with an interview with the then-Conservative Party Chairman Francis Maude, where he expressed his regret at voting for Section 28 (which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools) and claimed that the policies of his party were “immoral” and indirectly contributed to the death of his brother, and many others, from AIDS.
PinkNews.co.uk “outed” The Sun and The News of the World for photoshopping a privately-taken photograph of Ashley Cole to illustrate a story about an allegedly bisexual Premier League footballer.
We worked with The Times to expose the voting record of Ruth Kelly.
Tony Blair appointed her Minister for Equality despite the fact that she had never voted for gay rights.
Our expose of her parlous record was a piece of investigative journalism that made every national newspaper.
Questions were asked in the House of Commons, all because of an article I wrote from home one evening – the power of PinkNews.co.uk was becoming clearer.
Since then, we’ve been in the address book of every right-thinking MP, peer and government minister.
No-one ignores a phone call from PinkNews.co.uk unless they want to look anti-gay.
Earlier this month the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, found time to answer questions sent in by our readers.
We questioned his poor record on gay rights too, ten months before he took office.
Last year, I took the hardest decision in my life when I agreed to join Channel 4 News as a correspondent, in the knowledge that it would seriously diminish my input to PinkNews.co.uk.
But having created a clear culture at PinkNews.co.uk and a unique approach to the LGBT news agenda, I left safe in the knowledge that the site could survive without me in the office every day.
I also brought PinkNews.co.uk’s contacts and tips with me, meaning that Channel 4 News now has some of the best coverage of LGBT issues on British television.
And of course it works both ways – PinkNews.co.uk benefits from some of my new contacts and the odd phone call to Jon Snow.
One of my proudest moments came in November 2006, when PinkNews.co.uk was named Best Publication at the Stonewall Awards.
I honestly never thought that we would ever win in a field that included Diva, The Economist, The Independent and GuardianUnlimited.
It was an amazing vote of confidence in the PinkNews.co.uk team and our belief that many gay people were crying out for serious news and analysis.
Marc Shoffman, who took over as editor when I joined Channel 4 News, left in January 2007 and was succeeded by Tony Grew, who had previously contributed a lot of political stories to the publication.
Tony continued the work started by Marc and myself, building contacts with the political elite and securing a ground-breaking series of interviews with all six of the candidates for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
There have now been over 5000 articles published on the site, a huge volume of information, effectively documenting our community’s recent history.
But because we’re more than just a community news resource, the information also documents the interaction between the mainstream political agenda and LGBT life.
No publication has done more to take the national news agenda and make it relevant to our community; from taxation to the environment, from entertainment to education, we cover everything that impacts on gay life.
As the site enters its third year, it needs to mature, both in terms of its design and its commercial structure.
We need to start selling more advertising directly to our unique audience – it’s a tricky problem.
The new sales team that we’ve recruited sometimes still has a hard job overcoming prejudice from blue chip advertisers who fear being associated with a gay publication – even though we are 100% work safe.
We must also be careful not to annoy our readers with too many adverts, although I believe that most would prefer that to paying to access the site.
It’s tough but I hope we succeed and find the right balance.
I’ve been in hospital again with a major lesion on my spine as a result of the multiple sclerosis. It has given me a lot of time to reflect.
I cannot express how proud I am of creating PinkNews.co.uk and the impact it has had on society as a whole.
When I see us quoted in the Daily Mail, when I see our stories picked up by outraged Christian websites, I know we – both PinkNews.co.uk and the gay community – are being taken seriously.
I never imagined that a couple of articles that The Times didn’t want to run could turn into this beast in the gay media world.
A site that shows the publishers of trashy gay magazines that, just like our Facebook application says – you can be gay with a brain.
Benjamin Cohen is the Publisher and Founder of PinkNews.co.uk. He is also a correspondent for Channel 4 News.