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Medill Equal Media Project Covers LGBT Issues in Leadup to Election

New website offers stories by student journalists on issues that affect LGBT community

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October 23, 2012 | by Amy Weiss

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University students have been busy in the run up to next month’s election reporting on stories across the country related to issues affecting members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT).

The stories are part of the Medill Equal Media Project (MEMP), a new reporting initiative focused on LGBT issues, and now featured on the project’s recently launched website.

Working with faculty advisers from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, the students have been looking at a wide array of issues -- from the impact of health care policy on LGBT individuals to the effects of state-specific gay marriage bans -- through the lens of politics, public policy and the 2012 elections.

Made possible by a generous gift from Medill alumnus David Freedman, the initiative’s primary purpose is to cover LGBT issues underreported or misrepresented in the mainstream media.

Freedman, a partner at the Chicago-based, international law firm Baker & McKenzie LLP who has worked on LGBT and gender-based civil rights cases, saw a greater need to educate the public.

“There are the courts of law and the courts of public opinion,” Freedman said. “The rights of LGBT people need to be advanced not only by bringing lawsuits, doing the legal work and legislative work, but also by getting buy-in from the general population.

“That requires the press to write about and sensitize these issues,” he said. “What better way to influence the court of public opinion than to harness all of the energy and bright thinking of the Medill students?”

After receiving Freedman’s gift, members of Northwestern's chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) and their faculty advisor, associate professor Douglas Foster, met to discuss how best to use Freedman’s funds and created the concept for the MEMP.

Foster and fellow MEMP faculty advisor Karen Springen, an adjunct lecturer at Medill, have been guiding the student journalists’ work

“We decided to launch a project similar to Refugee Lives and other student journalism projects, but with an emphasis on LGBT issues as they related to the election in November,” explained Medill senior Camille Beredjick, NLGJA co-president and project editor-in-chief.

Beredjick and Medill junior Gabe Bergado agree that mainstream media exposure of the LGBT community has improved greatly in recent years, especially with coverage of marriage equality efforts. But they both think MEMP has the ability to paint a more comprehensive picture.

Bergado, who is pursuing a gender studies minor, worked on a piece on how having out LGBT children affects parents’ political ideologies. He relished the MEMP reporting opportunities that otherwise would not have been available to him.

“Using the money that the grant gave me, I was actually able to take out rental cars and go out on the weekends to these PFLAG [Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays]meetings where I met a lot of different kinds of people and families, and that's how I found some of my sources,” he said.

Beredjick stressed that while the election season has been dominated by arguments over the economy and health care -- important issues, she agrees -- its outcome will have a huge effect on LGBT people. 

“Non-discrimination measures, hate-crime protections, safe schools, anti-bullying laws are issues that also are at stake on national, state and local levels, issues about which the media sometimes forgets,” Beredjick said. “Through MEMP, we are covering real stories of LGBT people in accurate and engaging ways that make people think about the impact of their vote this November.”

The Medill Equal Media Project is committed to representing LGBT concerns beyond the 2012 election cycle.

“We believe that LGBT issues are important all the time,” Beredjick said. “And in the future we'll have to collaborate about how to publish stories that are relevant and complement one another regardless of what's going on in politics.”