PRESSING QUESTIONS: Desert Outlook of Palm Springs

by Joe Siegel

Geographic coverage area: Palm Springs, Cathedral City and the Coachella Valley, Calif.
Year founded: 2012
Staff size and breakdown [writers, sales reps., etc.]: One editor, one sales rep, one designer, four freelance writers per month
Physical dimensions of publication: 8.5” x 11”
Average page count: 44
Key demographics: 32 percent is 65+, 28 percent is 50-64, 19 percent is 35-45, and 20 percent is 18-34; 51 percent are married; 28 percent have $100,000+ annual income
Print run: 10,000 monthly
Press Pass Q: What part of Desert Outlook is the most popular? 
Marketing manager Steven Henke: We cover an enormous amount on travel, on politics, on home. I think what we get the most feedback on are those stories that have to do with a local personality that has a very specific point of view.
PPQ: What challenges has your publication had to overcome? 
Henke: Typically, LGBT magazines start out in a small way through the community. The publisher of the Desert Sun newspaper thought [the LGBT community] was not an audience that we were covering enough. He wanted to start the magazine. [Desert Outlook] is the only LGBT magazine within the Gannett family of properties. I think the challenge was building relationships with the community, building trust. We’re now starting our third season [of the magazine] and by this point, we’ve certainly done that, [through] the editorial coverage and the monthly events that we plan to launch each issue and partner with different businesses within the community and the number of philanthropic organizations that we sponsor. We’re part of the community.
PPQ: How has your publication changed since it was first launched? 
Henke: It’s become more diverse. It’s taken more risks. I think in some ways, it’s gotten deeper on certain political and social issues that matter to the LGBT community, but it’s balanced out with additional articles about arts and culture. 
PPQ: What one change would you like to make? 
Editor William Dean: With the new season of issues starting in September, we’re making a number of tweaks to editorial content. With the addition of a couple of features, we aim to broaden our reach to LGBT residents and visitors throughout Southern California. We started it this season by including in each issue events in Los Angeles, San Diego and the Inland Empire in the calendar. Readers will see more of the region represented in future issues, but the core focus and readership will remain the residents of the greater Palm Springs community.
One change I would like to see is the addition of a subscription service. It’s not uncommon for readers, especially visitors to Palm Springs, to ask if they can subscribe and have issues mailed to them. The magazine is currently distributed on racks in nearly 100 LGBT and other businesses.
Fortunately, we launched a website this season that contains much of the content from each issue. But for diehard magazine fans, reading web content is not the same as holding a magazine poolside. 
PPQ: On the Kinsey Scale of 0-6 [exclusively straight to totally gay], how gay is your publication? 
Dean: It depends on how you define a gay publication. If you mean does it reflect the stories of real people who self-identify as LGBT in this community, and present their views on the national and political issues that affect their real lives, and profile an array of LGBT citizens and artists whose experiences are as diverse as any community, it’s very gay. Though we’re evolving, it’s a community publication first, and half of our community self-identifies as LGBT.
Regarding the “Kinsey” reference, we publish a monthly sex and relationships column written by a respected author and sexologist and his staff. Topics range from May-December gay relationships with a historical perspective to knowing other countries’ sexual customs and laws when traveling. It’s titillating and provocative at times, but always informative.  What we’ve tried to avoid is using sexual images or almost-nude models on the cover, completely out of context or without regard for the actual content of the magazine. 
I’d give Desert Outlook a 5 as a news and culture magazine for and about LGBT people — not as a publication that’s gay. 
PPQ: Do you see yourself as an “activist journalist”?
Dean: I see myself as a “journalist.” My job is to introduce to readers the fascinating LGBT people whose stories might not be told otherwise. That includes addressing life-altering issues such as DOMA and Prop 8 (premiere issue cover), Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (September 2013 cover), transgender equality (May 2013 cover), building green (April 2013 cover), and awareness of bisexuality (May 2014). Shining a light on these issues for an LGBT readership isn’t activism. It’s relaying issues through the stories of people affected by them, to help all readers make informed choices and identify their true community. 
PPQ: What’s the most surprising feedback you’ve received from a reader? 
Dean: People generally like the look, feel and tone of the magazine. It wasn’t uncommon after we launched the magazine in April 2012 for some readers to say they read each issue cover to cover, which you hope for as editor but don’t really expect. Others say it’s a needed voice in the community. What was initially surprising for me is when people referred to it as a “real magazine,” as if they expected less.
The comments from Palm Springs visitors usually lament an absence of something like Desert Outlook in their communities. One reader who lives part-time in New York City said that city doesn’t have an equivalent. I once received a call from a reader in Hawaii who had picked up an issue while visiting Palm Springs, carried it home, read it and wanted to know if he could receive the monthly issues by mail. 

PPQ: What is the biggest story Desert Outlook has reported in the last few years? 
Dean: We published interviews with Congressman Barney Frank before his retirement, actress Meredith Baxter and a story on the changing atmosphere for gay athletes. But I’m proudest of the stories we tried to tell for which there wasn’t a lot of published information. For example, we did a cover story in which lesbians and gay men of varying ages talked about why lesbians and gay men don’t socialize together. And we looked at growing acceptance for Latino people who are LGBT, considering we have a large Latino population. There weren’t many resources because the issues hadn’t been presented before, but they were topics worthy of exploring. Our hope is we started a conversation and presented a more accurate way for the LGBT community to see itself.
PPQ: What advice do you have for others working in LGBT media?
Dean: It’s important to be aware of what other LGBT media — and media in general — are doing, but try not to use that as a template for what you do. Some people, even many LGBT people, are married to a narrow idea of who we are based on images and ideas perpetrated by society. Ask yourself how many LGBT people you know actually fit the mold of what’s been presented to us. We’re not only young and urban, one gender, one race, one socioeconomic background. Look at your audience, figure out who they really are, and never lose sight of that when planning content.

Volume 16
Issue 5

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