Interview with Associate Editor Shaun Knittel
by Joe Siegel
Year founded: 1974
Staff size and breakdown:
Editor and Publisher George Bakan
Associate Editor Shaun Knittel
Travel/Food Editor Albert Rodriguez
Managing Editor Rick McKinnon
Calendar/Proofreading Rick McKinnon
Staff Reporte: Michal Andrews
Layout SGN Staff
Advertising Maggie Bloodstone
Physical dimensions of publication: 17” x 11”
Average page count: 32 pages
Print run: 13,500 weekly
Web site: www.sgn.org
PPQ: What feature or features of Seattle Gay News have been the most popular with readers?
Associate Editor Shaun Knittel: By far, the most popular were during the “everything but marriage” ballot initiative R-71, which gave, by popular vote, everything but marriage — that is, domestic partnerships (http://www.sgn.org/sgnnews37_45/page1.cfm). Then, two years later when we were fighting for marriage equality, when we once again needed the public to vote to approve a ballot referendum, R-74. We became one of four states to make history when we did, indeed, win marriage by popular vote.
Knittel: Seattle Gay News, like many community publications, has had its fair share of challenges. SGN has endured economic downturns like the Great Recession in 2008, the financial impact 9/11 had on businesses, losing key staff to HIV/AIDS, experiencing threats made to the office by email or phone that would suggest that the safety of the staff was threatened by an active shooter, defending the ads of clients that included near-naked or all-the-way naked men, and much more. But we have always overcome challenges and moved forward with confidence in our readership and ability to produce a good looking newspaper full of content and ads for the businesses that support us.
PPQ: What challenge or challenges is Seattle Gay News facing now?
Knittel: Currently, SGN is doing better than ever. We have a full-time staff, volunteers, and Pride is always a good time of year for us. We’ve been a part of the Seattle LGBTQ community for more than three decades, so our readership is really very loyal, and it never ceases to amaze us how many young LGBTQ high school students want to intern at the newspaper as they look towards their own future as a newspaper editor, writer, or photographer. And it’s a great time in gay media. We are literally honored to write some of the most important content in our movement’s history as it unfolds right in front of us on a near daily basis.
PPQ: How has Seattle Gay News changed since it was first launched?
Knittel: Seattle Gay News began way back when you needed a typesetter and big printing press, so it has changed a lot. The physical layout of the newspaper hasn’t changed much because of its history; people have come to know and love the reliable news-centric layout, color print, and logo — which hasn’t changed since the 1990s. SGN is easily recognizable.
PPQ: What one change would you like to make?
Knittel: One change I would like to make at SGN is to have a special section every three months where we profile youth in our community, youth organizations or assign editorials to LGBTQ teen writers and see what they come up with. It wouldn’t be hard to do, and I think our readers, as well as the youth, would enjoy it.
PPQ: What has been the biggest news story or stories Seattle Gay News has covered?
Knittel: On New Year’s Eve 2013, a local gay bar was attacked by an arsonist and nearly killed 750 people. Luckily no one was hurt or even injured. Other stories included marriage equality, of course, Seattle electing its first openly gay mayor, Ed Murray, and breaking the story of the first HIV/AIDS cases in Seattle to the community.
PPQ: On the Kinsey Scale of 0-6 [exclusively straight to totally gay], how gay is your publication?
Knittel: Totally gay. We are proud of that. There is no assimilation at this publication.
PPQ: Do you see yourself as an “activist journalist”? If so, in what way?
Knittel: I am an activist journalist, yes. Often times in gay media, you are thrust into situations where you bend the ear of important people or can use your press credentials to get near decision makers. And when that happens you can either benefit for yourself, or you can try your best to change hearts and minds and make a difference. I don’t know of even one gay journalist who doesn’t work to better our community while reporting about it.
PPQ: What’s the most surprising feedback you’ve received from a reader?
Knittel: Well, as you can imagine, we’ve had our fair share of fan mail and hate mail. But the thank-you messages seem to stand out the most — when somebody writes to you directly and says that something they read in the pages of your newspaper that you wrote saved their life by inspiring them, or they read something and it gave them hope. That is the best, for sure!
PPQ: What advice would you give to anyone who may want to launch their own GLBT publication?
Knittel: The advice that I would give is to take your publication seriously. Entertainment is entertaining, but the news and the real meat and potatoes are in the serious topics, and whether or not you have it in you to assign people stories and hold them to their deadline, recognize what is news and what is not, and so on. Oh, and don’t rent an expensive office; there’s no need for that.
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