How does a website devoted to offering a feminist perspective on film and television — claiming to be ‘the largest and most comprehensive website dedicated to the representation of lesbian/bi women in popular culture’ — fail to cover a historical fan revolt over a queer female character?
The answer is simple: company politics, business and ad tech.
Welcome to online journalism — a world where publishers are controlled by page views, advertising clients and journalistic integrity is but a distant memory of the past.
The fan backlash following a network television show’s controversial decision to perpetuate the ‘bury your gays’ TV trope has been trending in the media for weeks. The LGBTQ+ community has been publicly outraged, major media outlets from the BBC and Huffington Post to Variety and more have been covering the revolt against the CW’s show The 100 — but AfterEllen.com hasn’t offered one headline about it.
Instead, the Editor-In-Chief Trish Bendix penned a somewhat confusing post that reads like an obligated ‘letter from the editor’. Though she brought up some good points to support intersectionality and feminism — her ‘challenge’ to the lesbian community was to restructure their fight. It’s kind of like walking into an animal rights protest and reminding them racism is still a thing and suggesting an entirely different rally. Unfortunately, people are there fighting for the whales in this hypothetical situation and no one invited you to redirect the cause.
Why are folks covering the #LGBTFansDeserveBetter trend? Because it’s news. It’s relevant. And what’s happening on the Internet right now is game changing to entertainment media. Representation and diversity matter and this coverage reflects that.
Commander Lexa’s (portrayed by Alycia Debnam-Carey) character death has become a catalyst in the media drawing attention to queer representation and the tragedies often associated with it. The 100, a series once praised for great LGBT representation, dropped the ball when the show’s creator Jason Rothenberg opted for an overplayed plot twist and enraged a huge portion of the show’s fanbase. Since, Lexa has become somewhat of a Mockinggay and the face of an LGBTQ+ fan revolution — with hopes to change the way queer characters are represented in the media.
Queer online publication AfterEllen.com has been the go-to for the LGBTQ+ community since 2002. The website, not affiliated with Ellen DeGeneres, though the domain address is in reference to her coming out on her 90s sitcom Ellen — has been an online hub for queer women for more than a decade. After all, in 2008 the site made the list for “the world’s 50 most powerful blogs” by The Observer and was acknowledged for its “irreverent look at how the lesbian community is represented in the media.”
A day before the March 3 fateful episode called “Thirteen” of The 100 aired, AfterEllen.com published an exclusive interview with the show’s creator Jason Rothenberg. Somehow, they missed calling out the ‘bury your gays’ television trope that would take place in the episode. As experts of queer female representation, the editorial team is certainly in the know of what that is and still opted to avoid mentioning it in print.
In fact, they haven’t said anything about this at all.
Turns out, AfterEllen.com is a product of TOTALLYHER Media, an Evolve Media brand created to produce content and community. Evolve Media owns a number of content brands from Momtastic and theFashionSpot to ComingSoon.net and more. AfterEllen was acquired by the parent company Evolve Media back in 2014. Their content brands are created as communities — the communities are supported by clients — these clients are advertisers.
Evolve Media is a huge company — with celebrity guest editors such as Alanis Morrisette (theFashionSpot) and Katherine Heigl (Momtastic). They’re, let’s be honest, a pretty powerful media group. They own a lot of brands — meaning they have a big influence on a huge audience. This media company is incredibly attractive to advertisers and clients.
Evolve Media offers a diverse selection of publications — from parenting to wrestling, sports to fashion and dogs to cats. Their queer publisher inventory offered to advertiser clients is AfterEllen.
Partnerships with clients is important. The clients are the ones that put their dollars in — they invest in advertising. Brand exposure. Evolve Media takes on clients with a desire to partner with them to reach their targeted communities.
But what happens when a client is the subject of a headline? What happens when it’s an advertiser that’s making news? Well, Evolve Media can’t have their content brands publishing negative things about their clients, can they?
So…they don’t. And this is why AfterEllen.com failed to deliver journalism to their readers. Because it’s a conflict of interest to have one of Evolve Media’s content brands give one of their client’s bad press.
Let’s talk a little more about what press is.
Media and journalism are two different things. Journalism is built on the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, accountability and fairness. Journalism is reporting, proper storytelling and all about delivering the most accurate version of the truth. The media is the main means of mass communication. While a newspaper article can be both a piece of journalism and piece of media — not all media is journalism.
Advertisers don’t typically care about objective reporting — they value mass communication and want all the eyeballs on their brand.
The journalism world is in almost an apocalyptic state. Most publications — especially online — are powered by the advertising world. Yes, the media has always had elements of this attached to it and it has always been problematic. But real journalists are a dying breed and the state of journalism is sad.
But for a reliable queer publication to have its content dictated by advertisers and fail to report on LGBTQ+ representation — that’s tragic. AfterEllen.com’s editorial team should have really fought harder for ethical reporting and Evolve Media should have honoured that. After all, the website’s Editor-In-Chief is a aboard member of the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and apart of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Alas, this is not the world we live in.
Many real publishers with journalistic intentions are scraping by while publishing brands driven by advertisers are thriving. Which raises the question, exactly who is controlling the media? Who decides what’s news? Where’s the power? It’s something for readers to consider when deciding what content they’re consuming — and from whom.
In case you have been living under a rock and are still confused about what’s happening, you can check out lgbtfansdeservebetter.com for everything you need to know about what’s been going on. The fan website has created a great list of news and resources.
Image credit: Tumblr/eideaith