On the evening of Oct. 7, members of the Lincoln community gathered in two separate venues only blocks away from each other. Both groups settled into their seats and stared up at speaking figures, nodding and laughing.
One figure was comedian Larry the Cable Guy, who performed for a crowd at the Lied Center.
The other figure was renowned author and comic Alison Bechdel, who was the featured speaker as part of a semester-long celebration of 50 years of LGBTQ Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, making it one of the first public universities in the nation to do so.
Yet in the wake of both events, Bechdel left behind only a ghost of her presence. That is because every Lincoln media outlet failed to report on the event. In fact, the only media presence whatsoever was a four-paragraph notice from UNL written before Bechdel’s talk that announced the author’s event.
What of Larry the Cable Guy? Well, the Lincoln Journal Star reported on his 90 minutes of COVID-19 and airline jokes. As for notices to inform Nebraskans of the comedian’s arrival, the Lincoln Journal Star, KOLN, the Fremont Tribune and even our own Daily Nebraskan made sure its readers were prepped and ready to “git ‘er done.” UNL wrote about the comedian in two articles, mere weeks apart.
On the surface level, it’s something to brush past, just a matter of popularity and interest. But thinking critically as a journalist, this situation demonstrates a failure on behalf of our local media to adequately recognize Bechdel’s event, something with incredible appeal to Lincoln’s LGBTQ community.
This failure points to a larger, broader disconnect between the perceived and actual role of the mainstream news media in representing their communities. Rather than take a blanket affect to the events of a community, it is time for journalists to recognize their role in uplifting and empowering marginalized voices.
UNL media, as well as Lincoln media in general, must do a better job of uplifting events that may not be as flashy or noticeable, but are still integral in representing area communities that seldom receive the spotlight.
When we think about our current media climate, it is understandable that newsrooms must pick and choose. It can be hard to flush out events and opportunities from smaller area communities. In a modern digital world, every moment becomes something to share. Every insignificant detail can become significant with enough shares.
Journalists of every community — whether it’s a mega metropolis like New York City or a rather humble city like Lincoln — are faced daily with a glut of online information they must wade through like sewer water.
If anything, this burden is even harder to bear in smaller communities. Shrinking newsrooms force their journalists to take on increasing workloads. On the other hand, growing news deserts spread thin the existing journalists to survey larger areas, sometimes covering multiple communities at once.
However, in the face of smaller newsrooms, marginalized communities and their events still deserve their time in the spotlight. While all news media have come across harsh waters, minority communities have been disproportionately affected.
Take a look at a major source of minority news media, the Black press, a longstanding institution of Black America and a prime source of information in a media atmosphere that often ignores, skews and downsizes Black issues. Yet, in the last few decades, the Black press has been a primary victim of newsroom shrinkage. Major outlets like Ebony or JET magazines have closed down in recent years or rebranded as digital-only platforms. Remaining publications have struggled against dwindling circulation.
Closures and retractions to online-only formats have also hit the LGBTQ community. Most recently, Chicago’s only LGBTQ newspaper — Windy City Times — retreated to a digital format in 2020, echoing what is now an established pattern.
If such institutions were able to flourish, perhaps the lack of minority coverage by the mainstream media wouldn’t be as important. After all, members of the community and their allies would have appropriate avenues to inform themselves.
But that simply isn’t happening anymore, and mainstream news is not holding themselves accountable for the disconnect. In a smaller city like Lincoln that lacks even a major online publication for marginalized communities, the media must understand its role in representing all the citizens that call Lincoln home.
To be fair, Lincoln media has done a reasonably good job in recognizing the obviously large events and celebrations of its minority populations. For example, I commend the area coverage of Monday’s Indigenous Peoples Day, which was the first official celebration since the day became a state holiday in 2020. Both print outlets and broadcast stations documented the events, sharing an important and historic moment in the fight for recognizing the state’s Native American communities.
At the same time, I couldn’t help but recognize how easy of a story these are. After all, this wasn’t an innately Indigenous issue the media was covering. Instead, it was a holiday, something most people would see on their calendar. Compare the coverage of Indigenous Peoples Day to Lincoln’s coverage of everyday Native issues, and the disconnect arises again.
Reporting on the biggest, flashiest events is the easiest approach in modern newsroom culture, but it’s not right. Journalists, especially in the Lincoln community, must see their role not only in covering the issues of the majority but in upholding the value of our minority populations, seeing their lives and their events as worthy of being public information.
I challenge Lincoln’s media to do better and do more. Journalism is not just about finding the largest, biggest voices, which may or may not holler “git ‘er done” in a tacky, faux Western accent.
Journalism — true journalism — examines the quieter, more understated voices, those that are often drowned in the din of a white, heteronormative world. Those voices are not unknown or niche or unworthy of the mainstream focus. Those voices exist in every community, and it is time we recognize that they deserve their moment.
Emma Krab is a junior English and journalism major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.