As we’ve mentioned here a few times before, people who want to launch a successful blog must abide by three basic rules:
- RULE 1: It’s not about you.
- RULE 2: Get narrow and get focused
- RULE 3: You need to be able to answer this question: “Why you?”
Kaitlyn Scoville found a way to hit all three of those marks when she introduced her “Come (Out) As You Are” blog in December 2020, a site that offers “a safe space for LGBTQIA+ individuals to share their coming out stories with others and to stay up-to-date with LGBTQ topics.”
She is currently a general assignment reporter for the Oshkosh Herald, having previously freelanced there as well as with the Ripon Commonwealth Press. Her interest in journalism, however, didn’t start with a passion for reading and writing like so many other students who find themselves in this field.
“I was never really a fan of reading, writing essays and the like during middle and high school, but it was what I was good at (better than anything STEM, at least),” she said in an email interview. “I always had a difficult time concentrating on longer reading and writing tasks, so I never thought that I’d have a career in doing something I nearly despised growing up.”
Scoville, however, found a way to pair her interests with her talents when she got to college.
“Coming into college at UW Oshkosh, I knew that I enjoyed interacting one-on-one, creating relationships with others and spreading kindness in the community,” she said. “I didn’t realize that a journalism major could accomplish all of that until about my sophomore year when I signed up to write for The Advance-Titan (UWO’s student-run paper).”
(In case it’s not abundantly clear already, but for the sake of disclosure, Scoville was one of my students during her time at UWO. A really, really good one.)
As her time in college came to an end, Scoville decided to launch the blog. Her interest was in telling other people’s stories (Rule 1). She did this by focusing on how people in the LGBTQ+ community came to a fuller understanding of who they are and what that means (Rule 2).
As far as Rule 3, Scoville seems to have a pretty good line on this as well.
“I would like to emphasize that I am, by no means whatsoever, a professional or a counselor,” she said. “I am simply here to provide an outlet for other LGBTQ folks to read about other people’s experiences, and provide a little more clarity by showing struggles and hardships that they endure.”
Below is a transcript of an email interview Scoville did for us here at Dynamics of Writring, edited for space and clarity.
Any errors are mine; the good stuff is hers.
What can you tell me about the process that led you to start the “Come (Out) As You Are” blog?
“The thought of starting my own blog began about halfway through my final semester at UWO, so it only took about a couple months to put it to action. I knew I wanted to find a way to apply my acquired skills while I was searching for something more permanent and self-sustaining than my part-time convenience store gig at the time.
“That being said, I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community myself, and am very thankful to have had an accepting family and social network to turn to. However, it’s my understanding that not everybody can have the same experience that I did. It came to my mind to perhaps give those who are comfortable with sharing the opportunity to tell their stories: to give others the chance to read about instances of resilience and pulling themselves up on the other end of hardship.
“Though the LGBTQ community seems pretty expansive nowadays, some people may still feel lost and as though they don’t have anybody to turn to. I thought this was a good way to connect with fellow LGBTQ individuals, provide some comfort and hope to those who can’t or choose not to come out, and give back to that community.”
In a lot of pieces I’ve read that involved sexual orientation as a key component, the concept of “coming out” is often addressed as kind of a “checkbox item” for lack of a better term. It happens and people react and move on. Your approach almost goes the opposite way and provides readers with something most of them haven’t seen or experienced. Was this a case of you seeing an under-covered niche and filling it? Or was it something where you thought something important was lost that needed to be told for certain reasons? Or something else entirely?
“That’s an interesting way to put it; I never really thought about it in that sense. I suppose I am kind of filling that niche, but I also just thought of it as a way to help some of those individuals who are in a situation where they can’t come out. Sometimes their home situation is unwelcoming or even dangerous in such a way where coming out can make that more detrimental to them. I wanted my blog to be somewhat of a haven, if that makes sense.”
How do you go about approaching people to take part in this kind of a project? How do you gain their trust that you’re going to “do right by them” for lack of a better term? How important is it to you that you’re telling their stories in a way that’s both journalistically sound and yet respectful of the sources?
“I kill everybody — with kindness — to begin with. So far, everybody I’ve interviewed for their coming out stories have reached out to me with interest. I haven’t had the need to contact anybody myself yet as I’m only running weekly posts. However, once I do have the need to do so, I plan to only reach out to organizations or those who are seemingly very open about their sexuality to avoid offending anyone.
“Even with people reaching out to me with interest in sharing their story, I always preface my interviews by saying thank you, along the lines of, ‘Thank you so much for sharing such a vulnerable part of your life for me, I really appreciate it.’ And after that, I always let them know that they do not have to answer every question I ask them. I can never stress that enough. Though nobody has skipped any questions yet, if they do, I simply will not question why they chose to skip it. I will just move on.
“To me, their story is the most important thing to tell: not necessarily applying the whole ‘paraphrase/quote’ structure of basic journalism. Sometimes, I’ll use several quotes in a row if they say something so well that I don’t need to phrase it. Using their own words is the best way I can gain their trust, and the paraphrases just add some extra spice, detail and emphasis. Furthermore, I always give them the chance to read over their feature once I’ve completed it to make sure I haven’t misconstrued or told any part of it wrong. If I did, they let me know, I fix it, and they’re OK with me publishing it.”
What have some of your experiences been with this blog in terms of working with sources and getting reader reactions?
“So far, I’ve generally had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the blog. Those who have participated or read it have told me that it was a wonderful idea. When I hit a slow point in the middle of January, I did reach out to a couple of larger organizations with the thought in my mind that they weren’t even going to give me the time of day. However, a couple of them got back to me and unfortunately said that promoting things like my blog wasn’t really something they did. I just shrugged it off. I’ll try again later.
“Cory was the first person who volunteered to share his coming out story with me. When I interviewed him, I could tell that he had never done anything like this before, so I tried my best to keep our interview as conversational as possible.
“When I finished it and he read it over, he was concerned that his story sounded too self-centered. However, he did reach back out and say that it was OK given that the entire thing was about him and his own experiences. I think having never done something like this before led him to think worse than it really was. His story is the most viewed post on my blog.
“I don’t really receive comments or emails about anything, so I don’t really have much to say on that. Otherwise, all is well, feedback is generally positive and those who have reached out to participate were very excited to help LGBTQ people’s voices be heard more.”
What are some of the best bits of advice you can give to student journalists or beginning journalists who want to start a blog or work on a beat where they need to dig into a specialized topic like this one?
“I don’t believe I’ve seen any other blogs or sites that have such a one-on-one connection with people for each post, so I can’t stress enough that you gotta be kind to people — try not to make it seem like a profession but more like a hobby. Make it fun for yourself and others.
“Quotes in news stories are oftentimes there to supplement information. But in my case, I use them to tell the story… And don’t be afraid to take a risk for the sake of storytelling to make it more interesting. If you accidentally get something wrong, own up to it and fix it.”
If anybody who is reading this is interested in sharing their coming out story, or know someone who may be, they can get in touch with Scoville at firstname.lastname@example.org. That email is also open for story ideas, comments and generally everything else regarding the LGBTQ+ community.