Melanie Davis: Celebrating Diversity in Publishing

P
ortland has a great history of honoring diversity in many ways. Not the least of these is the support of myriad magazines and newspapers representing a wide cross-section of cultural heritage and lifestyles indigenous to and/or reflective of Oregon. No one person exemplifies diversity in publishing in the Pacific Northwest better than Portland’s own Melanie Davis.

Principal owner of Brilliant Media, Davis is also publisher-owner of El Hispanic News, the largest bilingual newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, and a partner and senior strategist for Su Público, a multicultural ad agency serving Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. In February of this year, Davis launched PQ Monthly, a newspaper dedicated to issues affecting the LGBTQ community throughout Oregon and SW Washington. PQ Monthly means: Proud Queer Monthly. Latina lesbian leader Melanie Davis handles all this with aplomb and efficiency in a competitive publishing industry, not known to be easy for anyone but the most focused of professionals.

How did you first get into publishing? How did you discover your passion for printed medium?

I have been in the media business since I was seventeen. I became very familiar with the publishing industry as I grew up on the campaign trail. My grandmother Clara Padilla Andrews, then Jones, ran for county clerk in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She then successfully ran for secretary of state and was the first Latina in the United States to hold executive office. Since the age of seven, I would be at her side, from speaking engagements to interviews with the press, and I was always intrigued with the power of media. I felt at a very young age that I would pursue a career in the industry. Now as an experienced publisher, people draw on my knowledge and expertise, using our publications to better their outreach to the changing populations of our country.

Can you briefly discuss the formation and mission of Brilliant Media? 

Brilliant Media, LLC is the parent company of our publications and was formed to let the world know that we shine at what we do in our work. Every letter (LGBTQ), every color represented—that is what Brilliant Media lives for.

Do you have a personal ideological framework that informs your leadership? How would you sum up your leadership style? 

I am a direct person and don’t believe we have time to waste on talking in circles. I believe in equality and am humbled to serve as a publisher because I have the opportunity to engage communities and help people better understand that we ALL breathe the same air—and I don’t want to breathe in air full of hate. My guiding principles are simple. I was taught you come into to this world AND leave this world with only two things—your name and respect. The rest you can work out along the way.

Which personal mentors of yours do you look to for inspiration

There are many national and international leaders that I am inspired by and value. However, I am a family girl, inspired by my grandmother who became secretary of state [New Mexico 1983-1986], and was the first Latina in our country to hold an executive office. The mentoring she gave me is absolutely priceless.

I am also inspired by my late father who engrained in me, “The one who reads, rules.” He also taught me that if I wanted to survive anywhere in the world, I would need to have a strong understanding of numbers and math, hence my business mind. And at the end of the day it’s about your Harley-Davidson and your woman. That’s what makes life worth living—the ride through life and what you make of it!

My dad was a self-made man who spent his early childhood in an orphanage till age nine and married my mother at age twenty-one. I was born shortly after. My mom continues to inspire me every day. She is now living a fulfilling life, even after the passing of my father and their thirty-six years of marriage—a first and true love for both of them.

I am inspired by my wife whom I have the pleasure of loving, working beside and motorcycling with. We each ride our own Harley.

I am both inspired and humbled by our team and communities we serve. I see first-hand the impact our team has through informing and writing about our communities. I love to see how our community celebrates our writers, photographers, and creatives as if they are “rock stars”! It’s a very beautiful thing to be part of.

Melanie Davis newspapersWhat motivated you to launch PQ Monthly?

Shortly after the closing of Just Out in December of 2011, I was approached by countless community leaders and business people that felt that this void in the LGBTQ community needed to be filled. Based on my success in publishing, business, and my relationships within the many diverse communities, people felt it would be a natural fit for Brilliant Media to launch an LGBTQ publication, since we already publish El Hispanic News and have done the Portland Pride Guide for several years. In 2009 and 2010 El Hispanic News had partnered with Pride NW to produce and distribute its Pride Guide, an event guide that describes the happenings at Tom McCall’s Waterfront Park during Pride Month (June).

Brilliant Media and El Hispanic News took this opportunity to make this “guide” a communication tool to share the LGBTQ experience with the many diverse populations of Oregon. After creating this guide, using our own budget, we took it upon ourselves to insert the Pride Guide into The Portland Observer (an African American/Black publication), El Hispanic News (Latino/bilingual publication), The Asian Reporter (an Asian Pacific Islander publication), and several other diverse publications.

This guide was well received by the diverse communities and also helped create a space for the people of color who are members of the LGBTQ community, to have representation and a noted voice within their community of color. This was the first time in our country that something as “basic” as an LGBTQ entertainment guide was redefined, transformed by our team, and then utilized as a communication tool for the masses and diverse populations who had never really been exposed to or reached by this type of communication.

How have your readers and fellow publishers in the Latino community responded to this cross-cultural approach?

At the national level, El Hispanic News was awarded gold medals for 2009 and 2010 from the National Association of Hispanic Publications, a very conservative organization, for this innovative approach to cross-cultural communication. We are very proud of being awarded these two medals, as you can imagine. Creating something that would appeal to and be accepted by all the communities was no easy feat to accomplish!

What emotions were you going through when you learned that Just Out was coming to an end? 

I had received a private text message from the owner, Marty Davis, and she explained she was shutting the doors to Just Out. I immediately went to talk with my partner [wife Gabriela Kandziora] about how she would feel if I approached Marty to see if there might be a way to partner. Gabriela encouraged me to meet with Marty and discuss and explore the possibilities. Marty was reluctant to meet, and I could understand, as this is where she dedicated the last fifteen years of her life. However, I have a strong understanding of niche publications and the important role they play in our communities. Therefore, I felt it was paramount to somehow fill the void. I had hoped we could figure something out. As it turned out, with the encouragement of my partner, our community and business leaders, I decided to go ahead and launch a new publication called PQ Monthly with a fresh vision and new approach.

What was your relationship with that publication and the people involved? What role did Just Out play in the development of PQ Monthly

Through our ad agency Su Público, we had brought some business their way. Our advertising agency advocates strongly for niche community publications, as there is no other trusted source to reach these communities. So through the years I have established relationships with publishers of all the diverse publications and with the account reps that handle our media buys. I have always been very active in the LGBTQ community. I have been in the publishing industry since 1992 and an out lesbian since 1999.

After Just Out had closed and the publisher seemed reluctant to sell or move forward with pursuing any conversations, I met with my team at Brilliant Media (DBA El Hispanic News) and after discussing the opportunity to open another publication that would serve the LGBTQ community, we decided to move forward. After interviewing existing community writers and new writers, we established a core team of twelve. A very big issue with the closing of Just Out was the fact that there were many advertisers who had pre-paid right before JO closed. These pre-paid advertisers were not going to receive the benefit of their advertising. After assembling the PQ Monthly team, the first thing I worked out with our sales representatives was that PQ Monthly would make good on every pre-paid dollar that advertisers had paid to and were owed by Just Out. We absorbed that cost and did this all as a form of goodwill in moving forward with the launch of PQ Monthly. I wanted to make sure that our community advertisers were not losing due to the closing of Just Out. I felt this was the right thing to do.

Are there any notable differences in the community from then to now—Just Out era to PQ Monthly era? How have you seen the LGBTQ community grow in that time span?

When I was interviewed by Byron Beck and The Advocate, pre-PQ launch, I was asked what PQ Monthly would do differently and I said, “Every letter (LGBTQ) and every color will be represented.” The fibers of our publication share the stories and experiences of our community year round. I refuse to “ghettoize” or “tokenize” our community. PQ Monthly’s mission is to represent the entire LGBTQ community, not just certain segments.

Another major difference is that PQ Monthly has created long-term partnerships with our community organizations in order better serve our community and be the hub to help build strength and unity. PQ Monthly serves as the official LGBTQ publication for many of our community-based organizations, and prior to PQ Monthly, this type of relationship was non-existent in most cases.

We also host a monthly PQ Press Party on the third Thursday of every month to celebrate the new printed edition and engage both our community, including the Brilliant Media team which is now thirty-two strong, and our advertisers. This monthly party with our team and our community creates a fun and inviting environment that allows for our team to continue producing the best possible products. We host these press parties around the city. Many have been all ages and people come to read the new PQ Monthly, have a fun time, meet existing pals and make new ones, pitch a story idea, look for a position on the Brilliant Media team, imbibe with a signature PQ drink, or just talk politics. These events are free and open to the public (please “like” PQ Monthly on Facebook for details).

How have the operations and methods of El Hispanic News informed your strategy in approaching PQ Monthly?

At El Hispanic News we have streamlined our efforts to maximize our output and creativity. Our team at El Hispanic News has created a publication that has won countless awards nationally and has been voted the #1 bilingual publication in the USA for seven consecutive years. Our team used the same formula in creating PQ Monthly, of course with a flavor that will appeal to our LGBTQ community. PQ Monthly has a strong web and social media presence. Because we are monthly we are feature-driven in print and daily online. That is exactly what we do with El Hispanic News. We will also have some innovative aspects that we will be introducing as well that will better engage the reader with a full interactive experience. As a Latina/lesbian publisher it is important to me to make sure we are timely with our news distribution, modern with our approach, stylish in the look and feel of the publication, and have a consistent smart voice that better represents the LGBTQ community.

What hardships come with your role as a publisher fighting for equality across the board? Would those hardships be different in a community outside of Portland?

Our role with both publications is to serve our communities across the state of Oregon and SW Washington—we are not only found in Portland. PQ Monthly is a partner with the Gay Prides that happen around our state. PQ does this because the fight for equal rights in the smaller cities and towns is sometimes behind that of Portland. One of the biggest hardships we face presently is that we are ALL still having to fight for equality and basic rights. A great thing that has happened here in Oregon is that there are many alliances that have been formed between the LGBTQ community and communities of color. Oftentimes the communities of color understand that the fight for equal rights is the same no matter if you are a person of color or a person from the LGBTQ community. Fighting for rights together is much more productive than fighting alone, as fractured communities. Since I came out and began working within the Latino community, one of my personal missions has been to emphasize to ALL peoples that we ALL breathe the same air. Let’s get used to it and make it work, instead of conflicting with one another. We still have a great deal of work ahead of us as there are still many people out there who possess phobias against one, some, or all of us. That is why I continue to work with a team that creates a strong voice in the fight for equal rights.

About The Author: Justin Fields