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MNN Diaries: Ann Northrop and Andy Humm

MNN Diaries, News and Views, Programming HighlightsBy Lee Walker Helland

It’s the first of the month, and that means its time for another entry of “MNN Diaries,” our new blog series that lets us get up close and personal with MNN producers and hosts. We landed on Ann Northrop, writer, journalist and co-host of “Gay USA,” a weekly news and analysis program that’s been around, in some form or another, for 27 years. Ann has dedicated decades of her life to LGBT, AIDS, feminist and antiwar activism—the sort of effort you get from only the most generous kind—so her response to our “MNN Diaries” request was fitting: I’ll do it if I can share it with Andy. Fortunately, Andy Humm, longtime reporter and “Gay USA” co-host—accepted the assignment, too. Enjoy!

What led you to MNN?

"Gay USA” came out of the Gay Cable Network, created by veteran gay activist Lou Maletta in the early 1980s to use cable television to cover and speak to the LGBT community. It was telecast on leased access for about 17 years, but was running out of funding and steam. Serendipitously, we got a call from Donald Suggs, then on the MNN board of directors, asking us to come do some HIV/AIDS education with the Youth Channel staff and, "Oh, by the way, would you like to bring 'Gay USA' to our public access channel?" Yes! We've been thrilled to be here since 2002.

What have you learned--about the craft, about yourself--while creating a TV show at MNN?

ANN: Technically, I've learned how to keep the monitor in the corner of my eye so I can figure out which camera to look at. But mostly, I've concentrated on how to have a direct, personal conversation with the audience inside that camera.

ANDY: I’ve learned that our audience wants us to keep it real and honest. The hardest thing for most people who do TV is to “be yourself,” not some idea of what a person on TV should look like and sound like. I try not to speak to the audience any different from the way I speak with people in everyday life. With the rise of the Internet as a source for instant news, we wonder sometimes about the relevance of communicating through a weekly television show. But we've learned TV is still the preferred way of getting news for large numbers of people—a form that brings us into people's homes and lets us communicate to them in an intimate way. MNN provides that special platform for us and hundreds of diverse others and it is a resource that must be cherished and expanded.

How would you like your show to impact your audience?

ANN: I want the information and analysis we provide to inspire people to action. It could be as simple as speaking up for social justice in their daily lives, or as large as joining movements to create change.

ANDY: Whether an audience member is LGBT or a straight ally, I want the show to give them the motivation and tools to come out wherever they are and to be a part of the LGBT movement and other causes that they care about.

How has MNN changed your life, present and future?

ANN: MNN has given me the chance to meet and work with a great group of people. And MNN also placed "Gay USA" on Free Speech TV, giving us national distribution, which has amplified our voice enormously. The best thing is how meaningful "Gay USA" clearly is to our viewers, who we hear from every day. They thank us for being strong, out role models. They thank us for giving them a grownup, in-depth analysis of the issues that are crucial to their lives. They stop us on the street, every single day, to tell us that we give them hope and strength. It's a rich, rich payment for the hours and hours of work we put into the show each week.

ANDY: We've been doing the show in one form or another for 27 years. A lot of that springs from our roots in LGBT activism and the feeling that it is a privilege to be able to get the truth out about our issues and our LGBT brothers and sisters in a media landscape that—while it is improving—still rarely lets us LGBT people speak for ourselves. Working with Ann, our associate producer Bill Bahlman, and the great staff here has given me a platform to make social change and an outlet to disseminate LGBT and AIDS news at a time when that news is exploding. And it has brought me into contact with people I got to know first as viewers, but now know as movement colleagues and friends. Those relationships have been enormously enriching.

In three words, why do you love the work you do at MNN?

ANN: Rich (Speziale), Roberto (Espinell), DeShawn (Pretlow)

ANDY: Community-based TV

"Gay USA" airs every Thursday at 11pm on MNN1 and MNN.org. To get the podcast and find out more about the show, check out their website and Facebook page. Stay connected with “Gay USA” on Twitter and YouTube.