Born in Trenton and maintaining strong ties to the capital city, Out in Jersey is one of only a handful of magazines to serve New Jersey’s growing LGBT community.
The full-color, glossy magazine, professionally designed and written by statewide staff, has been going strong since its inception in 2002, when publisher Peter Frycki and a few colleagues morphed what had originally been a local publication of the nonprofit Trenton Gay and Lesbian Civic Association into an independent, statewide company radiating out from the state capital into other parts of New Jersey and beyond.
“The original publication was titled ‘Trenton Out and About,’” Frycki says as he chatted over coffee about the publication’s recent growth in print and online. A youngish 60, Frycki has an earnest, casual style and a ready smile. “It started out as a photocopied newsletter for Trenton-area readers. But soon we were hearing from members of the LGBT community from Asbury Park, Jersey City, Cape May: ‘What about us?’ We were covering the issues that mattered to the LGBT community. You can’t expect to get this depth of coverage from the (Trenton) Times, Trentonian, and other local media.”
Under Frycki’s direction, the newsletter developed into a black-and-white magazine (for a time printed at Trenton Printing). But as the scope of the content and quality of the publication expanded, it became clear to Frycki and others involved with the magazine that it was no longer simply the voice of a local association. There was a need for accurate, timely information about LGBT issues, legislation, events, and awareness. Out of this need, Out in Jersey was born.
“Our goal was still activism, but on a statewide level,” says Frycki. “Toby Grace — editor emeritus, who now writes the ‘Casting Aspersions’ column — a few others, and I saw the need to expand, but it would be a big risk. Since the publication is distributed for free, without the financial support of the association, we would need to develop an advertising base to support operating expenses. Breaking away would take a lot of time and money.”
Time and money were not particularly abundant for those involved in the transition. Frycki was working full-time with the Mercer County Board of Social Services. But the change tapped into two of the publisher’s deepest passions: love of journalism and advocacy for the LGBT community.
“Part of the reason I didn’t finish my degree at Rutgers was that I was spending way too much time on the student newspaper and radio station,” he says with a laugh. “After I left school, I worked 14 years in retail and 25 years in social services, and now I’m back where I started, doing what I originally wanted to do as a kid.”
Born in Rahway, Frycki grew up in the New Brunswick area. His dad worked for a wire company while his mom was a homemaker raising four children. While his father died before the magazine began, his mother was “verbally supportive and found the magazine ‘interesting,’” Frycki says, noting that his mother has also passed away. “My siblings were always verbally supportive and still are. My friends and colleagues in the LGBT community were my mentors and always a good sounding board, and it still remains so to this day.”
Frycki continued to work in social services while developing the magazine on weekends. His years in retail and as a county employee were hardly wasted, however. “From retail, I learned about finance and how to manage people. From social services, I learned compassion,” he says. “Without those, I couldn’t be doing what I do today.”
Now retired from the county, Frycki works nearly seven days a week with little if any financial reward on a magazine that is at the leading edge of advocacy and information sharing. His day starts as he reads texts and Tweets, then moves into instant messaging and Facebook. Most of his work each day involves interaction with advertisers to ensure a sound financial base for the magazine.
“I know it’s unusual to start a print-based publication in today’s market, but we view the print version as our storefront, our front door. It comes out every two months, and I think it gives us more legitimacy,” says Frycki. “Let’s face it, any individual can create a blog, and many of them look really good. Having a print publication of this quality gives a message that we are here to stay.”
Concurrent with the birth of the magazine was an explosion of news on the Internet.
“People wanted news right now, not next week or next month in a magazine. So around 2008, our website, which was previously just a place holder, became an active blog for posting breaking news, details about events. And that has made a huge difference,” he says.
Now when a major event announces a guest speaker at the last minute, outinjersey.net publishes the story within hours. The entire events calendar was moved to the website in 2009. Today 80 percent of the publication’s content is online, with only 20 percent in the print publication. Some 5,000 copies of the print magazine are provided free to readers at drop-off sites throughout the state, a full list of which is available online.
In the greater Princeton area those sites include the Princeton, Hopewell, Hamilton, and Trenton public libraries and the Mercer County Library in Lawrenceville. In addition, the magazine has 200 subscribers from as far away as California (cost: $19.95 per year). The online version has continued to grow in readership; this year it is averaging 7,000 visitors per week.
Advertising rates are reasonable, from as little as $124 for a 1/12 page to as much as $2,000 for a full-color full page back cover.
“The magazine is 98 percent supported by advertisers,” says Frycki. “Without them, we don’t have anything.”
Something for everyone. The mechanics of writing, editing, designing, publishing, and managing advertising revenues can be daunting enough for Frycki, editor Sam Martino, and a small staff supported by stringers throughout the state. But one of the more subtle challenges he has faced over the years is keeping a balance among the various voices of LGBT.
While most informed citizens today recognize LGBT as representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, there are additional letters that stand for other forms of identification expressed as individuals and groups feel empowered to claim their own identity. “Q” for queer is often added, as is “A” for asexual or ally, and there are many others. Wikipedia lists its version of the full initialism as LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual).
“We all look for our own interests in a publication and think there could be more coverage for our topic,” he says. “When I meet with a gay men’s group, I might hear, ‘Why do you devote so much space to lesbians and trans?’ When I meet with a lesbian organization, I could be asked, ‘How can we get more coverage for lesbians?’”
The same occurs with regional concerns, he noted. “I tell them, if you want to increase coverage for your area, why don’t you write for us?” he says. “That’s actually how we’ve gotten stringers in other parts of the state. We might start them out with a book or movie review. Some have started out as bad writers but learned to write along the way, as we all do.”
Standing out. What makes Out in Jersey stand out, Frycki believes, is the integrity of its reporting and relevance of its content to a growing number of New Jersey residents. Frycki estimates the number of LGBT citizens in New Jersey at more than 500,000. Surveys by Gallup and other organizations have primarily focused on the “LG” part of that equation. A 2016 Gallup poll suggested there were 250,550 self-identified gay and lesbian individuals in New Jersey, a number that will increase as other bisexual, trans, and other identities come forth and are counted. The percentage of LGBT people in the world is generally accepted as from 6 to 7 percent among the LGBT community, Frycki says.
The magazine also is dedicated to keeping a positive spin on LGBT news. “This is a mainstream publication,” says Frycki. “We’re not out to attack people. Most of the magazine keeps a positive attitude, although we do call out those who deserve to be taken to task.” However, two sections where readers can be sure to read unsparing criticism are the “Casting Aspersions” editorial by Toby Grace and a column by D’Anne Witkowski titled, “Creep of the Week.” In the August-September 2018 edition, Jeff Sessions, U.S. attorney general, featured prominently in each of those articles.
Asked what may be the most popular feature in the magazine, Frycki chuckles. “When I drop off magazines, I sometimes hang around a while to see what people’s reactions are,” he says. “Invariably, someone will flip toward the back of the magazine and read the horoscope!” In keeping with the magazine’s attention to detail and hand-crafted feel, the horoscope — “My Stars” by Madame Zzaj — is written specifically for Out in Jersey readers.
Always a Trenton touch. From his childhood in New Brunswick, where he was bullied for being shorter than his classmates and probably gay, to his coming out at the age of 20, Frycki experienced the struggle personally before becoming an activist and advocate for the rights of LGBT people. He speaks with great admiration and gratitude about the pioneers of LGBT journalism such as Mark Segal of Philadelphia Gay News, who found a voice to build community, share information, and speak out on important issues.
Frycki has a home in the Villa Park section of Trenton, the city where important legislation was signed into law regarding civil unions and same-sex marriage less than a decade ago. The magazine may be written by writers in different parts of the state, but the Trenton connection remains strong.
Also on his side is the recent election of Reed Gusciora, Trenton’s first gay mayor.
“I have been acquainted with Mayor Gusciora for a long time,” says Frycki. “I interviewed him for Out in Jersey magazine very shortly after he was outed by a news reporter many, many years ago. And I ran into him off and on in the years since. He is very pragmatic and never full of himself. In all his years as a state assemblyman, Reed always worked to make New Jersey a better place for everyone.”
“Trenton has been an important part of Out in Jersey from the start,” says Frycki. “People in other parts of the state would tell us, ‘You guys cover Trenton politics (state government) and that’s important to us.’ That information will always be part of our magazine.”