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CBS News Lands On Logo

"We don't want to be the 700 Club of gay news," Jason Bellini says as he sips on a Diet Pepsi in the cafeteria of the CBS Broadcast Center. "The audience wants us to be credible. There are plenty of other outlets out there doing advocacy coverage."

Bellini, 30, is the anchor of CBS News on Logo, the MTV-owned cable network targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender viewers that debuted last summer. CBS News produces four minutes of news each day for Logo: A three-and-a-half-minute newscast and a thirty second news brief. (It also produces periodic specials.) According to executive producer Court Passant, the CBS News-produced content runs more than 30 times each day on the network.

The coverage on CBS News on Logo centers on gay issues – recent story topics include a gay-themed children's book, arrests in a St. Maarten gay bashing case involving CBS News employees, and the discharge of a lesbian Air Force nurse. But Passant says he and his staff of five "take great pains to make sure we don't appear to be pandering to the audience." He adds: "We are not a mouthpiece for the gay community."

That doesn't mean they play by the same rules as other media outlets, however. "We get our notions of balance and objectivity from voices within our community," says Passant. On an issue like gay adoption, he says, that means they don't have to put a conservative on air to balance the issue, since almost all of those opposed to gay adoption are outside the gay community.

CBS News produces programming for a number of stations, including A&E, MtvU, Discovery Channel, the Food Network, and TV Land. Some such programming, like that on MtvU, is branded with the CBS News name, but much of it is not. Passant says Logo, which partnered with CBS News while both were under the Viacom umbrella, pushed for the CBS News brand name, and CBS News was "supportive of that." Was the network making a statement with the branding? "I don't think that CBS has chosen sides in the culture war by doing this," says Bellini, who points out that all of the networks support the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. "I think they all recognize gay people as part of a diverse newsroom."

Bellini came to Logo from CNN, where he was a field correspondent – during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was one of the network's embedded journalists. It was not, he says, an easy decision. "People questioned if it was a wise idea," he admits. One of the reasons he made the jump was because CBS News was willing to put its name – and the resources behind it – on the newscast. The CBS News brand, he hopes, will help him avoid being pigeonholed should he want to go back to a traditional news outlet. "Those doors will still be open, I hope," he says. "But there's a risk involved."

Bellini says he isn't the only person taking a risk in embracing Logo. "If we don't do our jobs right, we could be damaging the CBS News brand," he says. "We want to make sure that it's as good as anything else CBS News would put out there."

But that doesn't mean creating a carbon copy of the kind of coverage of gay issues one would find in traditional media. Bellini recalls an interview with Rosie O'Donnell about her "Gay Family Cruise" in which he interrupted O'Donnell to remind her she was on Logo. "I told her we don't need to hear her making the case for gay people – you don't need to do PR here," he says. "She loosened up a little after that."

Passant, who came to CBS News on Logo from Newspath, the 24-hour affiliate news service of CBS News, stresses that the broadcast doesn't inject any editorializing into the final product. "We're just covering stories most news organizations aren't covering," he says. "We take great pains to write the story as straight, if you will, as possible."

"People are so excited that there is a high-quality gay newscast," adds Bellini. "Our very existence gives validity to the idea of gay news."