“I’ve been at every horrible media property,” says Henry Giardina, editor of the recently-resuscitated Into.
Into, if you haven’t been following the minutiae of online LGBTQ+ publishing for the last few years, was a curious project of Grindr that lived hard and died young from 2017 to 2019. It was a blog, a breaking news site, and an advice-column launchpad that hired some of the best queer journalists in the industry to be full-time reporters; it was created, for some strange reason, by a hookup app; and that same hookup app pulled the plug after Into reported unflattering details about a Grindr exec’s homophobia.
And now it’s back. But this time, the new management says, things are going to be different.
I have a personal interest in Into’s rise and fall and re-rise: In 2016, I was among the freelancers Into recruited prior to launch, so I had an inside view of its first brief lifespan. Into’s 2021 rebirth is possible because it was purchased by Q.Digital, the company that owns Queerty and LGBTQ Nation; I was the editor of Queerty in 2011 after it was bought from its original owners and relaunched under circumstances similar to Into’s.
The world of online queer publishing is tiny — we all, for the most part, know each other; have at times hired and worked for each other, and only require three or four minutes to identify where all of the bodies are buried. Learning that Into is back feels like a soap opera’s surprise twist revelation: Steven actually survived the explosion on the oil rig?
Adding to the surprise is that unavoidable fact that Into’s initial existence never made much sense. Why would Grindr, a platform thought of as a means to summon sex partners and very occasionally to have conversations, get into the news business? Back in 2017, Into was explained as a way to provide users with topics of conversation. Like, if you didn’t know how to break the ice, you could say, “Did you read that new interview about La La Land?”
To that end, the site recruited some of the top talent in queer publishing: Zach Stafford, who had worked for Out and The Guardian; Mary Emily O’Hara, a brilliant and relentless journalist, now with GLAAD, whose bylines stretch from Vice to NBC News; John Paul Brammer, whose ¡Hola Papi! column was an instant hit and is now a book; and many many others.
It was a dream team of colleagues and friends, and the group dynamic was heightened by once-a-year gatherings at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA, pronounced “negligee”). There was a clear divide between the old guard of reporters at mainstream outlets and online writers who could speak to younger audiences: An unspoken gulf that felt a bit like the bloggers versus the Mo Roccas of the world. Not a rivalry, just a difference of experience and trajectory that made it easy to cast oneself as an underdog and outsider.
Among those differences was the volatility of queer publishing. Writing, and in particular journalism, burns like the fuse on a stick of dynamite, throwing off sparks and drawing unpredictably closer to explosion. Most blogs have a particularly short fuse, and Into’s was about a year and a half. After 17 months of well-read coverage, Grindr abruptly pulled the plug after Into covered Grindr President Scott Chen’s opposition to marriage equality.
And that, it seemed, was that — another media venture over. But it wasn’t.
Henry Giardina is no stranger to the whims of online media. After graduating in 2010, he worked at another volatile venture, a hip New York-based publisher that folded after seven years. It was, he says, a lousy job. “We stayed overnight, there were no boundaries, it was extremely toxic,” he says. “But I got to be an editor.”
That was followed by a short stint at one of New York’s bedrock publishing companies, working full time while classified as an intern. “I hated it,” he says. “It’s a nine to five job and they pay you 200 bucks a week. … It’s not a real job you can do unless you’re rich.”
After a month, he had a byline, and used that to formulate an escape plan to Los Angeles where he worked for a now-folded publication that was also “highly dysfunctional.”
“There was a minute,” he recalls, “when I had to chase my boss into an elevator to get a check that had my name spelled wrong. And that was when I was like, ‘You know? Maybe I’ll apply at Ross Dress for Less.’”
Around the time he was giving up hope, a friend on an industry listserv nudged Giardina about a job opportunity. Q.Digital had purchased Into and wanted to revive it, though they weren’t sure what direction it should take. Giardina pitched a few ideas, and soon found himself at the helm. He liked that the entire team was queer, and that they were open to his initial idea for the site: “I wanted to do more TikTok journalism,” he says. “I’m more likely to go on TikTok to find a story than on the New York Times.”
Giardina’s first concept for the new Into was that they would use social media to provide a more authentic view of queer life than stodgy old media companies. But after a few weeks, he says, it became clear that while bite-sized social media provides an opportunity to click rapidly through many different perspectives, “sometimes it’s not conducive to a bigger story.”
And so now the site is pivoting into yet another focus, which is to combine unique perspectives with more in-depth first-person coverage. (This is my favorite form of journalism, and why I like working at The Stranger as much as I do; you can read AP-style copy about celebrity news on any one of a million websites, but nowhere else on Earth will you find Charles Mudede’s thoughts on Google’s time crystals.)
Another new niche for Into: “Finding queerness and gayness in things that don’t feel written for us or about us, and queering the larger landscape,” Giardina says. This is a focus that evolved out of his podcast, Totally Trans (which is itself an evolution of the podcast Gayest Episode Ever, co-hosted by my friend Drew Mackie — like I said, we all know each other) in which Henry and his co-host Ada-Rhodes Short discuss how they see “Pinocchio as trans, I see Ariel as trans, I see Ursula … queering characters and teasing out the transness that’s already there, in a way that uses headcanon and fanfiction to create a narrative that can live alongside the canon and make sense to trans people.”
It’s been a relief, he says, for Into to avoid stories about “the same five things” that queer media tends to insert into clickbait slots. “It’s Lady Gaga, it’s Billy Porter, It’s a Sin. … I’m like, ‘well what if we looked at things that aren’t being covered?’ What I want to do is give random people who are doing weird shit the cover story treatment.”
Speaking as someone who likes to write thousands of words on erotic furry VR hackers: This is my language. But is it anyone else’s? Well, we’re about to find out.
And beyond being a place for personal takes on current culture, Giardina says, the new Into has something else going for it: Stability, a rare quality in the queer publishing space.
“It’s the least dysfunctional place I’ve ever worked,” he says. “People know what they’re doing and they work together really well. I’m like, ‘Wow, this is so healthy.’ I’m used to chaos and nobody knowing what’s going on. … But here, everybody really gets it. They understand. There’s not any bullshit.”
That sounds like a good start. Or, as it may be, a good re-start.