Safer Sex Editorial Board

1/12/96 [email protected]

The Safer Sex Page, soon at, is a well known site on the World Wide Web, and certainly the most comprehensive source of information on safer sex, condoms, and HIV prevention on the Internet. I believe that the Internet, despite its current limitations and restricted audience, is an important new medium for public health education, and one that will only grow with time.

Until now, the Safer Sex site is produced entirely through the volunteer efforts of one person -- me, John Troyer. My method of procuring new content is to accept anything offered. There is no written mission statement or editorial policy. I am a computational chemist by training, and as the site grows in size and audience I feel at times that I'm in over my head.

I would like to make the web site more comprehensive, more professional, and I would like it to be self-perpetuating, since eventually I want to move on to other projects. This is why I'm assembling an editorial board to help with production of the Safer Sex site.

I have also volunteered to be a plaintiff in the ACLU's challenge of the communications decency act amendment to the Telecommunications Bill now in Congress. The case is expected to last a few years, and is another precipitating reason why I would like to have a solid Mission Statement, a qualified Editorial Board, and a Scientific Advisory Board to establish our bona fides. You should be aware that in a nightmare world gone mad, as an editor of this site you might be liable for 2 years in jail and $100,000 for each "indecent" document we put on the web. (Unlike obscenity, the legal standard for indecency does not require the entire work to be taken into account. A single paragraph or picture could be ruled indecent, regardless of the context in which it appears.) I can't say I see this actually happening, but you should be aware of the possibility.

The Editorial Board.

My current goal is to get together 5-10 volunteers who will work independently to produce the editorial content of the site. I'll handle as much of the web and HTML production work as is needed, and I'll maintain the website. I anticipate at most a few hours of work per person will be needed.

Initially, we won't be incorporated as a non-profit, and we'll have a zero budget. The board is open to anyone who wishes to participate, and I hope to operate by consensus. The volunteers don't have to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, since most operations will be carried through email. However, it does look like a lot of the initial volunteers will be from the Bay Area, and so we'll try to have periodic face-to-face meetings so we can get to know each other and work better together. Bay Area staffers will need to take care to be inclusive of non-Bay Area volunteers.

Everyone is welcome, but I'm specifically looking for people who have some training in safer sex education at some level. Writing, graphic design, and magazine experience will also be helpful skills. (I'm making this point because we need some people who know what's up. Everybody's welcome because everybody can learn what's up, but it does take time to do the research and finally reinvent the wheel. As a non-specialist, I can always do some research to find what I want to know, but I never do know if that answer I found in a 5-year-old article is still considered correct today.)

I anticipate that together we'll come up with a list of possible projects, articles, and people and agencies to contact. People will volunteer to take responsibility for different items from the list. Initially I'll coordinate things as they come in and put them up on the web.

This is going to be a horribly inefficient way to run things, and no doubt we will quickly dissolve into meandering committee meetings and rancorous arguments and finger-pointing. (That's a joke. I hope.) Assuming we don't allow consensus to tear us apart, we can establish as needed departments, section editors, or otherwise carve up areas of responsibility and oversight. Anybody with magazine editorial experience automatically will move to the head of the class. I am, however, completely flexible as to the organization, so I think we'll have to see how it works out.

If things go well, I'd imagine that we would incorporate as a nonprofit organization within a year. This would enable us to get grants, sponsorships, and donations of equipment and computer time with tax write-offs. (Right now our server time is being generously donated by the cool cats at Cyborganic.) It might also be possible to have paid positions. Eventually I would like to move back from day-to-day operations and let other people run the show, since I'm really just an Accidental Health Educator.

I'm very committed to having the site appeal to people of all orientations and genders. This implies that the editorial board should also be as diverse as possible. Right now, everyone who has expressed interest in helping out is a woman, so I would like to get more men involved. I will call or give flyers to a few organizations around town next week. I can also post to usenet and write to the local gay papers. Other suggestions are appreciated. In addition, both Internet access and healthcare access have larger race and class issues which we should address at some level.

Safer Sex: the magazine.

As the web grows and stabilizes, it's becoming clear that one model for a successful site is a magazine. I'd like to retool the Safer Sex Page as a magazine, beginning with the name. I'd like to keep the words 'Safer Sex' in the title, both for web-indexing purposes (we get a LOT of hits for people searching on 'sex') and for continuity. One possibility is simply to truncate the title and add a tagline -- "Safer Sex: the online journal of sexual health". I'm open to suggestions.

My publication goal is to produce one new feature per week. I kept this up for several months this summer, and it wasn't too bad. Regularly changing content, along with the feeling of community created by the bulletin board-like Forum section, keeps the site fresh and people coming back.

I think we should start discussing issues immediately; I am in the process of setting up a mailing list to facilitate this. I'd like to have an initial meeting of people in the SF Bay Area by the end of January. (As soon as I can find some more boys....) From email and the meeting, we should be able to come up with a list of projects and articles to work on and an editorial calendar. I'd like to have some new content as soon as possible, perhaps for a "grand opening" and some TV/newspaper coverage for Valentine's Day.

Editorial Activities.

  • Produce new editorial content for the web site. Here, content can be articles and brochures, but it can also mean posters, video clips, interactive games and toys, etc. (Don't worry -- I'd expect that any slick multimedia content would be donated by third parties. We will mostly stick to writing text in-house.)

    I hope that everything we write inhouse can be passed around the editorial board for comments & review. That's the way it works for the scientific manuscripts in our lab, and I hope nobody's toes will get stepped on. At some point we will probably have an editor who ... well ... edits.

    New content includes:

    • writing new articles ourselves
    • getting articles from other writers
      • soliciting and editing new writing from someone
      • repurposing already-written articles (in this case need copyright permission unless author kept reprint rights)
    • get content from agencies, other organizations. (such as safer sex posters, brochures)
    • talking to foundations, etc., for research info, even if we can't print it. (Gutmacher Inst, etc.)
    • surfing the net for new information and good articles to reprint.
    • editor/production manager duties. coordinate complicated projects; see that stuff gets done.
    • production: HTML markup, design. You don't need to know how to do this, but it's easy to learn if you want to.
  • Website maintenance. I've included this separately since at first I'll be taking care of it. Direct access to the website will be limited. This helps keep everything organized and in working order. At some point as our needs grow and Cyborganic begins to offer accounts to the public, I would anticipate that several people will be responsible for web production.
  • Coordinate and moderate interactive areas. Right now we have a monthly discussion topic, and I usually edit out only the completely homophobic remarks and the scatalogical 12-year-olds. (Unfortunately editing these things in any way increases my liability many-fold.) We could expand these areas into multiple topics and other forms, like Question/Answer with experts, Advice Columns, etc.
  • Develop new content areas. Whatever you are interested in. Focused areas on HIV- men, HIV+ women, people of color and STIs, professional forums for MPHs or health educators, nationwide listings for interns & volunteers, whatever...
  • Academic Research. The Internet is a new channel for health education. Together with the intense media interest, decreasing costs (under $5/month) and increasing free access (public libraries) are leading a more diverse population onto the net. I assume the effectiveness and usage of a site like ours is a fruitful area of study. You are welcome to conduct any research for publication that you and your collaborators are qualified to carry out.
More general topics that the board can have input on:
  • Develop a Mission Statement and some direction.

    Who is our target audience? College-educated public? Health Educators? White Male Software Engineers? Do we need to have special content for teens?

    What is our purpose? I would like to expand our focus just from HIV prevention to a more comprehensive view of sexual health, including women's health issues and possibly healthy sexuality in general. I anticipate that HIV prevention would remain one of the major focus areas of the site, if for no other reason than funding issues.

    I have avoided much content on AIDS itself, reasoning that the site should be focused on prevention issues, and that many more-qualified people and sites exist for AIDS. Should we retain this focus, or should we expand our coverage of living with AIDS, HIV/AIDS research, and AIDS treatment resources?

  • Evaluate current site in this context. As stated previously, I've published everything people have given me. Is it accurate? Is it related to our target areas? What should we change? What should our new name be?

    I'm reorganizing the site into different areas. The overall look and navigation is being redefined by a professional multimedia designer. Also, the nice thing about the web is that, unlike a magazine or book, we are not limited by space -- even if something doesn't directly fit our mission, we can stick it in a directory somewhere. However, as people on the web start to despair of information overload, a well-focused, well-organized site is much more useful. What should be changed about our current site?

  • Establish a Scientific Advisory Board. The members of this board agree occasionally to review material sent to them both for scientific accuracy and suitability for a given audience. (For instance, an expert on adolescent sexuality could help us with brochures for teens.) I don't anticipate forcing everything through some sort of rigorous peer review, but this board would have to have enough oversight that they would be willing to lend their names to the project.

    This board would be similar to the Board of Trustees of a nonprofit or the Editorial Board of a scientific journal in that they would be picked for their expertise and prominence. They would not be expected to help out with day-to-day production, and I wouldn't even expect them to be online. The Editorial Board would nominate and recruit these VIPs. (Although comments as to feasibility and need for such a board are also appreciated.)

john <[email protected]> (Mon Jan 15 01:27:57 1996)