For a self-described wallflower, Michael Barnes manages to schmooze with Austin’s blue bloods, movers and shakers, and glitterati far more than seems humanly possible for one man’s schedule. But, after all, it is his job.
The former entertainment editor and current blogger and social columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, Barnes is on all the can’t-miss-that-party invite lists and attends events just about every night of the week. And he never lets his shy nature stand in the way of a good story.
“The thing I enjoy most about my job now is breaking out of my introverted shell and meeting new people every day, finding out about them and listening to their stories,” Barnes says. “I am shy, but I’m not sure I’m a true clinical introvert because I get energy from other people.”
As the author of the daily newspaper’s four-year-old “Out & About” blog and year-old print column, Barnes has ventured in to somewhat unchartered territory, writing not just about the types of parties and events often explored in social columns, but about issues near and dear to those in Austin’s gay community. Though Barnes says he never intended his writing to be exclusively focused on gay- related issues (he also blogs about movies, sports, travel and Hollywood starlets), that he has been out as a gay man in the print media for so long has helped him develop credibility and trust with the gay community in Austin. Combined with his involvement in the Statesman’s 2001 study about the quality of life for gays and lesbians in Central Texas, Barnes has established himself as a true voice for and ally of Austin’s gay population.
“In terms of ‘Out & About,’ I think some people thought it was going to be all about gay issues, but I think it was never my goal to become the gay beat reporter,” Barnes says.
Instead, Barnes uses his digital and print soapbox to highlight intriguing industries, affairs and people that pique his interest including many happenings supporting gay causes. And since he’s blogging as often as seven times a day, as well as compiling two print columns a week, he’s rarely short of fascinating material. But far from the traditional social columnists who adhered to a formula of elitism, excluding all who don’t belong in the who’s-who circles, Barnes reports on the total scope of the city’s happenings, favoring both the invitation- only bourgeoisie functions and the more proletariat celebrations gracing Austin’s public stage.
“A lot of social columns of the past were about power and who controlled what. Now it’s about two things: community and glamour,” Barnes says, adding that he’d attend even the most absurd event as long as it’s interesting. “I cover what makes me curious. I’ve said before that I’d go to a rock fight if someone invited me!”
Occasionally accompanying Barnes to social engagements – though at a maximum of only one affair a week – is his partner of 17 years, Kip Keller. As a freelance editor, Keller periodically offers up ideas about how to improve Barnes’ blog, though Barnes says those suggestions are few and far between. Still, the beauty of an online blog is that it can be tweaked and updated instantly when required.
“The great thing about blogs is that they’re like a writer’s notebook,” Barnes asserts. “If journalism is the first sketch of history then blogs are the first sketch of journalism.”
For a writer who prior to his association with the Statesman had no journalism background, Barnes has fared well in the world of reporting, criticism and commentary, though he attributes much of that to his longtime teaching career and theater experience.
But his “Out & About” blog and column are still fairly new to Austin’s market, and Barnes doesn’t plan on giving them up anytime soon.
“This has been my dream job for a while,” Barnes says. “The idea of being a roving reporter who shows up at any scene and provides eye-witness accounts, to be everywhere and with everything – I could see doing that for a very long time as long as readers are interested.”