Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 49 / 7 December 2017
 

Gay papers' closures stun readers

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

Boxes wait to be carried out of the Washington Blade's offices Monday morning. Photo: Darrow Montgomery
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The LGBT media world lost two landmark publications this week with the sudden closures of the Southern Voice in Atlanta and the Washington Blade , which had just celebrated 40 years of covering the nation's capital. Both were owned by Window Media, whose majority stockholder, Avalon Equity Partners, had been under receivership with the U.S. Small Business Administration since 2008.

It was just the latest development in an ever-shrinking LGBT media universe. The papers' demise comes just weeks after the Advocate , the national LGBT newsmagazine that once called San Francisco home, laid off staff and announced it would no longer be a stand alone publication as of January.

"The Blade has been a voice for LGBT Washingtonians and the nation for four decades. The closing of this venerable news outlet is only the most recent painful reminder of the changes going on within journalism," stated Michael Tune, managing director of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. "But while we may have lost the voice of this outlet, we cannot lose the voices of the journalists who served at the Blade and its sister publications, Southern Voice , and the South Florida Blade , among others."  

The shuttering on Monday of the well-respected weekly papers, along with the company's south Florida media holdings, sent shockwaves from coast to coast. Longtime readers of the papers, whether in D.C. or in the Bay Area, expressed dismay at the silencing of trusted sources for LGBT news at a time when coverage of LGBT issues by the mainstream media has been shrinking due to cut backs in newsrooms around the country.

"It has been a huge loss," said Cathy Renna, a D.C.-based public relations professional and longtime reader of the Blade . "It is an institution in this town."

SBA officials had been in talks with Nicholas F. Benton, a gay man who attended graduate seminary school in Berkeley and owns a community newspaper in Falls Church, Virginia, to sell him the Blade . He said he was blindsided by the sudden closure of the paper and was looking into legal action against the government agency.

"The SBA is not returning my calls," he told the Bay Area Reporter Tuesday afternoon. "My immediate reaction was to be shocked as everyone else was. I have not been able to quite figure out what the hell is going on."

SBA spokesman Mike Stamler told OutQ News that it was not responsible for closing the papers this week and that it was Window Media management that declined offers to buy several of its properties.

Window Media Co-President Steven Myers has so far declined media requests for comment, instead saying the company would issue a formal statement by the end of the week.

With the election of President Barack Obama, the Blade had regained access to White House press briefings this year. Its Web site was a go-to source for LGBT advocates on the latest developments regarding LGBT legislation on Capitol Hill and LGBT initiatives within the administration.

"I am shocked and stunned and saddened," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "I think watching so many mainstream papers fold for those of us who are political junkies and understand the importance of an independent media, we've been feeling a growing sense of unease about this development.

"But today it hits in our family and the closing of the Blade, which was one of the first gay papers I read, on top of the news the Advocate is certainly downsizing and could be also folding ... this is alarming," added Kendell.

Despite the growth of LGBT blogs and citizen journalists, Kendell said there is still a vital need for the LGBT press and the articles produced by professional reporters and editors working at LGBT papers.

"There are obviously a lot of bloggers out there. And it is important for people to vent and express opinions and to ruminate over the issues of the day," said Kendell. "But the catalyst for the issue of the day is our gay media. It feels like a part of what I as an advocate rely on for my sense of where we are has gone dark and it feels destabilizing."

Publishers of other local LGBT media outlets expressed sadness at seeing the papers fold. But they were quick to add that the problems plaguing Window Media and Regent/Here Media, the parent company of the Advocate, had to do with business decisions relevant to those individual companies and should not be seen as problematic of the industry as a whole.

"Window Media has been is serious financial trouble for some time for reasons mostly unrelated to the general decline in newspaper advertising and the economic downtown. They leveraged their assets, including their newspapers, to fund acquisition, expansion and Web development by obtaining a huge Small Business Association loan which they were unable to service and resulted in their being put in involuntary receivership," stated Bay Area Reporter publisher Thomas E. Horn, whose publication will mark 39 years next spring. "I do not believe that the failure of Window Media means the failure of LGBT newspapers in the major population centers where they are located. Gay newspapers that have prudent management and business practices, such as the B.A.R. , the Philadelphia Gay News and the Dallas Voice , just to name three, continue to succeed."

Mark Segal, publisher of the 34-year-old Philadelphia paper, agreed that other LGBT media have been able to survive the recession and are already seeing a turnaround in advertising revenues.

"It is a sad day. It is not only a sad day for employees of Window Media publications; it is a sad day for all LGBT media," said Segal in a phone interview. "It gives the impression our media is not sustainable and it is."

Segal said he did not expect national advertisers to now retreat from gay publications. Rather, he predicted that either existing papers in the cities where Window Media operated or new ventures would premiere to capitalize on the newly available market share.

"It is not going to affect national advertising. Other publications in those cities hopefully will pick up the slack," he said. "What it does affect, more than advertising, is the local community, that is where the effect is hardest felt."

New papers set to launch

In D.C. the former Blade staffers have already formed an LLC in order to re-launch the paper under a new name and private ownership. They created a Web site at http://www.SavetheBlade.com to alert readers to the latest updates and planned to distribute a two-page flier by Friday, November 20 with news on the paper's closing and their plans going forward.

"The staff is thrilled to step out and start something fresh," said Lynne Brown, the Blade's former publisher who convened a meeting Tuesday, November 17 with her colleagues to discuss how to restart the paper. "We are returning to our very original roots."

According to a report by the Miami Herald 's Steve Rothaus, the founders of local Web site Mark's List plan to launch a weekly magazine focused on the region's LGBT nightlife scene and a biweekly newspaper. The owner of the Web site, Multimedia Platforms, plans to debut Mark's List magazine next week and an as-yet-unnamed paper by November 26.

The article reported that Bobby Blair, managing partner and founder of the company, was in talks to buy Window Media's southern Florida properties. But after the events of this week, Blair said he and his business partners decided to go it alone.






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