Gay newspaper network shut down

Years ago during the Clinton administration I visited Washington, D.C., and not knowing what it was, I picked up a copy of the Washington Blade near a Metro station. I don’t recall much of what was in that week’s edition, but I remember being impressed with the paper’s coverage of the issues important to gays and lesbians; it seemed accessible even to straight people.

On Monday, the Blade and several other gay newspapers were shut down after the Small Business Administration, which had put them in receivership, was unable to sell them.

“We found out when two of the corporate officers were waiting for us when we got to work this morning,” Kevin Naff, editor of The Blade, told the New York Times. “It’s not a complete surprise. The abruptness of it was what was surprising.”

An early indication of trouble came over Twitter around noon: “Washington Blade, like all Window Media publications, is closing today. Thank you for your support.” Staff who showed up for work Monday were met by corporate executives who directed them to clean out their offices by 3:30 p.m.

Window Media and United Media, which owned the network which has been likened to a “gay A.P.,” filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Monday. Companies which file for Chapter 7 must immediately cease operations.

The companies, in turn, were owned by Avalon Equity Funding, which had borrowed $38 million from the Small Business Administration. The terms of that loan agreement required the company to hold capital equal to half of the loan balance, which the SBA said the company failed to do. Gay City News reported last February that the SBA had filed a lawsuit forcing Avalon into receivership.

A brief statement from the SBA said: “The SBA as receiver for Avalon does not anticipate any recovery on Avalon’s investment totaling more than $7 million in Window/Unite Media.”

As part of the receivership, SBA was supposed to try to sell the papers, but failed to find a “qualified” buyer. It’s not clear whether SBA actually tried; Tom Morris, director of SBA’s Office of Liquidation, told Gay City News that SBA would not disclose what assets were for sale unless they were actually sold.

That sounds a bit backward to me; knowing something is for sale is, after all, a natural prerequisite for purchasing it.

The Blade, a weekly published each Friday, had a print circulation of 33,000 and about 500,000 monthly web visitors.

Also closed Monday were The Houston Voice, The South Florida Blade, The Southern Voice, David Atlanta and 411 Magazine.

Naff said he is meeting with former Blade employees Tuesday to discuss starting a new paper. The paper had been criticized for selling out in 2001; it had “become a homogenized product that reflects the triumph of corporate synergy over hard-news content.’

“The Blade was a community-based newspaper, and Window Media moved it away from that community base,” former photo editor Clint Steib told the Washington City Paper in 2002. “They’re going into local gay communities and buying up all the papers, and it’s sad, because the quality has gone way down. The Blade was very well-respected in both gay and mainstream media, and you just can’t say that anymore.”

Blade staffers will meet readers at “one last hurrah” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Hard Rock Cafe, 999 E St. N.W.

If you own a business, no matter how much you’re struggling, your first rule should be: never, ever take money from the government. Doing any sort of deal with the government is a bad idea, doubly so for the press; the government sets all the rules and can change them on a whim.

Your second rule should be: Be extremely wary of selling out. The 2001 sale of the Blade to Window Media was the beginning of the end. Staffers say that the paper would likely have been profitable if it had still been independent today, but that “corporate’ too often had trouble meeting payroll on time.

Break these rules and you too could wind up like the Washington Blade and the other important voices which have been silenced this day. Here’s hoping that these voices can find ways to return to publication.