By Lisa Keen
The recorded message on the Washington Blade’s phone on Nov. 16 gives no hint at what happened. It still says, “Thank you for calling the nation’s most trusted gay newspaper, serving the community since 1969.”
But as of Monday, the paper is no more. Its Web site is down and its employees are without jobs.
Employees at both the Blade and a sister paper in Atlanta, the Southern Voice, found out when they arrived for work Monday that their papers were shut down over the weekend and that their parent company, Window Media, was filing for bankruptcy.
The news comes in the same year that gay magazine Genre was ended, and The Advocate was merged with Out Magazine as supplement to it.
The Blade staff had just last month celebrated the paper’s 40th anniversary. The Southern Voice had been in publication for 21 years.
Many gay news media observers knew the papers were in trouble. The Gay City News broke the news last February that the U.S. Small Business Administration had put the papers into receivership. The problem, according to the SBA, was that Window Media’s major stockholder, the Avalon Equity Fund, had failed to maintain a necessary level of private assets to secure a $38 million loan it had taken from the agency.
But many believed someone would step in and buy the Washington Blade – a 40-year-old paper which had been on the cutting edge of reporting the gay civil rights movement in the nation’s capital and beyond.
So when word broke on the morning of Nov. 16 that the Blade and the Southern Voice were closed for business – immediately – the news was a shock to most people – including its employees.
Laura Douglas-Brown, longtime editor of the Southern Voice, told reporters she didn’t learn the news until she arrived for work Monday and found that the locks to the offices had been changed and a note posted on the door saying the paper had been shut down.
The note stated: “It is with GREAT regret that we must inform you that effective immediately, the operations of Window Media, LLC and United Media, LLC have closed down. Please return to this office on Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 at 11 a.m. to collect personal belongings and to receive information on your separation stipulations. Please bring boxes and/or containers that will allow you to collect all your personal belongings at one time. Regretfully, Steve Myers and Mike Kitchens.”
Myers and Kitchens were co-presidents of Window Media.
Ditto in Washington, D.C., where Editor Kevin Naff said two corporate officers greeted staff members at the Blade offices Monday morning, advising them the paper was shutting down immediately and filing for bankruptcy.
The Washington Blade and Southern Voice were the primary papers of Window Media, LLC, a company founded in 1997 by gay activist William Waybourn and Southern Voice editor Chris Crain. In 2001, the company teamed up with Avalon Equity, a capital venture firm run by New Yorker David Unger, and purchased The Washington Blade and its younger sister, The New York Blade.
Over the years, Window Media acquired more properties – including the Houston Voice – and formed an “alliance” with another gay publishing group, United Media, and Genre magazine. Together, they billed themselves as the largest LGBT publishing company in the world.
But by August 2008, Window Media was in receivership. Insiders insisted the papers would continue publishing, but soon after news broke about the SBA putting the papers into receivership, the publications began to skid. Genre magazine was the first to suspend operation. That happened in March, with Unger, then chief executive officer of Window Media, saying it was a casualty of the struggling economy. In July, the New York Blade suspended operation.
Naff told Los Angeles Frontiers reporter Karen Ocamb that he and others on the staff will meet Tuesday to discuss starting their own “new entity.” But Blade publisher Lynn Brown would neither confirm nor deny that plan.
Said Brown: “It’s the end of an era.”
The Washington Blade had just last month celebrated its 40th anniversary of publishing.