Phil Reese November 20, 2009--For over three decades the Washington Blade was the go-to weekly political news source for the American LGBT community that was unrivaled in prestige and access for much of that time.
In fact, the Washington Blade disappeared with some long-standing bastions of the LGBT journalism pantheon: the South Florida Blade, 411 Magazine, David Magazine, the Houston Voice, and the extremely respected Southern Voice. This Monday all of these institutions suddenly ceased to exist at once as the Small Business Administration decided to close down their parent company, Window Media.
Window Media had been forced into receivership late last year, and we've known since at least February that they were in trouble. However, there was no warning for what happened on Monday. Folks showed up to work as they did every Monday, only to find the doors locked, and signs posted telling them to go home and come collect their things later in the week.
Blade employees showed up to their offices in the National Press Association building in Washington DC, only to find Window Media executives there ready to greet them and explain that it was all over.
Today, a new paper went to print in Washington DC. The DC Agenda rushed out its 8 pages and with one grand undertaking, and every single copy was snatched up by eager readers. Blade Editor Kevin Naff and Publisher Lynne Brown united the staff of the Blade Monday morning, and had worked out the kinks by the time they announced it at a previously planned Blade event Wednesday Night at the DC Hard Rock Cafe. Friday afternoon the small but miraculous eight-pager was in then hands of every lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual Washingtonian, and up on the web at DCagenda.com.
I was honored that when DC Agenda launched their Twitter account yesterday, @DCAgenda, they included my Twitter news account, @Ameriqueer, on their "Voices" list. They are watching me, and I want them to know I'm still watching them.
As a blogger, I am aware that 'citizen journalists' are seen as upstarts trying to bring down traditional, professional journalism. Journalism was my original major in college. I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up from the time I was in fifth grade. I think most bloggers have the utmost respect for professional journalism. I will never have the access and resources that a professional journalist has to do their jobs. For me, journalism is a mere hobby, for the professionals, though, its their area of true expertise.
The Washington Blade staff turned LGBT reporting into a fine art. For almost twice as long as I've been alive, they've been "America's LGBT newspaper of record," for their smart and savvy reporting of local and national Washington goings on. This would have been the LGBT paper that landed interviews with Senators and Representatives, and regular statements from the White House. Their analysis of national politics drove the coverage of even papers like the New York Times, which called the Blade "one of the most influential publications written for a gay audience."
If anything, bloggers often directly linked to the Blade for their smart commentary and content, and to keep up with their inside-the-beltway analysis on national issues. LGBT bloggers have had nothing but absolute love and devotion for this publication.
The past 30 days also saw sad news that the Advocate--the oldest continuous LGBT publication in America--would no longer be published on its own, but would instead be pared down to a mere insert for Out Magazine. More sad news for the LGBT journalism industry.
But is the internet really to blame? The howling outcry when the Advocate announced they would indeed be shrinking was noticable. We have not, as a community, abandoned our true journalism institutions. We still want our Advocate. We still want our Blade.
The culprit here is the economy and corporate consolidation. Many experts have remarked that while Window Meida was saddled with massive debt and was bleeding cash, the Blade itself was a money-maker.
Perhaps its best if communities take ownership of their own publications. Selling out to a national company may make filling the pages with cheap syndicated content easier, but if the company has a bad year, it may not matter if your community loyally picks up your publication every single week.
Local ownership of LGBT media is going to be the key to surviving in the future. When the economic times get rocky, we can handle that locally. Our community can look out for the institution that most looks out for our community. The local rag.
The biggest culprit, however, is ad dollars. Publishers just aren't getting what they used to get for ads in this recession. Don't blame the blogs for this, however. Internet ad prices have toppled at a rate much faster and much fallen farther than print ad prices. Any chance of internet-only publications taking over the marketplace were dashed by this economy.
Internet-only publications, however, are strictly editorial--like this column. Editorial writing is important. We like to read editorial for perspective, and sometimes we like to read editorials to get mad. However, editorials aren't journalism. If you want real, hard reporting, you're going to have to pick up that paper and give it a read. When you grad a copy of your local LGBT magazine or rag, you're doing your community a service. You're helping them continue to provide an eye, ear and voice for the local LGBT community. They help provide a record of who we are, who we've been and where we're going. They help us define our community to the rest of the world, and to let them know we're here!
LGBT web media saved the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area reporters from South Florida Blade and 411 Magazine. LGBT website, Mark's List has taken on the staffs of both publications and will begin putting out a weekly glossy bar-focused magazine called Mark's List Magazine in place of 411 Magazine and an as-yet-unnamed biweekly newspaper is in the works to replace the South Florida Blade. Mark's List owners Multimedia Platforms have said they will retain "most" of the staffs from the former publications in this new venture.
Please read my blog every day. I'm begging you. But don't set down that paper to pick up the laptop. I'm more than willing to wait for you to finish you latest copy of the DC Agenda before you pick up my silly ramblings. There is nothing that has been created yet that will ever replace our local gay rags.