If gay journalist Michael Lavers, national news editor for Edge Media Network, intended simply to write a balanced article exploring the demise of Window Media, the future of gay print publications and the rise of LGBT digital media, then he might not have expected the types of responses he got from LGBT media folks across the nation.
Lavers' piece, "Gay Print Media on the Wane," appeared in this week's Village Voice, the paper's annual "Queer Issue." I stumbled upon it late Wednesday night. (Okay, so technically it was early, early Thursday morning.) It was an interesting read, to say the least. I had to respond. So, at the crisp early morning hour of sometime around 2 a.m., I published my commentary on Lavers' article and delved into my own thoughts on the future of LGBT media.
Lavers, despite his intentions, has definitely stirred up the the gay media's hornet's nest, myself included. A rundown of this week's discussion and debate, after the jump.
Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, was one of the first to respond. He said Lavers' article was "biased at very least...[i]f not just poor journalism."
Segal offered his thoughts on the current state of gay journalism. He commented on the Village Voice article:
The article shows a lack of knowledge of gay media outside of NY or DC. If you'd look around the nation you'd note that most of the established NEWSPAPERS are doing, well, very good thank you. NYC has always been a tough newsprint city for gay media, going back to the days of Jack Nickols "Gay," and the city is not typical of other major cities. Dallas, Philadelphia & Denver are good examples of Local LGBT media that are thriving in a down economy. And we will continue to do so since we all know the 1st rule of local journalism. Local, local Local.
At my pad, Segal elaborated:
As for the Advocate and Out you fail to mention the corporate changes and constant change of format over the last 5 years. They like other print media must learn to accept new media and make it part of it's over all plan. new media and print can both serve our community well, and their is no need for it to be look at as a competition. Blogs get the news out quick, print gets the in depth details out. If they work together our community wins.
Atlanta's Laura Douglas Brown, editor of The Georgia Voice (and 12-year employee of Southern Voice), pointed out several factual errors in the piece, and even managed to include a pure, Georgia genteel-style "thank you" --
Window Media was not the "brain child" of David Unger, William Waybourn and Chris Crain. Unger did not become involved with Window Media until several years later, when Crain and Waybourn sought funding to purchase the Washington Blade and the New York Blade. And far from being the "(unrelated) New York Blade," that publication was started by the Washington Blade and the two were purchased together by Window Media. Finally, the $38 million in government loans was not confined to Window Media and the gay press; this was the total in SBA loans taken on by Unger's company, Avalon Equity Partners, which was involved in several other ventures.
Next, Mr. Lavers reports that "the publishers and editors of Southern Voice in Atlanta and the Washington Blade are attempting to resurrect their respective papers, but starting a 'hard copy' niche weekly in these hard times will prove daunting-to say the least."
It would seem relevant to report that we are not just "attempting" to start new LGBT media outlets for our cities: we have. The Blade staff published the same week of Window Media's closure as the DC Agenda, and recently returned to using the Blade name after purchasing it in bankruptcy court. I worked for Southern Voice for 12 years, the last three as editor. The paper's founder, Christina Cash, and I launched the Georgia Voice (www.thegavoice.com) in March to publish both in print and online. Both are thriving; thanks for asking.
She also explores a bit of Georgia Voice's own innovations:
Of course, it would be impossible for a print-only outlet to break much news in today's 24/7 news cycle. That's why we are not print-only.
In founding the Georgia Voice, we were very intentional about the fact that we were creating a new LGBT media outlet that would publish in two equally important ways: daily online for breaking news, evolving stories, and top events; and biweekly in print for in-depth analysis, investigative reporting, longer features and "big picture" stories.
In fact, like Mr. Lavers and the bloggers he cites, the Georgia Voice (and several other LGBT publications that also have print editions) routinely break news online. We cover distant stories via the internet, report live via Twitter, and disseminate our reporting through Twitter, Facebook and other social media.
So far, San Francisco's Matt Baume -- who writes for, among others, Bay Area Reporter -- and OpenLeft.com's Adam Bink have been the only gay writers other than me to actually dive headlong into the water, discussing the problem with print and how news companies can adapt and change.
Baume asked, "Who will save the gay press?", and answered himself: "Nerds." He wrote:
The Internet does some things really well. (Breaking news, community, multimedia.) Print does some things really well, too. (Selling ads.) This is why I have a whole presentation on what old-timey and new-timey writers can learn from each other.
I love what Matt Comer says about not thinking of yourself as a newspaper with a website, but a multimedia company with two properties. Yup: from where I'm standing, with one leg in blogs and one leg in newspapers, success will lie in having content for diverse platforms, and playing to those platforms' strengths.
Got a video clip? Put it online. Got a story about new tire technology? Put it in the newspaper, and then have the advertising department call Big O Tires.
Smart entertainment companies are already diversifying content according to the strengths of different platforms. NBC puts the sitcoms in primetime, webisodes on Hulu, and local NYC programming on videoscreen in taxi cabs. (I just got back from a fabulous trip to Brooklyn, BTW.)
Baume goes further into innovation issues, saying news groups "will need to have as much emphasis on having an A+ platform as on having A+ content." Using Village Voice as an prime example, he shreds their "innovation" apart and calls them out on online issues of their own (commenting problems, formatting problems, RSS issues, so on and so forth). He issues them and publishers everywhere a final piece of advice: "[W]ith all that money you're saving by firing reporters, maybe you could give some thought to hiring a few techies. It'll be just like the old days, when you had to hire someone to run your printing press. Remember?"
Bink asserts that gay media should take a look at hybrid media, like Talking Points Memo:
Every time I read another piece lamenting the death of print media- the latest being Michael's piece today in the Village Voice lamenting how people like me are killing gay print media- I wonder why more traditional media outlets haven't taken on a hybrid Talking Points Memo approach. To me, the genius of TPM is having what the lamenters want- "serious/hard-nosed/chasing after a scoop" journalism- along with what increasing numbers of the public want, which is up-to-the-minute news that is accessible where people want to read it, be it on TPM's website or one of their reporters' Twitter feeds or whatnot.
As I've said this week, I don't think gay print media is dead. Far from it, actually. All you have to do is look at publications like Washington Blade, Georgia Voice and others to realize the local LGBT press is still strong and vibrant. Other examples include Dallas Voice, which unveiled a revamped website Thursday night.
This false meme -- that print is dying -- is only true if news-media companies don't innovate. It isn't a set-in-stone destiny, but instead only one of dozens of possibilities. Ultimately, I fear this "print is dying" phenomenon might eventually turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if journalists like Lavers continue to give into it. The secret to the news-media industry's success will lie in publishers' ability to change and adapt, not in throwing up their hands and giving into defeat.
To sum up, I'll quote from my commentary:
At some point, we will have to stop merely looking toward the future and instead start focusing on it, with our time, energy, money, staff and all other resources. We'll have to step out of a print-as-king paradigm and start putting real effort into the future. It doesn't mean print has to die. It just has to change. Print has to become secondary. In some cases, maybe print has to become luxury.
This change in the news industry will be like other revolutionary changes in our past. When the refrigerator and freezer were invented, ice boxes didn't disappear. They simply changed, and started meeting other demands and purposes. Today, we still use ice boxes -- mostly portable coolers used when freezers aren't an option. The same type of change and reinvention of purpose took place when automobiles toppled horse-drawn buggies as the transportation of choice. Horses and buggies didn't disappear -- they just started fulfilling other needs.
When new inventions or market changes threaten to change old habits and business models, we have only two choices: We can hold on to the past ... or we can move on to the future, take calculated risks and embrace new strategies.
Change doesn't mean death. We need change. It is healthy, and it is possible without forsaking our print products. We just have to get creative, inventive and smart.