21st century tech has claimed one of its own, and the victim is the black LGBT community, which has now lost an important voice. A week ago, the death knell sounded for Gay Black Men News (GBMNews.com), the online portal for news and information for and to the Black LGBT community.
In an email sent to a select group on November 26, GBMNews publisher Ralph Emerson, based in San Diego, Calif., said that people seem to prefer going to Facebook rather than to his Website for news and information, and given that he was the sole owner and operator behind the news site, the costs of operation have become prohibitive for him to continue. In the email, Emerson stated that he would shut down GBMNews by the end of the month. The site was shut down on Nov 28. As of this writing, attempts to access the Website produced a placeholder site.
Earlier this year, Emerson, bearing the cost himself, embarked on an ambitious project to produce and publish two newspaper editions. This effort was following an email enquiry from one of his New York City contacts whose apartment stored more than twelve boxes of newspapers, for their removal that Emerson replied, "Well this project was truly a waste. I tried, but it seems I should have started GBMNews last century. It is clear to me more than ever that our people have elected to support Facebook over services like GBMNews. Consequently, I have decided to shut down the websites and all operations at the end of the month. Thank you for all your support. Ralph."
In the annals of the survivability of online news sites, especially in the LGBT community, which reflects the transitory nature of sensationalism and interest found in physical interactions. Emerson, whose previous experience was in the newspaper industry and whose current occupation is a specialist with a company making telescopic lens for astronomical observatories, said he grew tired of running the website for four years (he also ran the site through a Yahoo group two years prior). For the site to have been successful, he said, it needed a committed staff, which was difficult to obtain and maintain, since everyone wanted to be paid.
Emerson said the site didn't seem to attract the kind of response it used to have before the arrival of Facebook, to which he attributes the erosion of whatever gains he had achieved. He acknowledged that GBMNews was not the only site to have closed operations; many other gay sites have also lost advertising and are closing down, including 365gay.com and The New Gay. At a time when more established and mainstream newspapers had folded, Emerson had somehow believed that a foray into newspapers would fill the space; he was unable to attract advertisers.
"It was like herding cats. I'm getting older, but while I could keep GBMNews going, it would have to be wire services, which would have cost us the few people who came to us for original news and information. Our folk don't rally around and support their own. When GBMNews started everyone rushed to it, but with the advent of Facebook the attention had shifted. I'm going to take a few months off to think about my next direction. I've toyed for years with starting an arts business," he added.
Emerson said that in the week since he shut down the site, outside of the few writers who enquired about stories, not many people have expressed interest; most people, according to his metrics, visited the site at least once a month. He blames this on everyone being on Facebook. Sources suggest, however, that in the spring of this year, GBMNews was hacked, and when it had to move to a new server, it never quite recovered. The source said that prior to being hacked, the news site had attracted tens of thousands of hits every day.
"I spent a lot of my time on GBMNews. It feels odd not having the activity of GBMNews, and there is a hole in my daily routine. I can't keep funding and funding this without advertisers. We needed committed volunteer staff, loyal readers, and businesses willing to get behind us. We didn't have a groundswell of support for the site and for the newspapers as I thought it should have had from the community. As a community, we don't seem to work together and support each other as a collective, and as a result, it collapses," he added.
In its four years of operation, as one of the preeminent online news sources for the Black LGBT community, GBMNews covered and reported - often the only way that members of the community could obtain accurate and timely news and information on a wide range of issues relevant to Black people nationally and internationally. In its heyday, GBMNews.com boasted more than 150,000 site views per month, but over the years, according to Emerson, he has spent more than $30,000 of his own money to develop and keep the site running.
Many of its correspondents across the country had obtained official clearances, and in their reporting could be relied on to offer a fresh and realistic perspective of the news, as it related specifically to Black gay men. GBMNews had developed as a central one-stop-news outlet with a weekly updated news site, lifestyle magazines, a radio, and television. Emerson said that while GBMNews had published ads for several individuals and businesses as a way of promotion within the Black gay community, none of those businesses or people came forward to assist with financial support for the Website.
The roster of writers who covered and reported for the online publication included D. Kevin McNeir, Stanley Bennett Clay, Rev. Irene Monroe, John Frazier, Shahid Manning, Delvon Johnson, and most recently from New York, Nathan James. I myself worked as an editor and senior correspondent for GBMNews.com.
James, who previously worked as a NYC Emergency Medical Technician, said he is very shocked by Emerson's decision to shut down.
"There was no discussion with Ralph on alternatives to shutting down. I've worked very hard for the publication and I think it takes an important resource away from the Black gay community, the community toward which GBMNews was geared and, by extension, the LGBT community, because it had started to grow beyond the Black gay community," said James, who is trying his hand at staging a play he has written.
For many in the Black gay community, GBMNews was the place where many logged on for news and information about the community. GBMNews has two Facebook pages, one which carries previously-published stories.
"I think a lot of the people have a right to go wherever they want. It is sad that when someone takes the step to reach out, he or she does not get the support they need and deserve. Ralph was very supportive of other people. The community has a lot of demands, but many people didn't want to support him. I know he invested thousands of his own money; he helped many writers get their names out there and gave voice to many people who didn't have it, so, I do understand someone saying they had enough," said Laurence Pinckney, party and Nubian Cruise promoter and owner of ZenBiz Travel.
According to Pinckney, even though he thought that GBMNews took a risk to publish the newspapers, it was not the only casualty of the ever-shifting sands of time and technology, where what once was interesting has lost its appeal.
"People use the word 'community' when they want something from you, but it's about self when it's about them giving. It became frustrating when stories posted on GBMNews were not crossposted and shared, and those posted on Facebook were not shared. This is not so much about GBMNews - it's more about the apathy in the community, supporting one of their own," Pinckney added.