November 20, 2009 at 1:11 pm EST | by Bob Witeck
The rumors of the death of gay media are greatly exaggerated

I’m not superstitious. At all. Friday, Nov. 13, arrived and like clockwork, so did my weekly issue of the Washington Blade.

With Washington, D.C., on the tipping point of marriage equality, and down the street, the Congress and White House huddling on ENDA, debating the military ban on openly gay men and women in military service, and considering same-sex partner benefits for federal employees – the agenda that matters most to us is stacked high.

On Friday the 13th, the Blade was filled with some of those stories, and more.

That’s partly why reading the Washington Blade for the past four decades has made such a difference; to really know what’s going on that touches all our lives. Or even more simply, what is going on Saturday night that some of us care about especially when we’re single. (Personal confession: I have read the Blade since it was first published.)

When the Washington Blade suddenly expired on Monday morning, the shock waves were felt everywhere. Consider just last week, Rachel Maddow saluted the Washington Blade for breaking the news that repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule is most likely to be included in next year’s defense authorization bill.

The Washington Post editorial page added this praise: “The Blade’s importance to our area cannot be overstated. From the HIV/AIDS epidemic to hate crimes to the drive for marriage equality, the paper reported stories that the mainstream press initially didn’t or wouldn’t cover.”

So what actually went wrong with the Washington Blade (or more to the point, with the Blade’s recent, distant ownership)? Who really knows? I do not plan to investigate that story personally. I will just leave that to experts on grassy knolls and schemes hatched by Bernie Madoff.

Getting it right is not easy for the largest media ownership companies, however, for the gay media, the formula works. What other media in America can deliver so much and so often on a shoestring year after year?

The Washington Blade prospered because of its innovation, deep commitment to the local community, and of course, by seeking many more eyeballs online.

Washington’s gay publications as well as those in Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Los Angeles succeed precisely because they are nimble – fine-tuning their business strategies as they emerge and dig deeper into suburbs too. Remember “viatical ads” and the HIV pharmaceutical explosion in the 1980s, or just a few years ago, when marriage equality became a reality in Massachusetts. It may seem like boom and bust, which is partly true, but also reflects the changing needs and opportunities of businesses looking for audiences.

Years ago, gay publications seemed confined almost exclusively to alcohol advertising and sexually charged display ads. Gay media channels today are far more sophisticated, and are now among the most popular channels for travel and hospitality, arts and entertainment, for home décor and services, real estate and automobiles, to name a few. Especially when ad budgets are tighter than ever, ad agencies are looking to squeeze out more value.

Our stories always will be told. Today they matter even more, when we rely on gay media to educate, inform, as well as to entertain and motivate each other and our straight families and friends. As long as we have writers and editors to cover them, publishers sturdy enough to build a committed local business, LGBT newspapers and readers will thrive.

Bob Witeck is co-founder and CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, Inc.,

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