June 28, 2010 at 10:09 am EDT | by Kevin Naff
Responding to an unfair attack

The recent Village Voice story, “Gay print media on the wane,” by Michael Lavers is riddled with factual errors and suffers from conflicts of interest and general amateurishness. Lavers and his editors clearly set out to write a self-serving story about the supposed demise of LGBT news outlets. And they didn’t let pesky facts get in the way of their hypothesis.

Lavers interviewed me for the story and it became clear from the outset that he had already decided what to write — he just needed a few supportive quotes to fill out the piece. Hence, nothing I said to him made it into the final story. He spends significant time writing about the Blade, Window Media and the Advocate, but no one from those entities is quoted or allowed to respond to Lavers’ irresponsible and baseless claims. Instead of talking to professionals working in LGBT media, Lavers quotes an anthropology professor whose qualifications and experience in niche media are never revealed.

In addition to the blatant bias, there are sloppy factual errors. Lavers cites Window Media’s closure of the Washington Blade on Nov. 16, 2009 as the “day the death rattle began” for LGBT media. He writes that the paper was shuttered the Monday after its 40th anniversary celebration in a hotel ballroom and that employees found themselves “locked out.” None of that is true — our anniversary party wasn’t held in a hotel ballroom; the closure happened a full month after that party and staffers were not locked out of our offices.

What’s more disturbing than the lack of basic fact checking (what an old-school concept!) is that Lavers fails to disclose his work for Edge Media Network, a company he describes as “fast becoming the new gay press establishment,” a grandiose claim he offers no evidence to support. He also conveniently omits the fact that one of Edge’s senior executives, William Kapfer, was an officer of Window Media, the Blade’s former parent company that is criticized in the story. It sounds like Kapfer, an Edge marketer, wrote the story for Lavers.

Lavers makes other fanciful claims. He writes, “It’s true that all print media is going through an adjustment as newsgathering and disbursement goes digital. But the change is especially painful in the gay world.”

Really? Where are the numbers to support that claim? In fact, I have heard anecdotally from colleagues in cities all over the country that niche and alternative media are faring much better than major metropolitan dailies that got greedy and lazy after decades of monopolistic control of their markets. Unlike the metro dailies, LGBT outlets are lean operations with relatively small staff and low overhead, making them much more likely to survive an economic downturn. We’re also able to move more quickly to adapt to technological changes.

Lavers further writes, “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.”

A good reporter would have talked to some of those publishers and editors to find out just how daunting it is to start a new business in this economy. But that would require actual effort and might yield inconvenient facts that undermine your thesis. It’s much easier to make assumptions along with self-congratulatory, wishful-thinking claims of being the “new gay press establishment.”

Another false notion that Lavers advances is that LGBT media outlets are unnecessary because the mainstream media do such a thorough job of covering our issues. Again, not true. In 2007, when Congress was debating the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Blade devoted dozens of stories to the issue. When the Washington Post editorialized in favor of ENDA, the writer relied on the Blade’s coverage of the issue because the Post’s own newsroom hadn’t written one word about ENDA.

More recently, the Post refused to report the basic fact that murder victim Brian Betts, a D.C. school principal, was gay. The Blade broke that story and forced the Post to confront its outmoded policies on reporting on sexual orientation. When there’s an overt gay angle to a story — marriage, for example — mainstream outlets do a better job of covering our issues. But when the gay angle is less obvious (the Betts case) or too complicated (the ENDA debate), mainstream outlets continue to disappoint.

Lavers praises a couple of bloggers and then pats himself on the back (again), writing, “I was able to report on the New York State Senate’s vote on gay marriage from my apartment in Brooklyn via a live stream of the proceedings in Albany.”

Unfortunately, that’s not “reporting,” it’s stenography. And let’s hope that relying on live streaming of events doesn’t represent the future of LGBT journalism. What happens when the feed goes down?

Bloggers play an important role in covering LGBT rights and I’ve become friendly with several of them. But there are very few LGBT bloggers who devote themselves to their sites full time. We need full-time reporters who can attend congressional hearings, news conferences and other events without the time constraints of working another job. We need investigative journalists who can devote themselves 100 percent to their craft and serve as movement watchdogs.

The notion that bloggers are the cool kids with neat-o toys like Twitter and Facebook, while print outlets are hammering out stale news on stone tablets is such an inaccurate and dated cliché that I’m reluctant to respond to it. But since Lavers builds his entire story on such stereotypes, here are a few facts for those interested in such anachronistic things.

The Blade was shuttered by its parent company that was mired in debt unrelated to our operations. Window Media was part of a larger entity that had investments in diverse industries. Since closing in November, the staff rallied and re-launched the Blade. We’re now a locally owned and operated robust business employing openly LGBT media professionals. I am immensely proud of that. Our recent Pride issue was bigger and more profitable than last year’s. We have morphed into a 24/7 news outlet with a strong Facebook presence and more than 6,000 Twitter followers.

So why continue to publish a print edition at all? The dirty secret in publishing is that no newspaper is making more than 10-15 percent of its revenue from web ads. Even Politico didn’t start making money until it launched a print edition. Of course, the print medium is fading in favor of the immediacy of the web. Most of us have been aware of that fact since the mid-‘90s. Lavers and the Village Voice sound like they only just now figured it out. I embrace that change and am excited to be a part of it, as I have been since joining the online staff of the Baltimore Sun in 1996. I am also platform agnostic — I don’t care how our readers access our content, just that they do so and that our advertisers are along for the ride.

One day the business model will catch up to readership. No one knows how or when that day will come — not the publisher of the Washington Post and not the CEO of Google. In the meantime, we at the Blade are doing all the things that Lavers seems to think we’re neglecting. We are no longer a weekly; our site is updated daily and as news warrants. We have a strong Facebook and Twitter presence, we have blogs and podcasts and video and photo galleries and all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a 2010 media entity.

As I told Lavers in my interview with him, the Blade has never had more readers and there has never been more news to cover. It’s disappointing that a gay reporter who has made his living writing for — and being paid by — LGBT news outlets didn’t give those outlets a fair shake.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

  • Well, if publishing yet another 5100 word screed by Peter “Linda Blair” Rosenstein constitutes “professionalism” in your eyes Kevin all I can say is, “helluva job, Brownie.”

  • I just want to say that I felt dejected when the Blade ceased publication, relieved when DC Agenda surfaced, and elated when the Blade came back. Yes, we need a gay press; mainstream media do not cover our issues properly, or even at all. I miss the format of the old Blade, but I’ll get used to the new one. And I do hope the Blade covers the local scene more thoroughly. I also would like to see some features of the old (the really old) Blade back, such as the calendar and weekly reports on the many local gay organizations

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