The Washington Blade this week celebrated its 45th anniversary and announced the launch of a new 501c(3) non-profit entity, the Washington Blade Foundation.
The Foundation’s first task is to raise money to fund the digitization of the Blade’s full 45-year archive. Beyond that, the Foundation will work to fund academic and journalistic research into LGBT topics.
“We’re excited to continue the Blade’s 45-year mission through the work of the Foundation,” said Blade publisher Lynne Brown. “This is a tremendous new vehicle for supporters to contribute directly to our work and for journalists and researchers to benefit.”
In addition, the Blade announced that the D.C.-based Newseum has accepted a donation of various historically significant editions of the Blade, including an edition of the paper that contained the first mention of the HIV epidemic. A representative of the Newseum was scheduled to accept a donation of the papers on Thursday at a party celebrating the Blade’s anniversary.
“The Newseum is a fitting home for these historic editions of the Blade,” said editor Kevin Naff. “The paper’s staff has worked for decades chronicling the LGBT rights movement both locally and nationally and their work deserves to be preserved and appreciated by future generations.”
The Blade published its first edition on Oct. 6, 1969 as the Gay Blade, the name it used in its early years. The first issue consisted of a one-page single-sided sheet printed on a mimeograph machine. Among other things, it included stories about gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny giving a speech at American University and the formation of the D.C. Gay Liberation Front.
One of the articles was about reports of gay people being harassed and threatened with blackmail in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.
Since that time the paper changed its name to the Washington Blade and evolved into a weekly tabloid size newspaper accompanied by a website with daily and sometimes hourly reports on breaking news.
Nancy Tucker, one of the Blade’s two founding editors, has said the idea for starting a gay paper in the nation’s capital came from members of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the city’s first gay rights group co-founded by Kameny.
Kameny and his collaborators at the time recognized that the Stonewall Riots in New York, which took place in June 1969, would be the start of a new, more activist phase of the then “homophile” rights movement and a publication would be needed to report on these developments, according to Tucker.
She said that although the Blade started as a spinoff of the Mattachine Society it quickly became an independent publication that reported on events in the gay community, both social and political. Coverage of activities at D.C. gay bars became an important part of its content, and the bars became the paper’s main point of distribution.
As it expanded its pages and depth of coverage of the rapidly growing LGBT rights movement and began to chronicle the dark days of the AIDS epidemic the Blade became known as the “LGBT paper of record” both in Washington and across the country.
Don Michaels served as the Blade’s business manager and later as publisher from the late 1970s to 2001, when he retired. He has been credited with solidifying the paper’s reputation as a serious news organization with strong journalistic standards.
Blade reporters were the first in the gay press to become credentialed at the U.S. Capital and the White House to cover Congress and the president.
Earlier this year Blade political reporter Chris Johnson became the first in the LGBT press to be invited by the White House Correspondents Association to be part of the in-town White House press pool. The pool designates a reporter on a rotating basis to travel with the president when he leaves the White House for a meeting or event.
In November 2009, Window Media, the company that purchased the Blade in 2001, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and shut down the Blade and the other LGBT publications it owned.
“In the immediate aftermath of the bankruptcy, the Blade staff stuck together,” Brown, Naff, and Blade senior sales executive Brian Pitts wrote in a column one year later. “We are proud to report that we never missed a week of publishing LGBT news,” the three said.
They were referring to a decision by the staff to continue publishing under a temporary name, DC Agenda, while they procured rights to the Blade name from the bankruptcy court. With the help of advertisers, community supporters, and volunteer staffers, the DC Agenda quickly evolved from a newsletter type publication that ironically resembled the Blade’s first edition in 1969 into a smaller version of the tabloid newspaper that the Blade had become before the shutdown.
In February 2010, a new company called Brown Naff Pitts Omnimedia, Inc., which was formed by the three former Blade officials, emerged to purchase the assets of the Washington Blade from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. With that purchase came the right to use the Blade’s name again.
In April 2010 the DC Agenda reverted to the Washington Blade, marking the beginning of a new phase in the Blade’s history.
“We are thrilled that the Washington Blade is once again owned locally,” Naff said in a statement published in the paper’s April 26, 2010 edition.
Among the other developments since the resurrection of the Blade was the creation by Brown Naff Pitts Omnimedia of Azer Creative, a full-service graphic design firm. The two affiliated companies have since been certified by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce as an LGBT Business Enterprise.
In recent years the Blade has also expanded its website and boosted its interaction with social media. The Blade currently has more than 33,000 Facebook followers and more than 22,000 followers on Twitter.
“This is growing every day,” said Stephen Rutgers, the Blade’s director of sales and marketing.