As we celebrate the Washington Blade’s 45th anniversary this week, it’s tempting to look back at the paper’s rich history but more exciting to look forward.
Many pundits and Chicken Littles seem to relish in declaring journalism and the print media dead. But a closer look at the reality of publishing for a niche audience reveals a much more promising future. Rather than mope about the impact of digital media on print’s fortunes or live in fear of a paperless future, I’ve always thought it much more rewarding to revel in these new opportunities and be grateful at having a chance to participate in — and even influence — the myriad changes happening across the media landscape.
Indeed, as the Blade marks 45 years, we’ve never had more readers or more news to cover. A lot has changed since I started at the paper in 2002, when a few reporters would take assignments on a Thursday, then mostly disappear for a week and return on Wednesday to file 4,000-word opuses, often without artwork. Those were the days of George W. Bush. Marriage equality was but a dream and sodomy laws were still on the books in 13 states. There were no openly gay professional athletes. “Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell” remained the law and we lacked hate crime protections at the federal level.
What a difference 12 years makes.
And the Blade has evolved along with the country. Our reporting staff files stories for the web and social media seven days a week. We have 150,000 unique monthly web site readers and more than 32,000 Facebook followers. There are email subscription products, a popular free mobile app, a redesigned website and other related extensions of the Blade.
The scope of our coverage has changed, too, from local and political stories to a much broader focus on international issues and stories of interest to readers in other parts of the country. This summer, we dispatched a reporter and photographer for a week in the Deep South to report on the plight of LGBT residents there. A month later, we sent a reporter to Peru to cover U.S. efforts at boosting LGBT equality there. And this month, we travel to Mexico City. The Blade has hosted visiting journalists from around the world via a State Department program, most recently welcoming a group from Africa. We were recently admitted to the White House pool rotation, a first for the LGBT and alternative media.
As a business, the Blade has changed, too, beginning in 2009, when the former parent company filed for bankruptcy and a new company formed — Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia — to continue and expand on the paper’s work and mission, free of out-of-town corporate owners. Being a good corporate citizen is a key part of our mission, and we back that up by sponsoring an array of local community organizations and events, including the DC Gay Flag Football League, Capital Pride, the Point Foundation and dozens more.
Last year, we launched a new business called Azer Creative, a boutique creative firm that leverages the talents of our in-house design and marketing team. This week, we’re excited to announce the launch of the Washington Blade Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit dedicated to advancing education and research into LGBT topics that is working now to fully digitize the Blade’s 45-year archive. Also this week, we announced a donation to the Newseum of the Blade’s first issue from October 1969, along with a series of Blades documenting the most important moments of the LGBT rights movement both locally and nationally. In November, the Blade is being honored by the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. for its contributions to the city over 45 years.
With the launch of the Foundation, the paper is ensuring its rich history is accessible to all, while preparing for an exciting future. Thank you to our readers and advertisers and to the staff past and present for all you do to ensure the Blade’s success. We look forward to serving the community for many years to come.