Parsing this week's gay-media shutdown, or: what happens when niche media loses its monopoly?


This week's Bay Windows makes the case that the death of the Washington Blade--part of the broader demise of GLBT publishing behemoth Window Media and Unite Media--is primarily about one particular corporate culture. Co-publishers Jeff Coakley and Sue O'Connell have a vested interest here, since their own publication (which, I should note, is printed by the Phoenix Media/Communications Group*) recently competed with Window/Unite's IN Newsweekly. Still, their reasoning is compelling:

Just as the Blade turned 40, it came face to face with the grim reaper. The cause of death, however, was not the Internet or an economic advertising drain -- it was corporate greed and mismanagement. The corporate parent, Window Media-HX-Avalon Equity (yes, it’s confusing), has been on a gay newspaper killing spree (IN Newsweekly, the New England Blade, the Southern Voice, the Houston Voice, the South Florida Blade, 411, HX New York, and HX Philadelphia). All because of the old saw: they placed corporate greed before community.

A quick history lesson would have told them that gay media was established in order to provide a voice to a minority and to forward the fight for equal rights. When our community is viewed as a marketing demographic rather than a movement, the result should not be surprising. The death of Window Media was self-inflicted....

We witnessed it first hand here in New England with their acquisition of IN Newsweekly. Their mistakes are too numerous to mention but in a nutshell they succeeded in angering local non-profit organizations, replacing the local content in IN with stories from their Washington and New York papers, and pursuing national advertisers to the detriment of their local advertiser base.

I do wonder, though, whether Window/Unite's downfall might be at least indirectly linked not just to other troubles in the gay press, but to recent struggles in the African-American media as well. After all, both these demographics are covered with more sensitivity in the mainstream press than they were 20 or 30 years ago.

Let me stress that I don't think that makes the gay press or the black press superfluous: we can't expect the mainstream media to comprehensively cover the specific needs of those populations--nor should we. But if the attentions of the traditional press render niche outlets even slightly less essential than they used to be, it seems logical that the purveyors of niche content will have less room for error than they did back in the day. Put differently: 20 years ago, Windows/Unite's cookie-cutter approach have had a better chance of succeeding--especially in cities where (unlike Boston) there wasn't already a competitor with deep local roots.

Thoughts, readers?

*NOTE: Inadvertent non-disclosure in my initial post; thanks to the alert reader who noticed.

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