Gay media publishers fault troubles at Window Media on management, not economic factors

Publishers of the country’s remaining LGBT weekly newspapers have all issued comments this week highly critical of the management decisions made by those leading Window Media, which filed for bankruptcy over the weekend and shuttered its papers in D.C.,  Atlanta and south Florida on Monday.

The chorus of complaints about how Window Media owners Chris Crain and David Unger ran their company is striking in how similar sounding the publishers of the Bay Area Reporter (where I work in San Francisco) Bay Windows in Boston and the Philidelphia Gay News are in their critiques.

And the take home message, which seems to be directed more to national advertisers than to readers, is that LGBT Media as a whole is not dead, even if the specialty press industry lost two of its marquee brands this week with the shutdowns of the Washington Blade and Southern Voice along with the South Florida Blade.

B.A.R. Publisher Thomas E. Horn, who rejected offers from Window Media to buy the 39-year-old SF-based paper back in 2003, issued a statement for the paper’s story today about the shuttering of the papers in which he laid blame for Window Media’s demise squarely at the feet of its ill-advised business decisions:

“Window Media has been is serious financial trouble for some time for reasons mostly unrelated to the general decline in newspaper advertising and the economic downtown. They leveraged their assets, including their newspapers, to fund acquisition, expansion and Web development by obtaining a huge Small Business Association loan which they were unable to service and resulted in their being put in involuntary receivership. I do not believe that the failure of Window Media means the failure of LGBT newspapers in the major population centers where they are located. Gay newspapers that have prudent management and business practices, such as the B.A.R. , the Philadelphia Gay News and the Dallas Voice , just to name three, continue to succeed.”

Jeff Coakely and Sue O’Connell, publishers of the Boston-based paper, wrote an editorial in this week’s edition that said that the Blade and the other papers had met “the grim reaper” not because of any problems inherent to the news media business but because of its parent company’s management, which they blame for murdering 8 formerly viable LGBT publications:

“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.”

Mark Segal, publisher of the Philly paper, also joined in the Window Media bashing this week. In an editor’s note this week Segal did not mince words in lambasting how Crain and Unger ran their company:

“Window Media and their other partners began their course of destruction when Chris Crane discredited and cheapened what was one of the nation’s leading LGBT publications (he even included a “Bitch Session” column and hired a former escort as a political columnist). That led to a decline in advertising, which resulted in cutting ad rates to undercut competition. At the same time, David Unger, head of Window, went on a publication-buying spree with money guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. They had a sinking ship and went further in debt. When Crane was let go/resigned, the Blade began to regain its stature but, still under Unger’s leadership it continued to buy other publications and cut benefits. Various business arrangements with other publications, such as HX, entered the Blade world. Who owned what became blurred. Lack of trust from readers and advertisers, a possible fight among partners and an ensuing host of lawsuits spelled the end.”

Even the troubled Regent / Here Media Company distanced its ongoing struggle to turn around the floundering national LGBT newsmagazine The Advocate from the problems that plagued Window Media. Regent vice president Stephen Macias told the B.A.R. this week that despite the monthly magazine now coming bundled together with its sister pub OUT magazine, fiscally things seem to be improving:

The Advocate and the Window Media group have/had very different challenges. The Advocate online, Advocate video, Advocate print the new television show, and Advocate Summit scheduled for next fall will have more stakeholders and readers than its had in its 42 year history. Our sales team is already selling The Advocate and Out brands well into third quarter of 2010. We are cautiously optimistic around the climate in the marketplace. Ad and marketing budgets are being restored for 2010. Advertisers are eager to include us in their buys as they realize what an important consumer niche LGBT Americans are.”

The other four LGBT media executives also sounded upbeat about the health and future for their publications and the industry as a whole. Segal said while other media outlets have been cutting staff this year, he has not had to lay off anyone. And he said advertising is on the rise in the 4th quarter and should continue to gain strength in 2010.

“Our job in media — gay and non-gay — is to continue to evolve and serve our communities. If we do that, keeping an eye on change, we’ll remain relevant and an asset to our communities.”

Coakeley and O’Connell also ended their editor’s letter on an upbeat note:

“Sure, the economy is still pretty lousy right now, but we feel we’ve made it through the worst of this recession. And we actually see a bright future. So if anyone in our community is concerned about the future of Bay Windows, rest assured that we are fine, and we will not make the same mistakes that befell the Washington Blade.”

One Response

  1. […] own struggles. But, as local publishers in Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco pointed out, it is possible to make LGBT media work on the local level (and maybe even national level) if there are good management […]

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