The Sexist

The Final Hours of the Washington Blade

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It's 12:30 p.m. outside of the downtown offices of the former Washington Blade, which served as Washington D.C.'s gay newspaper of record from 1969 until this morning. Just hours ago, the staff of the Blade learned that its parent company, Window Media, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, that the Blade was closed effective immediately, and that the paper's two dozen employees were all out of work.

Now, two guys in purple shirts are methodically removing stacks of boxes out of the office, located on the fifth floor of the National Press Club building. What's inside? "Just personal belongings," one says, as he heads to the elevator. Everybody has until 3:30 p.m. to clear out.

Reporters have been calling the office all morning in search of a comment, having only heard confirmation of the paper's closure via Tweet. Finally, Editor-In-Chief Kevin Naff comes outside to make a statement. Hold on—he has to pee. When he returns from the bathroom, he addresses reporters in front of the Blade's glass-enclosed offices. Inside, a couple of Window Media staffers can be seen shuffling around a glass conference room, hard at work dismantling the newspaper. One of them wears an eye-patch. "I can't speak on behalf of the company, and I can't speak here," Naff says. So the group heads around the corner, where Naff stands in front of another large window looking in on Window brass. "You can refer to me as the former editor of the Blade," Naff says.

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He rolls out the details: Naff heard this morning that the paper was kaput. The staff began forming plans to start a new publication within "about five minutes," Naff says. More information will be announced tomorrow. It won't be called the Blade. "We're going to take a day off to pack, and then dust ourselves off and get back to work," Naff says. The staff's focus is on the future, he says—Naff can't even immediately remember what stories the Blade had in the works for its next issue.

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Other former employees are focused on the past two weeks. A woman steps off the elevator, a cell phone clutched to her ear. "And the worst thing is that we were supposed to get paid today," she says, before running into one of her former co-workers and enveloping him in a hug. She doesn't have a public comment. Lou Chibbaro Jr., the Blade's longest-running employee, is there to see what he can salvage from the past thirty years. Chibbaro arrived back at the office with a pack full of folding cardboard boxes in order to cart away some "personal papers and things like that . . . mementos, some award plaques." Chibbaro won't say if he'll be involved in Naff's new paper. "We're interested in keeping the best of what we had going. But I can't comment on what's going on right now," he says.

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Robbie Barnett, one of the guys in the purple shirts, is back from unloading another dolly full of Blade leftovers. Barnett worked as the Blade's distribution coordinator until this morning, when he walked into the office in the middle of the closure announcement. Barnett says the news came directly from COO Steve Myers and CFO Mike Kitchens. Myers is the one in the eye-patch, Barnett says: "I think he might be ill or something." Myers and Kitchens did most of the talking, Barnett says. "None of us really said anything." The atmosphere, he says, was just "grim."

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Barnett says that he has not been asked to finish up his distribution duties by removing Blade newspaper boxes from the streets. For now, Barnett is just helping to unload the paper from the National Press Club, box by box. Steve Cheverton, a close friend of the paper, is also on hand. When Cheverton heard of the paper's closing, he showed up with his Ford F-350 to help employees with the liquidation. "I know a lot of the employees, and I've supported them throughout, in all the gay pride marches and stuff like that," Cheverton says. "I just think it's really without integrity the way they did this . . . The least we can do is help these people take their stuff home."

Photos of former Blade employees by Darrow Montgomery

Comments

  1. #1

    corporate bastards...awful...just awful news this is gut wrenching ...they serve such a real purpose...surely they will regroup in someones basement and emerge with at least something!!

    since 69 huh?...(come on somebody had to say it)
    mmm...but do you think they want to sell those Barcelona chairs??
    xoxo

  2. #2

    Sad sad day for the glbt community--the one paper that asked our questions and kept us informed.

  3. #3

    The Blade was a great newspaper. Its sudden death is a tragic loss. I hope the staffers do take that day or two off and start on a new paper to replace it. It is such an important vehicle for news, information, and political commentary, and its importance in a political city like Washington DC cannot be overstated.

    Local businesses in DC should help the new paper by advertising in it, and national advertisers should not forget it either. These are very hard times for newspapers.

    Thank you to Lou Chibbaro, Kevin Naff, and all of the other Blade employees over the years. You served the community well with your work.

  4. #4

    Thanks for all the kind comments for us and our paper. It is a sad day at the Blade.

  5. #5

    As former managing editor of Chicago's GayLife and Windy City Times newspapers, let me say that the Washington Blade was THE pace setter for solid, reputable regional LGBT newspapers. This is not only a sad day for the Blade, it is a sad day for the LGBT community. I fear many in the community take news coverage of LGBT issues for granted, since mainstream press has evolved in its approach to those issues. We must not forget how vital -- and how fragile -- a strong, independent, COMMUNITY BASED gay press is.

  6. #6

    "Finally, Editor-In-Chief Kevin Naff comes outside to make a statement. Hold on—he has to pee."

    This is the level of professionalism at The Blade. This really says it all.

  7. #7

    I have never read such a big line of CRAP!, like the comments posted here about the poor Blade. This paper was not worthy to wrap fish in people, for the why, see my comments in the 'city desk' section of this paper. FOR CHRIST SAKE CRY ME A RIVER!

  8. #8

    I know all newspapers are having a hard time now, the Washington post included. Still the closing came as an upsetting shock to me. The Blade is part of DC. I look forward to how ever it comes back. Peace Love Unity and Respect to the former employes.

  9. #9

    What sad news. I don't even live in D.C. any more, but I remember the Blade fondly. I wish the employees best of luck, & I hope they follow through on their plans to start a new publication.

  10. #10

    Rick Mangus is really mostly right. The Blade has been a dull, sell out for a long, long time. Go along to get along is not a bold journalistic mission folks. The idea that it is is rooted in the self loathing, second class mentalities of the past.

    Beholden to Whitman Walker for its ad budget The Blade never asked the tough questions or exposed Jim Graham's shenanigans in building his upside down AIDs empire for which the city still suffers mightily.

    The Blade never exposed the cabal of rich, well connected doctors who made and dealt drugs and promulgated the drug culture in our community. God forbid they wouldn't get priority treatment at Moodonna.

    The Blade never fully explored an alternativer point of view on any issue preferring to march in step with whatever was the song of the month. Perhaps if critical analysis had been applied by the gay "paper of record" we wouldn't be looking at the utter, complete failure of this "marriage" agenda and the reversal of 15 years of political progress. Where is ENDA? The Blade never wanted to know.

    The worst kept secret in town was that no one has looked to the Blade for credible news for years now. The fact that they have not had a competent, professional journalist as an editor for what, 10 years now, has finally paid off. The current editor doesn't even live in Washington or even nearby. I guess we know now how that is going to work out.

    If City Paper and/or politico.com creates a gay beat The Blade will not be missed, and no, I do not mean Lou Chibarro.

    If politico.com is smart they will snatch up Lynne Brown to build a sales platform to suppport their new local news initiative. Naff meanwhile, should take some time off, get caught up on his peeing, and perhaps find a job closer to home. Whatever, I just hope they don't spend too much effort on trying to revive the long dead.

  11. #11

    That's nice. Maybe now we can get a gay newspaper that represents DC's entire gay commmunity and not just rich white people.

  12. #12

    Say what you want about the Blade but it was the best place I knew to get serious gay news in DC and south Florida both. I get so tired of the gay mags that just want to tell you who is performing at what bar. The Blade was my news stop for years and I'll miss them.

  13. #13

    What about the Bitch Sessions........

  14. #14

    As a former editor at both the Philadelphia Gay News (late 1970s) and the late, lamented national publication Gay Community News (early 1980s), I felt like I'd been punched in the gut when I heard on WETA about the Blade's closing. The Blade was PGN's unofficial sister paper back in the day, and a Blade staffer (whose name, unfortunately, I can't recall) was kind enough to put me up at her house for the 1979 March on Washington, as a gesture of solidarity.

    For years after I moved to DC in 1984, I read the Blade religiously -- and, as befits a journalist, complained about its coverage. But when I relocated to Colorado for awhile in the mid-90s, I realized what a privilege it was to have a paper of the Blade's caliber covering the local queer community -- because Colorado had none. And when I came back to DC a few years later and saw the Blade's booth at a local Pride event, I practically kissed the staff.

    Say what you will about the paper's quality in recent years, but no one can deny that the Blade's closing marks the gloomy end of a long and historic era. I'm particularly saddened about the treatment of Lou Chibbaro, Jr., whom I regard as one of the best hard-news reporters around -- and I don't just mean in the queer press, I mean anywhere. I hope that if he joins the new venture, he's treated -- and paid -- commensurate with his talents.

  15. #15

    Lou will end up in the best position of the lot, think of the book he can write. Unencumbered by the Blade he can name names! Lou, number one action item on post-Blade agenda - GET AN AGENT!*

    * literary agent, not modeling agent

  16. #16

    Most Washington Blade employees will agree that the beginning of the end was when Don Michaels sold the Blade to Window Media. This money machine soaked everything out of an excellent paper, money, spirit, dedication, and integrity. In spite of this want to be corporate giant, the paper continued as a leader in the industry. It has taken a lot of
    work by some very hard working people to keep things up to the level that they have been in spite of true adversity. Imagine going to work for an employer that had a profitable product yet corporate wasn't able to deliver your paycheck to on time, on a regular basis.
    If you have a negative comment to make address it to Window Media. Cheers to the staff of The Washington Blade!

  17. Marynotquitecontrary
    #17

    When Lynn Brown became publisher, the DC Blade was doomed.

  18. Marynotquitecontrary
    #18

    "If politico.com is smart they will snatch up Lynne Brown to build a sales platform to suppport their new local news initiative. "

    You must be a relative. This is laughable.

  19. #19

    Have to agree- Don Michaels WAS the Blade, and it was so much better during that time. Windows Media was the start of the decline and Lynne Browne hastened it.

  20. #20

    Several commenters have stated that the Blade's acquisition by Window Media was the true beginning of the end. I will only add that this publication, City Paper, was on the stick at that time, regarding the "new management." It's been a sad enough day, but for some back story, read it and weep:

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/display.php?id=23570

  21. Former Blade Staffer
    #21

    As a former Blade employee, who has observed the industry for years, the paper was certainly one of the best. Let those of you who think the Blade was irrelevant get his gay news from MW or the Washington Post. See what kind of a difference that makes in the world of glbt politics. If they notice? The Blade has been the newspaper of record for many years. Window Media sucked the blood of the newspaper but the spirit still lies in the employees.

  22. #22

    Thank goodness people like Marynotquitecontrary are chiming in here. Absolutely correct. Lynne Brown was an essential element in flushing this pub down the tube.

    This is simply a case of gross financial mismanagement, unethical business practice, and general disregard for any kind of smart business.

  23. #23

    They will rebuild. The people who ran the paper will be back. We will continue the fight! Sending love and hugs to them right now.

  24. #24

    Rick, darling!! The proper phrase is good riddance! Too bad your rant just took on the uneducated quality of your alter ego Ms. MaryQuiteContrary. Hmmmm sour grapes, dearie?

  25. #25

    The end of the Blade started when it was sold to Windows Media and reduced local coverage with clip items from other Windows Media papers. I look forward to the excekkebt former Blade staff bringing the local DC community a new GLBT paper which will better serve our community. It needs to concentrate more on local issues rather than treating then as secondary to national issues.

  26. #26

    Dear Friends of Dorothy,

    Writer Joshua Kosman was the featured guest on Terry Gross' Fresh Air on Monday, November 16th, 2009. He was discussing his new book, Predicting The Next Credit Crisis, which assigns blame for the next credit crisis to private equity firms. Such firms make a fast profit from buying companies, "improving" them, and then reselling them. However, the take-over formula, according to Mr. Kosman, entails the private equity firms putting up a mere 20% for each company - the take-over target is responsible for financing the remaining 80%. That's right - the company being purchased takes on 80% of the debt incurred for its own sale. The incentives for targeted companies are that owners and top-shareholders are paid handsomely and, because of a "tax loophole," the company gets to deduct the interest paid on its new debt, which more or less allows the company to limp along for a short time, looking attractive on paper. With a private equity firm in charge, a purchased company is then squeezed in this short-term "attractive" period for maximum profits - employee layoffs, elimination of R&D, etc... After all value has been siphoned off, the company is then sold for a fraction of its pre-takeover value, or allowed to collapse into bankruptcy under the crushing debt it has taken on. The private equity firm and the top shareholders walk away with fat pockets, leaving a wake of destruction in their rearview. Yet another fine example of American-style capitalism at its finest, no? Kosman warns that thousands of companies across America that have been “purchased” by private equity firms are beginning to default on their debt payments, having been thoroughly plundered by these private equity firms.

    In a stunning announcement yesterday, Windows Media (wholly unrelated to Microsoft) stated that it has been forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy by its majority stakeholder, Avalon Equity Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm that is itself in receivership with the Small Business Administration, after the SBA determined that Avalon was suffering from capital impairment. A lawsuit filed by SBA revealed Avalon had little or no outside capital left due to divestiture by investors, losses in revenue or asset values, or a combination of the three. SBA's only option for recovering a portion of the $38 million in loans it had extended to Avalon Equity Partners was a forced liquidation of the firm. Windows Media holdings include The Washington Blade, The Florida Blade, 411 Magazine, David Atlanta, Southern Voice, and Genre Magazine, all gay media outlets, and all of which have been abruptly shuttered as of yesterday. On the cusp of the passage of legislation recognizing gay marriage in the District of Columbia, The Washington Blade will not be around to cover the historic achievement of LGBT equality under the law. A great number of LGBT voices have been effectively silenced across a large swath of the country - and this because of continued, unchecked greed on a little street in New York City.

    If Kosman's predictions should come to pass, and it all seems much more likely with this morning’s news, a recommendation for increases in your personal stores of canned goods and bottle water is hereby proffered. I am currently soaking rags in kerosene for torches and stoking my forge fires in preparation for an uptick in production at my underground pitchfork manufacturing facilities. Kosman believes the coming year will usher in a mushroom cloud of defaults among companies which have been bled by private equity firms operating under the take the money and run mantra. By his conservative estimate, 1.9 million Americans will lose their jobs as a result. The defaults themselves will once again lock up credit markets the world over, only this time, with many of the major players in tenuous recoveries from the previous financial crisis, there will be no cushion to break the fall.

    I'm off to purchase a few chickens, a milk cow, and seedlings.

  27. #27

    Can't help being mad about HOW these things are done.

  28. #28

    The Blade used to be a wonderful local paper, then it was taken over and just printed the same stories that were printed in every other publication owned by Windows Media. They stopped really being interested in local stories, and it seemed they stopped making an effort to be on friendly relations with the gay businesses in town. Metro Weekly took over reporting on local issues as did the Locally owned gay papers in Baltimore. The Blade wasn't the paper it used to be, I miss the Blade from 10 years ago, I'm not going to miss what Windows Media turned it into.

  29. #29

    A reply to (Rick's Conscince #24) or should I say Miss / Professor Henry Higgins. Since you seem to be versed in the english langauge so well then you should know what a lemming is, I would say that fits you nicely. As far as my education and sour grapes, you do not know me nor my background, so go follow all the other mindless queens over the cliff!

  30. #30

    It is worth considering where the money used to take over local media comes from, and how much the takeover outfits are willing to lose while destroying the value and usefulness of local media before liquidating it.

    In a better world, there would be a publisher willing to support an in depth, nation wide study of how local alternative media has been liquidated by this process of well financed takeover followed by value destruction and liquidation over the past 20 years or so, and tracing who and what organizations have sponsored and funded the process. It's worth a book, and would make a good one.

  31. #31

    A friend from DC texted me with the news the Blade had closed yesterday. I was shocked. I've contributed articles to the paper since I finished journalism school in 1986. I have watched the paper grow and change over the years. Like many I was skeptical when Widows Media took over. But still, the Blade remained superior to every other gay newspaper I know of.

    Those now pouring salt in the wounds with their nasty rants against the Blade will now have nowhere to spew. They never seem to get the fact that, whatever you think of a newspaper (mainstream or gay or whatever), it serves an essential role in the life of the community. It's a forum of ideas and news, discussion and debate. Where will that take place now, exactly?

    My heart goes out to my journalistic colleagues at the Blade. I expect their energy and expertise will find new outlets that continue to enrich us. I hope their personal emotional and financial fallout will be as brief and painless as possible. I look forward to seeing their creativity bring us something new and even better.

    Best wishes.

  32. #32

    At one time the Blade was a good paper, but for the last few years they were a limp rag. They dropped the ball on the Robert Wone murder coverage, emblematic of their lack of focus on their own backyard.

    If they put the heat on, maybe the murderer would not still be running free.

  33. #33

    Will there be an online version?

  34. #34

    There was no failure in the journalism at the blade. It seems to me the failure is in a corporate culture that allows the owners to sell the paper to an equity partner only to have the government then rule the equity fund was undercapitalized so the newspaper will have to close. ... Clearly there is a desire for quality queer journalism in WDC.

  35. #35

    Deb there was a GIANT failure in journalism at the Blade, their stories came straight, so to speak, from the wire services, it's called rip and read in the biz. I guess we will never know the next installment of, 'What's it like being gay in Iraq' or 'Lesbians in Lithuania' and other compelling and news worthy stories.

    Let me tell you a story when I bitched to the editor of the Blade about the lack of coverage about a mans death at the 'Men's Parties' (a major Blade advertiser at the time) he had one of his reporters call me to ask me for additional information and advice on the incident and how should the Blade cover it. It took me less than an hour to get the facts of this incident, the Blade reporter had two weeks to obtain this same infomation. This is not good journalism this is lazy journalism.

  36. #36

    As a small-town twenty-year-old moving to DC from Ohio in the early '70's, I was thrilled to find real, live newsprint about the gay community. Good, bad, or indifferent, the Blade was still a welcomed light to those of us who grew up in the dark. It also allowed us fitting tributes when our friends died along the way. When I relocated from DC to the northern Shenandoah Valley and started volunteering at an AIDS service agency, the Blade sent us a dozen free copies weekly, postage-free, to spread the word to those who are still in the dark. Thank you and kudos to all who put the Blade out week after week, year after year. We will miss you and appreciate your efforts to re-invent a GLBT news source.

  37. #37

    I knew when Don Michaels sold The Blade to Windows Media that its glory days were numbered. What surprises me, is that it took this long for things to completely fall apart. With a few rare, important local story exceptions by Lou Chibbaro or one or another local reporter, the paper was filled with wire service clips and fluff. The Blade died a long time ago folks, but not everyone noticed.

  38. #38

    So it wasn't what it used to be. None of us are. Nevertheless, I grieved when I learned the news that this old friend is gone.

    May it rise again.

  39. #39

    I don't give a shit about the Blade going out of business. I hope the liberal Washington Post, NY Times, and LA Times will be next.

  40. #40

    I fondly remember the Blade's front page coverage of the Woodward & Lothrop GLBT domestic partnership benefits DC & Md. Human Rights case 1989-1990.

    Lou Chibbaro was awesome! He and the Blade empowered our community and my client (Duane Rinde) to win the first-ever Human Rights case settlement providing for equal enloyee benefits for employees' partners. It only took us a few weeks, from December 1989 until February 1990, when Woodies agreed to all of our demands. With the Blade and its zealous advocacy and intrepid reporting, all things were possible.

    Now hundreds of companies provide such benefits. I wrote about the Woodies case in the first-ever American Bar Association article on Gay marriage (1991).

    We all hope the DC Agenda returns to the Blade's roots, It should reject the tedious, timid, tepid, corporativst approach of the feckless few whose flummery and dupery ruined the Blade.

    The new paper needs to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." That's the difference between a real newspaper and criminaloids' corporate greed.

    Ed Slavin
    Box 3084
    St. Augustine, Florida 32085
    904-829-3877 (o)

  41. #41

    Well, well well. The leftist Blade has folded. Oh, I do remember how it used to be "the Gay Blade", mimeographed and folded and left in racks at the bars like the Georgetown Grill and the Pier Nine and the Lost and Found. And the Hideaway and Oscar's Eye and Louis. And Plus One and Phase One and Batchelor's Mill. And yes Dollie's and the Cafe Naples, at the Eagle on 9th Street and the Exile. The help it provided to military guys like me who had been forced out for being gay was indispensible.

    But that was the old Gay Blade.

    By the early 80s it had evolved into "The Washington Blade", and took on a leftist slant that increased exponentially year after year until finally I stopped even glancing at it. How apropos that this once-fiercely independent publication joined itself at the hip with entities that hopped into bed with Uncle Sugar. And how sad, but the Washington Blade, which so ardently supported "President" Obama during the elections, now falls at his hands by proxy of a Federal organization.

    Well, Lou and the rest of you; good luck getting the Blade up and running again. But this is not the 1960s and you are not going to find some cheap funky basement in Adams Morgan to do some hippie commune thing with a copier the way the original Blade got started. You're all too damn old for that stuff now and even if you weren't , rents are too expensive. And nobody needs you today the way us young gays did back when. But that was then, and this is now.

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