It was just a month ago that the Washington Blade celebrated 40 years of operations as the area's LGBT newspaper. That celebration could not have offered a starker contrast to the events of Monday morning, Nov. 16.
"I've been terminated by Window Media," Blade Publisher Lynne Brown said bluntly.
Brown was by no means alone. From D.C. to Florida, the dozens of Window Media employees -- at Atlanta's Southern Voice and David Atlanta, and South Florida Blade and 411 in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area -- were greeted Monday morning with the same bad news. Brown says a tiny bit of the sting may have been helped in that Windows' Mike Kitchens and Steve Myers, COO and CFO, respectively, were on-hand to deliver the news in D.C. In Atlanta, Window employees were greeted with a sign, according to Project Q Atlanta blog.
"Please return to this office on Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 at 11:00 AM to collect personal belongings and receive information on your separation stipulations," the sign read in part. "Please bring boxes and/or containers that will allow you to collect all your personal belongings at one time."
The first shoe dropped in August 2008, reported months later by New York's Gay City News, when the Small Business Administration forced the Avalon Equity Fund into receivership. Avalon is a majority shareholder of Window Media. The other shoe dropping Monday was nonetheless a shock.
"In our community terms, it's like the New York Times has closed down," said Mark Meinke, founder of the Rainbow History Project, the local LGBT archive. "Of the 110 or 120 oral histories [in the RHP collection], probably 90 percent touch on stories, intersect with events, that have been in the pages of the Blade."
For Aram Vartian, often seen in the community taping video for "Blade TV," the loss is even more personal than for most Window employees. Vartian, whose six years with the Blade can only be considered a labor of love, discovered the weekly newspaper 18 years ago when he was only 15, as he approached the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League building on Capitol Hill. The Blade was available in a box outside.
"It was my first real contact with the gay community," said Vartian. "The Washington Blade has been my home for the last six years. Along with the rest of D.C., I mourn its passing."
Other employees were less inclined to speak about the day's events, as the future remains uncertain. Some pointed to a meeting set for Tuesday, Nov. 17. Brown says she has called the meeting to discuss options for moving forward.
"The staff is meeting for coffee tomorrow to reorganize and re-launch.... In adversity, there is great opportunity," Brown said. "The name 'Washington Blade' has been ruined and is in bankruptcy, but the staff and people are alive and well and living in Washington, looking for local ownership.... It's a great opportunity for those of us who bring you the Blade to steer their own direction. We believe in Washington.... We're still here. We'll have a new name, a new look, and a chance to be faster and more high-tech."
Don Michaels, former publisher of the Blade and one of the employee owners who sold the brand to Window in 2001, was saddened to hear the news. And while he says that he helped guide the paper through tough times during his roughly two decades as publisher, he didn't have any advice to offer for those who may forge a new identity for what was the Washington Blade. He did say, however, that he was grateful to have been a part of its run as the longest-publishing gay newspaper in the country.
"It has a long and distinguished history," he said. "That's something nice to be associated with."
According to a Monday posting to the Washington Blade Twitter account, there will be a gathering Wednesday, Nov. 18, at the Hard Rock Cafe, 999 E St. NW, at 6 p.m., to share memories of the Blade.