- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Washington Blade stopped the presses Monday after 40 years, but another publication serving the gay community may rise in its ashes.

Kevin Naff, editor of the now-defunct Blade, said Monday he’s working to put together an employee-run newspaper with the same staff. Already, he said, “several investors have lined up,” while others have offered office space to the newly planned publication.

“We got dragged down by forces beyond our control, so now we’re taking control,” Mr. Naff said.

On Monday, Window Media, the Blade’s parent company, ceased operations of all its publications, which include the Southern Voice, the Houston Voice, the South Florida Blade and 411 Magazine.

The move came as a surprise even to top staffers. Mr. Naff said he first heard the news Monday morning. Southern Voice editor Linda Douglas-Brown told the Associated Press she arrived at work Monday to find the locks changed and a note on the door saying that Window Media had folded.

Word that the Blade had folded came as a shock to many in the District, given the publication’s healthy circulation, venerable reputation and longstanding history in the nation’s capital. Founded in 1969, the Blade celebrated its 40th anniversary in October and was widely viewed as the paper of record for gay-related local, national and international level.

But Window Media, considered the largest publisher of newspapers serving the gay community, reportedly was struggling with debt. The company intends to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, which indicates that it will cease rather than restructure its operations, Mr. Naff said.

Blade staff members plan to meet Tuesday to discuss launching the new publication, which would continue its focus on both local and national gay issues, with an enhanced online focus, Mr. Naff said.

He said he hoped the staff-run newspaper would launch its first edition by Dec. 1, and predicted that most, if not all, of the Blade’s 21 employees would stay on. One thing he still doesn’t know is what the publication will be called.

“There’s no name yet, but I’m entertaining all ideas,” Mr. Naff said.

The Blade announced its closure with a terse message via Twitter Monday morning: “The Washington Blade, like all Window Media publications, is closing today. Thank you for your support. (Keep following us for developments.)”

About an hour later, the Blade issued another message: “To everyone who’s expressing gratitude, love and support: Thank you. You’re helping stem the tears.”

The message said that the Blade still planned to hold a previously scheduled event at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Sean Bugg, co-publisher of the Metro Weekly, the Blade’s chief local competitor, called the demise of the Blade “sad.”

“It’s always sad to see somebody go out of business, but Washington, D.C., has been really lucky to have two [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] publications serving it, and we plan to step up our coverage,” Mr. Bugg said.

Metro Weekly ran a copy of the notice posted Monday on the door of the Southern Voice newspaper in Atlanta announcing the shutdown to its staff. Employees were instructed to return to the office Wednesday and bring boxes.

“It is with GREAT regret that we must inform you that effective immediately, the operations of Window Media LLC and Unite Media LLC have closed down,” said the note, signed “regretfully” by co-presidents Steve Myers and Mike Kitchens.

The Blade launched in 1969 as a one-page, one-sided publication under the name The Gay Blade. It was purchased by Window Media in 2001.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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