Historic Gay Newspaper Folds

The Washington Blade — widely regarded as the newspaper of record by members of the gay community — surprised readers when it abruptly folded its operation Monday. For 40 years, the paper covered the highs, lows and tragedies of gay life. But while blogger Zack Rosen says the Blade's demise is unfortunate, he says it's not the end of the world. Rosen is a former writer for the newspaper and now runs the Web site TheNewGay.net.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This week, one of the nation's oldest and most respected gay papers; The Washington Blade abruptly shut its doors. After a long financial struggle, the paper's owner, Window Media ceased production of The Blade and four other small gay-oriented publications under its wing in Florida and Georgia.

Some two dozen employees of The Blade showed up for work on Monday only to find out they'd be packing boxes instead of putting out a paper. But one former Blade writer, Zack Rosen responded to the news in the same way he's been doing full-time for much of the past year, he went to his computer and posted his reaction online.

Rosen is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of TheNew Gay.net. That's a Web site for everyone over the rainbow, as he puts it, and his post was titled "Gay Media Is Dead. Long Live Gay Media." And Zack Rosen joins me now in our Washington, D.C. studio to talk about whether gay media is dead and what the future of gay media might be.

Welcome. Thank your for coming.

Mr. ZACK ROSEN (Editor-in-chief of TheNew Gay.net): Oh, thank you.

MARTIN: So there are two sides to your argument as your title implies. Let's take them in turn. You worked at The Blade for two years, from 2006 to 2008. It was your first full-time journalism job. Congratulations - right out of college.

Mr. ROSEN: Thank you.

MARTIN: So you say that The Blade's demise was a terrible loss. Why is it a terrible loss for people who've never seen it? What could you find in The Blade that you couldn't find in other media?

Mr. ROSEN: In The Washington Blade you could find well reported well researched and well fact check news. There is no kind of celebrity pandering in their news section. It was news the way that the Chicago Tribune or The New York Times would give you news for gay people.

MARTIN: But you also write - for as much as The Washington Blade news coverage has been a boon for its readers, its culture coverage amounts to nothing less than a shackle. What do you mean by that?

Mr. ROSEN: Well, there's kind of two sides to gay life at this point. I'd say there's the politics and then there's our actual lives. And I'd say 30 years ago you could find out that somebody was gay and pretty much know what bars they went to, what music they listened to, what they dressed like, and it's just not the case anymore. We've come much farther than that. And I think that The Blade's culture coverage presents a very, very, very narrow view of what it means to be gay.

MARTIN: Do you think that was intentional?

Mr. ROSEN: I don't think it's intentional. I think it's...

MARTIN: Well, I'm just thinking about the early days of - no disrespect to anybody - but Ebony magazine for example...

Mr. ROSEN: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...was very interested in putting the best foot forward. They saw it as anecdote to the depictions of African-Americans that they saw elsewhere in the mainstream media, which is mainly about crime and dysfunction, and so they were very interested in, you know, the Supremes.

Mr. ROSEN: Right.

MARTIN: You know, they were very interested in Colin Powell. You know, they were very interested in people who are considered sort of A list achievers and they figure that the other stuff is covered elsewhere but they were - and, you know, you could argue with that, but do you think it was that sense that the paper was not just by and for the gay community but also kind of an ambassador to the rest of the society? Or do you think maybe that just what they thought was important?

Mr. ROSEN: I think it's just what they thought was important, actually. I know the magazine you're talking about and think that's found in individual gay citizens, mostly, and you'll see that when people say, how dare you kiss your boyfriend in the street. We're not going to get married now because you put this awful image of us forward to everybody. I think The Blade was just - because they had a sex advice column. They had personal ads in the back. If they were trying to give a pristine impression to the community, they weren't doing it very well.

MARTIN: Your site slogan is for everybody over the rainbow. The rainbow, of course, being a long time symbol of the gay rights movement. But what do you mean by that? Who's over the rainbow?

Mr. ROSEN: Oh, well, I think at this point, I know it started out with these great notions, but I think the gay rainbow is a myth. It's - the gay rainbow the way I picture it's just one big black and white ban. There's kind of everyone that gets covered in traditional gay media and there's everyone who's not. And right now everyone who is covered is outnumbered by the other folks, probably nine to one.

MARTIN: So what is it that you're trying to do with your publication that takes it to another level - that takes it beyond and is more -what's the word I'm looking for - inclusive than you think that The Blade was?

Mr. ROSEN: I think, and again, this is only The Blade's culture coverage, not their news. I think it's time for modern queer media to reflect modern queer lives and The Blade did not.

I think that gay people have their stories, they all listen to different music, they go to different bars, eat at different restaurants, and they might not do capital G gay things all the time but they're still gay in whatever they do. I don't think you should have to choose between having a functioning gay social and dating life or being yourself. I think there's a way to do both.

So we just kind of want to make people see their lives reflected in gay media, even if it's not only going to 17th Street, which is the gay district here in D.C. Even if it's not an eternal hunt for sex, even if it's not buttoned up and fancy all the time, it's not all male.

MARTIN: See what I'm thinking is also is it also about some aspects of gay life that might be politically incorrect.

Mr. ROSEN: Right.

MARTIN: Is that what you're talking about?

Mr. ROSEN: Yeah. Actually I am. It's, you might've just given me a soapbox, inadvertently, because I can talk about this a lot. I always say this: the rights that we fight for are - if we're given rights to this sanitized, buttoned up, best little boy in the world culture, then we're only going to be allowed to be a sanitized culture.

Like people should know that we - some gay people are not in monogamous relationships, some are in polyamorous relationships. Some gay people may not shower in the morning. You know, I think that all facets of this community should be - not salaciously, not we shouldn't be telling these salacious sex stories - but I think that we should be kind of intelligently and honestly examining what our lives are like today. That's what we should - people are scared of gay sex.

You know, no matter how much we brush our teeth in the morning, they don't want gay people out there having sex. So it makes sense to examine what gay sex culture is like, for example, as a ways it pertains to, I guess you'd say, straight society, versus pretending that gay people don't have sex and we're going to be these polite little, you know, man and man next door with our pink flamingoes in our lawns, I guess - if that makes sense.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I don't know anybody with a pink flamingo on their lawn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well. Well, the people I know with pink flamingoes on their lawn aren't necessarily gay. I didn't really...

Mr. ROSEN: Right.

MARTIN: Didn't really know that that was a gay thing.

Mr. ROSEN: I was just trying to think of what clean suburbia. It's not a gay think. It's a boy next door thing.

MARTIN: Okay. Oh okay. I got you. Now, you know, the closure of The Blade and the four other publications that Window Media shut down, the loss of a newspaper is not something that's just being experienced by the gay community. In fact, it's been a big issue in journalism over the - particularly since the recession began.

So I'm interested to know what do you think is next? That's a question I think a lot of people in journalism have who are serving lots of different audiences. Your publication is online only. Do you think that's the wave of the future if you're interested in serving particular communities? Do you think that's the future of journalism? Is it online?

Mr. ROSEN: I think the lesson here is media should respect its readers first and foremost. It should not be the other way around. Media should reflect the needs of its readers. It should reflect the culture those readers live in. If a publication's online it has very little overhead. They get so much freedom in terms of what the content they can post and quality and depth of writing that it's just is going to blow anything else in print away.

MARTIN: Zack Rosen, cofounder and editor-in-chief of TheNewGay.net. For, as their slogan says, everyone over the rainbow. He joined us in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. ROSEN: Thank you, Michele.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of music)

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