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Window Media closes Washington Bladex
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Window Media closes Washington Bladex

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Washington Blade - the country's oldest LGBT newspaper - closed its doors for good on Monday, November 16.

Employees returning to work Monday morning were greeted by a notice telling them to clear out their belongings by mid-afternoon.

The only official statement on the closure came via Twitter: "Washington Blade, like all Window Media publications, is closing today. Thank you for your support. (Keep following us for developments.)"

Originally launched as the Gay Blade in October 1969, the paper had recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a gala party in a posh downtown DC venue. It was acquired by Window Media in May 2001.

Other Gay-oriented publications of the Blade's parent company, Window Media, also closed. These included Southern Voice and South Florida Blade newspapers, and David and 411 magazines.

PARENT COMPANY ON SHAKY GROUND
Unknown to Blade readers and staff, the Window Media empire had been on shaky ground for some time.

In August 2008, Avalon Equity Fund - the majority stockholder in Window Media - was placed in receivership by the Small Business Administration. That action was precipitated by Avalon's failure to meet the financial performance goals established under the terms of SBA loans to Avalon.

According to the SBA, they had made $39.4 million in loan guarantees available to Avalon Equity after the company raised $20.4 million of private capital.

"Avalon invested in a variety of small businesses in the communications industry including cable, internet, and print publication investments," the SBA said in a statement released Monday. "One of these investments was Window/Unite Media which owns and operates the Washington Blade and several other GLBT publications."

"Window/Unite Media has experienced severe financial difficulties and on November 15, 2009 has ceased publications," the SBA statement continues. "The SBA as receiver for Avalon does not anticipate any recovery on Avalon's investment totaling more than $7 million in Window/Unite Media."

Window Media CEO and Avalon Equity owner David Unger had reportedly been seeking buyers for his various media assets before resigning abruptly in July.

Denying reports he was forced out by the SBA, Unger said he was leaving "for an excellent opportunity in New York" and that his departure "will have no effect" on the Blade or other Window Media publications.

"I will be around to help if needed and I wish everyone the best," he said.

Unger's resignation from Window Media came soon after the financial collapse of HX Media, in which he was also an investor. That company owned the New York Blade and the nightlife magazine HX. An undisclosed buyer picked up HX, but the New York Blade closed and laid off its staff in July 2009.

Nicholas F. Benton, the openly Gay owner of the DC-area Falls Church News-Press weekly, reportedly was set to buy the Washington Blade when he discovered it had been closed.

Benton told LGBT POV blog that he had won a bid through his corporation, Benton Communications Inc., to purchase the Washington Blade, intending to maintain its 40-year legacy and keep it in print.

Though the negotiations for the buyout of the Blade involved the SBA, Benton said he was not informed in advance about the pending closure

"I don't know what happened. I don't know if [the SBA] knew if it was coming, themselves," Benton said. "My attorney is not in touch with anyone except the Window Media bankruptcy lawyer - they were working out the plan and it was almost completely finalized. The bankruptcy court proceeding included this sale as part of it. And my lawyer said [the bankruptcy attorney] was clueless. I think Window Media shut themselves down."

SBA spokesperson Mike Stamler acknowledged the SBA did receive "offers" to buy the Washington Blade and Southern Voice from Window Media and its business ally Unite Media. But the decision to decline those offers was entirely left to Window Media and Unite, not the SBA, Stamler said.

EMPLOYEES ATTEMPTING TO SAVE THE PAPER
Meanwhile, Washington Blade employees met to try to save or replace the paper. Former Blade editor Kevin Naff told LGBT POV that the staff of the publication is moving to continue independently of Window Media.

"The full staff met this [Tuesday] morning and we've agreed to launch a new publication," Naff said. "A very modest version will debut Friday in print and online."

"It will be employee-owned," Naff said. "We're not going away."

Blade staff have also launched a new website, savetheblade.com, for readers to offer help or find information on the new publication.

"Can we save the Blade?" the website asks. "While we cannot save the name we can certainly save all that was the essence and spirit of our LGBTQ Community's newspaper of record. & We will launch a new publication that will bring you what we have always worked to deliver - Gay news and information that is critical to our Metro DC LGBTQ Community."

Prior to its closure, the Washington Blade had a circulation of 23,000 and reported 250,000 monthly website visitors.

Perhaps the best epitaph was supplied by Dallas Voice newspaper publisher Robert Moore.

"The long sad saga of Window Media has come to end.

"Bad management and an acquisition strategy that relied on piling up massive amounts of debt during the good times plotted this story long ago. Once the economy tanked, there was no way to prop up the house of cards that Window had become. Finally, the chickens came home to roost.

"It is a very sad day to see such great titles silenced by greed."

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