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Despite Chaos, Local LGBT Papers Say They're Here to Stay

LGBT publications

The recent troubles of LGBT media owner Multimedia Platforms constitue an aberration, several publishers proclaim.

Despite some recent bad news in the world of LGBT media, there's no reason to weep for the industry as a whole, say several publishers of local LGBT newspapers.

These publishers, based in cities as diverse as Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., say they're doing just fine -- and that the troubles of Multimedia Platforms Worldwide, which suspended operations of publications in New York, Los Angeles, and Florida last week, appear to be particular to that company, not symptomatic of LGBT media in general.

What happened with Multimedia Platforms is an aberration that appears to be based on that company's business decisions, not the health of the regional LGBT print market, Tracy Baim, publisher and executive editor at Chicago's Windy City Media Group, tells The Advocate.

"Over the past few decades, many LGBT newspapers and magazines have come and gone, but very frequently the closings and mergers have had more to do with business decisions rather than the health of the market," says Baim, whose company owns the Windy City Times newspaper, the Nightspots entertainment guide, and other properties. "LGBT regional newspapers that are innovating and that are run professionally are doing well in the changing media landscape."

Adds Dallas Voice publisher Leo Cusimano: "I think there are some intrinsic problems with that specific business model they had" at Multimedia Platforms.

Multimedia Platforms, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was operating in three geographically distinct markets, with Frontiers Magazine in Los Angeles, Next Magazine in New York City, and AgendaFlorida in its home state, along with travel guides. It also had taken on what appeared to be substantial debt, resulting in legal troubles.

The company was already millions of dollars in debt, South Florida Gay News reports, when it obtained a loan in July from White Winston Select Asset Funds of Boston so that it could continue operating. But now White Winston says Multimedia Platforms executives made various false claims in order to secure the financing, and White Winston filed suit against the media company last month.

"Only due to the defendant's need for a cash influx to prevent a default on their other notes, White agreed to close and fund the loan on short notice, with the majority of due diligence to be conducted immediately post-closing," reads a portion of the complaint quoted by South Florida Gay News. It was filed in Suffolk County Civil Court of Massachusetts September 22.

Because the loan was closed so quickly, Multimedia Platforms managers were supposed to meet with and provide a variety of documents to White Wilson soon afterward. But a White Wilson executive flew to Los Angeles for a meeting and was stood up for a week, according to South Florida Gay News. The lender also found that several Multimedia Platforms officers had left the company.

Multimedia Platforms also failed to deposit sufficient funds into an account that was supposed to secure the loan, and it failed to the first payment on the loan, due September 1, SFGN reports. That all led to the lawsuit, and last week a judge issued a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order that allowed White Wilson to seize all Multimedia Platforms' assets and cash on hand.

Multimedia Platforms has had other legal troubles as well, with a lawsuit filed against it earlier this year by another Florida publisher alleging violation of a no-compete agreement by a former employee hired by Multimedia Platforms. And Karen Ocamb, the longtime, well-respected Frontiers news editor, filed a complaint of age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after Frontiers let her go in February.

But the Multimedia Platforms situation isn't typical of regional LGBT media, the various publishers say. LGBT publications remain sound if they can avoid excessive debt, keep overhead reasonable, and not try to serve too many different markets. "Other organizations that tried to do that in the past have failed," Cusimano says.

One of those was Window Media, which owned the Washington Blade, Atlanta's Southern Voice, and the South Florida Blade. It shuttered in 2009 due to financial problems, with many other LGBT media companies and former employees saying Window Media was badly mismanaged.

Washington Blade staffers created Brown Naff Pitts Omnimedia, however, and brought the newspaper back in 2010. It continues to operate, and publisher Lynne Brown says both readership and ad sales are on the increase. "Year to year, we're here, we're queer, we're doing well," she says.

So is The Pride Los Angeles, which began publishing in October 2015, says publisher Troy Masters. It has circulated 20,000 copies every two weeks since then, and its first year of advertising was profitable, he says. Ocamb, by the way, is now a contributor to the paper.

Some other publishers tell similar stories of viability, as does the National Gay Media Association, a trade association representing LGBT media in 12 U.S. markets, including the Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Washington papers as well as San Francisco's Bay Area Reporter, New York's Gay City News, South Florida Gay News, and more.

"Circulation in overall LGBT media is up more than 13 percent year over year, and advertising in LGBT media is also up in 2016," says a prepared statement from the group. "LGBT regional print media continue to be a proven way to reach the LGBT community across the U.S." None of the Multimedia Platforms properties were members of the association.

That's not to say there aren't challenges facing LGBT media. "Mainstream" media are covering LGBT issues more than ever before, and generally with greater understanding. Marriage equality and other advances may make some readers question if there's a need for LGBT-focused outlets, even though full equality is far from won. The recent staff cuts at AfterEllen, a website aimed at queer women nationwide, raises questions about how much attention will go to women's concerns -- and if advertisers are willing to court bi women and lesbians. And there's a need to have an online presence in addition to print.

"I think media in general is experiencing an evolution ... but niche media is doing better than mass media," says Cusimano. The Voice, he says, has had a 13 percent increase in circulation over last year, and sales to national advertisers are up 21 percent over last year.

Despite the explosion of online media, there is a place for print, Cusimano says, given that there are often ad blockers on web browsers and mobile apps. He notes the importance of national LGBT media, like The Advocate, but says it means something different when a company advertises in a local LGBT outlet versus a national one. With an ad in a national publication, he says, the advertiser is speaking to "us"; with one in a local outlet, it's speaking to "me." This creates brand loyalty; he buys Bridgestone tires, he says, because Bridgestone advertises in the Voice.

And as for readers, says Brown, there's the experience of holding a newspaper in your hands -- which a lot of readers still like.

And local LGBT media will retain readers as long as they retain a local focus, the publishers say. "We are hyperlocal," says Cusimano, while Brown says her philosophy is "local, local, local, niche, niche, niche."

"I'm incredibly bullish on gay media, niche media," Brown says.

Adds Cusimano: "As long as there is a sense of community, there will always be a place for LGBT media."

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