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Newspaper Owner Details Last-Ditch Effort to Save the Blade


Following the startling announcement on Monday that Window Media had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, with properties including the Washington Blade facing certain liquidation, a northern Virginia newspaper owner has stepped forward with an account of his eleventh-hour attempt to save the venerable D.C.-based gay publication.

Nicholas F. Benton, the gay owner of the Falls Church News-Press, a progressive Washington, D.C.- area weekly, told The Advocate that he was urged by friends at the Blade to contact the Small Business Administration in July and made a last-ditch offer to salvage the publication, which was already on borrowed time. The SBA had forced Avalon Equity Fund, owner of Window Media, into receivership after Avalon, which had borrowed $39 million in loans from the SBA, violated its contract by failing to maintain required levels of private money.

"I contacted the SBA and they seemed to be willing to entertain an offer to spin free the assets of the Blade from the liquidation process," said Benton, the owner of Benton Communications Inc., which is certified as an LGBT business enterprise by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

The offer from Benton ultimately included cash (he declined to disclose the amount), an assertion against the assumption of any debt and liability, and an understanding that the Blade would continue to be published through the transitional period.

"I didn't see getting rich out of the deal," Benton said. "But I did see perpetuating the legacy and keeping people in their jobs and serving the community regionally, locally, and nationally."

The SBA apparently favored the idea too. In September, Benton learned that the agency had accepted his offer, one of a few bids that existed, he recalled.

"We had a conference call that said, 'You win,'" he said. "The attitude at the time was, 'How can we get this done?' There was essentially agreement on the broader parameters."

As October wore on, Benton said, his lawyer attempted to iron out the specifics of the purchase and sale agreement. The attorney expected that Window Media would first file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with a separate agreement worked out to rescue the Blade before liquidation of other properties began. But according to Benton, Window Media copresident and chief financial officer Steve Myers said that some "very minor things" remained before he could close the deal.

"We never actually would up seeing what those 'minor things' were," Benton said.

On Monday, Benton learned along with the public that the SBA had shuttered all publications owned by Avalon through Window Media and its sibling entity, Unite Media. SBA spokesman Mike Kamler told Keen News Service on Monday that it wasn't his organization's decision to shut down the newspapers and that it had "solicited offers for some potential new owners to take over the Blade and forwarded those offers" to Window Media.

Window Media executives have not returned calls from The Advocate requesting comment.

"The Blade's been lost," Benton said. "If you're here in Washington, D.C., that's a big deal. There's no way you can get that back."
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