media

Window Media’s Demise Can Be Blamed on Its Leaders, Not the Marketplace

windowmediacollage

It’s an easy task to attack Window Media for faulty business practices that led to the company’s demise. But so far, the most stinging commentary on the closure of the Blade newspapers comes from competitor Thomas E. Horn, publisher of the Bay Area Reporter, who just called out Window’s brass for sinking the ship all on their own. That is: It wasn’t the fault of the gay print media marketplace, but terrible leadership.

Says Horn: “Window Media has been is serious financial trouble for some time for reasons mostly unrelated to the general decline in newspaper advertising and the economic downtown. They leveraged their assets, including their newspapers, to fund acquisition, expansion and Web development by obtaining a huge Small Business Association loan which they were unable to service and resulted in their being put in involuntary receivership. I do not believe that the failure of Window Media means the failure of LGBT newspapers in the major population centers where they are located. Gay newspapers that have prudent management and business practices, such as the B.A.R., the Philadelphia Gay News, and the Dallas Voice, just to name three, continue to succeed.”

Ouch!

The Washington Blade, which celebrated 40 years of publishing this year, was trailed by Horn’s own B.A.R., which this year celebrates 39 years of publishing. And it’s coming to steal that record.

MarkSegal-courtesyPGN-web

UPDATE: Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal joins the chorus of those denouncing Window’s management. His statement reads in part:

If you do your journalism correctly, you will be
relevant, trusted and a necessity to your community. That brings readers,
which brings advertisers, which pays the bills. Your first line of
advertisers should be the community itself, which should support its
publication of record. Next are the gay-friendly and non-gay businesses in
gay neighborhoods and the non-gay businesses frequented by the LGBT
community. And once that is in line, it should cover your bottom line. Any
national advertising that comes your way is the cream of the business.

Of course, you still need basic business practices and leadership to bring
it together. Here’s a possible example of how the above rules applied to the
Washington Blade. Window Media and their other partners began their course
of destruction when Chris Crane discredited and cheapened what was one of
the nation’s leading LGBT publications (he even included a “Bitch Session”
column and hired a former escort as a political columnist). That led to a
decline in advertising, which resulted in cutting ad rates to undercut
competition. At the same time, David Unger, head of Window, went on a
publication-buying spree with money guaranteed by the Small Business
Administration. They had a sinking ship and went further in debt. When Crane
was let go/resigned, the Blade began to regain its stature but, still under
Unger’s leadership it continued to buy other publications and cut benefits.
Various business arrangements with other publications, such as HX, entered
the Blade world. Who owned what became blurred. Lack of trust from readers
and advertisers, a possible fight among partners and an ensuing host of
lawsuits spelled the end.

This cocktail of failure was about Window and Window alone. It affects the
employees of those publications and the cities they serve, but not any other
local publications anywhere in the nation.

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37 Comments

  • Tarcash

    Does whoever posts the blogs here ever proof it? Come on, this is pathetic. “Media’s Failure Be Can”? What are you, an idiot?

  • scott ny'er

    LOL. Naw, probably like most people and companies today, they rush to get things done and thus mistakes happen.

    Everything is always due yesterday.

  • Cam

    The DC Baltimore area has other successful local news sources. Two notable ones being Metro Weekly and Baltimore Out Loud. MW wouldn’t have been able to step up it’s game if the Blade hadn’t left a massive hole in the marketplace, i.e. local news. The Blade, as people have said before, just started running all the same stories that Southern Voice and all the other Windows Media papers ran. There were several gay businesses that did not have good relationships with the Blade anymore and went over to the other gay papers. This could have never happened when the Blade was a local paper and only concerned about Washington Area businesses and advertisers. Perhaps some fault can be passed around, but I really think most of the issue was Windows media.

  • Qjersey

    …greed at work, again. You know the leadership at Windows Media didn’t forget to pay themselves.

  • Lady Ga-Gasp

    I think Horn steps all over his point here. I read someplace that 1000 (was it?) gay pubs have closed, and that the number of gay bookstores (where many gay pubs are sold or distributed free) has dropped by 80 or more percent in the last decade.

    So whither the web… the strategy for WIndow Media was on its face not a bad one: leverage a content management system (one content management system) and ad server across all the properties.

    Benefit from scale by pooling reports from regional or local pubs — acquired by the parent.

    Borrow money to do that.

    Anyone who thinks this sort of approach doesn’t happen every day in the media business (and every other kind of business) doesn’t know anything about business.

    The problem is that in order for such “leveraging” to succeed, the winds have to be behind your back, and in this case they weren’t.

    No doubt management (ugh. Management.) played a significant role in terms of hitting the gas pedal without the skill to make the curves, but that isn’t the only reason.

    These guys didn’t buy a cruise line and blow $5 million on the QE2 (like PlanetOut), they didn’t hang out in lavish offices that drained revenue off the top. They didn’t appear to be weighted down by too many Vice Presidents and other “executives” (Ugh. Executives).

    And still it all blew up.

    Back in the day there was the Club Bath’s chain. It was a national chain of gay bath houses in major cities. It thrived until AIDS did it in.

    Those regional and local pubs that still exist by remaining small, nimble and frugal are rightfully entitled to be proud of hanging in there. But many of their sister pubs have not. Its not over yet.

  • Leona

    Window Media was built on highly questionable business assumptions from day one. Here’s a very enlightening report from the Washington City Paper, back in 2002, about the situation that Window created from day one in the way they bought the Blade, treated their employees, and the community at large:

    http://65.79.227.222/display.php?id=23570

    Their treatment of the Blade’s founder, Don Michaels, and other legal and fiscal woes is recalled in the 2nd item here, an archived story from LGNY (now Gay City News):

    http://tinyurl.com/ydu2dnq

    Choice excerpt:

    Both Crain and Waybourn say time will show that Window Media is a strong company with plans to improve the access to and coverage of gay and lesbian news across the nation.

    “Time will prove our detractors wrong,” Waybourn added.

  • Keith Kimmel

    I like how they think that this cant happen to other publications or that this does not affect other pubs. This comes at a time when our local fag rag is apparently considering splitting itself into two separate papers because the gay community here, forever whining, thinks that MetroStar is too Tulsa-centric and doesn’t cover Oklahoma City enough.

  • Lady Ga-Gasp

    @Leona: I agree. The number 1 highly questionable business assumption is: does any investment in print media make sense considering that its online twin will drain top line revenue well into the future. That’s the problem. Just go ask the New York times about their acquisition of the Boston Globe. Hard news coverage is in danger everywhere in print. Blaming the names you name just smacks of a personal vendetta and not a hard look at the business issues.

  • Leona

    A long string of reports and court documents is not a “hard look at the business issues?” Hon, I want what you’re drinking.

  • hardmannyc

    I agree with everything both publishers say, except for Segal blaming the Blade’s demise on Crain’s admittedly idiotic editorial decisions. (He could have mentioned Crain’s equally bad, if not worse, managerial style, which was basically not do anything except intimidate everyone else.)

    Fact is, most advertisers don’t care about the political bent of the content, as long as there’s nothing offensive in the accompanying art.

  • Lady Ga-Gasp

    Paraphrasing an April ’09 Bilerico article — In 1994, the combined U.S. mailing list of “gay and gay-friendly” stores was roughly 400. Now, according to the Lambda Literary Foundation, there are fewer than 60. Is that Window Media management’s fault, too? A vast conspiracy of people we don’t like out to take down gay print?

    You can still buy a book on Amazon, of course, but not the Southern Voice. The ecosystem is not on our side right now. It just isn’t.

    I wish it were true that if just people we like were running the show, everything would turn out better, but that is magical thinking. Times are changing, and the future of publishing is the web, simple as that.

  • Leona

    There are far more than 400 “gay and gay-friendly stores” in the entire nation. Within the Washington Blade’s distribution area alone, I can identify at least 100 such businesses: just flip through a copy of Metro Weekly, or the defunct Blade, for proof.

    And I’m glad you focused on local stores, because Window Media’s own managers didn’t. On this very blog and elsewhere, you can find David Unger quotes where he blames the company’s demise on supposedly “homophobic” major national advertisers for not buying space. He mentions Target as an example.

    Anyone with a shred of experience in local community publishing will tell you, as PGN’s owner does above, that national ads are just extra revenue icing. The real nutrition is to be found in countless local independent advertisers. They pay more per square inch for their space than do larger ad purchasers, they’re more likely to sign contracts, and they’re more likely to keep extending their contracts. They get you through the lean times. Again, look at the papers that are surviving, some thriving, despite the economy and the ‘Net.

    You have to do a couple things, though: focus on local content, treat local business leaders and community leaders with respect, and go to work every day telling yourself you run local newspapers, instead of seeing the word “mogul” or “chain” when you look in the mirror, and dreaming of national advertising baubles and other bragging rights.

  • Lady Ga-Gasp

    They were referring to bookstores.

  • Leona

    Fine. For distribution pts, let’s talk Metro stations. Blade had boxes at each of them. treet corner boxes too. Libraries. Clubs. Salons. Restaurants. Hardware stores. Doctors offices. Coffee Shops.

    For decades, and up until Monday, the Blade was at all of them. For those same decades, there were only four LGBT bookstores max in their DC distribution area, one or two today, and friendly bookstores were always a very small % of their dist. So, local bookstores were never the foundation of their distribution.

    Yes, the ‘Net is more expansive. But when it comes to eating at their P&L statements, the ‘Net was nothing compared to the debt load they incurred at inception, increased with subsequent ill-advised acquisitions, and blew on a revolving door of senior managers. I won’t even repeat the editorial follies: Jeff Gannon as columnist says it all. If that’s how they treated their readers en masse, you should ask around town how they treated employees, business and community leaders face to face.

    You’re right about the ‘Net being the future of media, but dead wrong about what’s to blame for Window’s past, in the tragedy of this week. An avalanche of reports, expert commentary, and court documents display a company built like a house of cards. A house that hubris built.

  • Johnny

    It would be doing your readers a service if you could warn us before posting that fat ham’s face on your wall.

    I always think of the Tootsie line – can you pull the camera back – how far? – cleveland.

    Just more of his own back-slapping dribble, because there’s no one better at kissing his own fat ass than him. For those who don’t live in Philadelphia – you’re lucky you’ve never met this horrid individual.

  • Lady Ga-Gasp

    Jesus, Johnny. You and Leona need to attend a meeting together.

  • Leona

    (so much for sticking to “the business issues” there, Lady)

  • Johnny

    OK – a little off topic. but jeez – he has the ‘moral compass’ of bernie madoff – he’s the last person that should be passing out lessons. you should see him ‘shake down’ politicians and others for advertisements and more – truly revolting. a true reptile.

  • Mark

    Put David Unger and Mike Kitchens in jail!

  • hardmannyc

    You know, something, Johnny: He may be a sleazebag, but he’s managing to keep his newspaper in business.

  • Leona

    Exsqueeze me, but PGN is a solid local newspaper. A few warts? Sure, but it never aimed for the kind of gloss that gave us lots of reality show celeb schlock and advice in how to shop. PGN reflects its town, like the Blade used to, and started to again recently, until this implosion.

    Here’s a news inquiry for Queerty: were Window Media’s employees even treated in accord with the local laws in the cities where they were treated like used up pack mules instead of like human beings who’d given more late nights to the company than anyone could count?

  • charles

    Mark Segal of PGN fame can barely form a sentence without the noun “I”. His constant back patting for his past efforts becomes so exhausting to read. PGN is irrelevant to the community EXCEPT for the local advertising. THAT he gets right – but at the expense of any sense of journalism.

  • OrganizerJeff

    David Unger was personally responsible for the demise of gay media. He should be ashamed of himself.

  • HellsKitchen

    PGN had credibility and has been run with the utmost integrity. Many Window Media employees were to be celebrated – but David Unger was so obsessed with himself, being a “mogul” that he took a dump on anyone in his way up the ladder. He is a disgrace to his profession.

  • AlGory

    How is it that, The Washington Blade is gone, and yet, from what I hear, that piece of crap South Florida Blade is not???

  • DEEPTHROAT

    To Mark: “Put David Unger and Mike Kitchens in jail!”
    Mike and Steve Myers were just as much victims of Unger’s ill-conceived business plan as the rest of the employees. By the time they realized what was happening, the spiral was already in full swing. There was a valient attempt to make it work. Just wasn’t in the cards. Time to take your finger off the trigger. Mark’s List Magazine and a new Florida paper are already being published next week. Not a week was lost in the SoFlo market! Go to http://www.savetheblade.com and watch former employees raise the phoenix in DC with the DC Agenda. The voids will be filled with new and dynamic organizations. Good luck to all.

  • DEEPTHROAT

    To AlGory- The South Florida Blade is also gone. Pay attention dickhead.

  • AlGory

    @ Deepthroat: Um, dickhead? What a moron you are Deepthroat (at least my name is much more original than yours. Showing ur age bitch?) The editor of the South Florida Blade says they’re back in business. Need I get you the link darling or can you do it on your own?

  • DaBitch

    I say, good riddance to all this crap. Burn these papers!

  • Leona

    “Mike [Kitchens] and Steve Myers were just as much victims of Unger’s ill-conceived business plan as the rest of the employees. By the time they realized what was happening, the spiral was already in full swing.”

    Wasn’t Kitchens there from the earliest days of Window’s ownership of SoVo?

    He’s an apparatchik and enabler, not a virgin who woke up recently. Being spineless does not excuse you from what you’ve helped create (or destroy) every step of the way.

  • san marco

    If those Window Media owners were not there still, why blaming them for newspaper dying today? Sounding like who there was left is one to blame.

  • Leona

    Because they bought things they couldn’t afford, and kept doing it until just a couple years ago. If you bought houses and cars and boats with other people’s money, then left a recent wife and kids with all the stuff and the debt burden, they couldn’t make the payments and declared bankruptcy and ended up on the street, would it be primarily their fault or yours?

    Read the linked articles above, it’s all been covered: debt burdens all along killed the company, along with too many VPs and senior managers (at local newspapers, you either write, or you sell ads, or you’re a luxury that payroll cannot afford).

  • san marco

    You say like they did not know who they marry.

  • Leona

    San: Did you bother to read any of the backing info in the original post, or linked above? Read the info, it’s all there. Court documents, lawsuits, defaults. Facts are facts.

  • Robert

    To the fat, balding jerkoffs from Philadelphia Gay News:
    “Bitch session” was a GREAT IDEA! Window Media failed due to Unger’s buying spree, NOT Chris Crain’s great idea. So f*ck off now, fat over-the-hill SOB’s.

  • DEEPTHROAT

    To AlGory, the Dickhead: SoFlo Blade is gone honey bunny. Florida Agenda takes over as a new paper, new owners. Just as the Washington Blade is gone and the DC Agenda rises to fill a void.

  • Robert

    To Horn: it’s “Administration,” NOT “Association.” As in, “Small Business Administration.” Thanks for showing your ignorance.

    Window Media failed due to Unger’s buying spree, overleveraging, and the economic downturn hit to finish it off. No other reason.

    If I want serious news, I can read it on the internet…when I walk into a gay club to pick up a glossy, I want ENTERTAINMENT, FASHION, and SEX TIPS. So Window Media had that right. They just overleveraged themselves.

Comments are closed.