Monday, January 30, 2006

Bloodbath at the Blade; Heads Roll

Veteran journalist Bob Roehr, whose stories run in gay and health-related publications across the country, has graciously granted me permission to post his story on the troubles at the Blade.

Gay Publishing Chain Fires Senior Staff
By Bob Roehr - - freelance
30 Jan 06

There is blood all over the floor at Window Media as staff has been axed
in at attempt to raise profits at the gay media company that owns
publications in several markets. Its flagship is the Washington Blade.

Company president William Waybourn was the first head to roll. The Blade's
part time webmaster maintains a personal blog of his daily life, On January 15 he posted the scuttlebutt at work about
Waybourn's abrupt departure, along with fixing chicken piccatta for dinner
that night.

When Gay City News in New York City began inquiring, the company quickly
posted a press release of Waybourn's "retirement" on its website, on
January 20.

The release did not announce any other departures from the company.
However, a person familiar with the situation said that a number of other
senior employees also were terminated about the same time. They include
controller Barnette Holston and sales director Carrie Fisher in
Washington, and Southern Voice editor Matt Hennie in Atlanta, plus lower
level production and administrative personnel in both cities.

The source, and others who discussed the situation at Window Media, had
financial and personal reasons for not wanting to be quoted by name.

Waybourn and Chris Crain founded Window Media with a group of private
investors in 1996 to purchase Southern Voice in Atlanta. The company
subsequently purchased newspapers in Houston and New Orleans, though it
closed the latter.

The company's big expansion came in 2001 when it purchased the Washington
Blade and New York Blade for $3.6 million. That purchase required a
million dollar loan from the Silicon Valley Bank, which was later
defaulted on.

Avalon Equity Partners, a New York City venture capital group, also
bankrolled a big part of the acquisition and in the process became the
major shareholder of Window Media. Venture capital firms typically want
either high returns on their investment and/or a a relatively quick resale
of the company. Waybourn and Crain remained in charge of day to day

The transition at the Blades did not go smoothly. The staff was unhappy
with the new management and attempted to organize a union, but failed.
There was significant turnover in personnel, either voluntarily or not so

This history of playing hardball is known to the now former employees and
it has them publicly biting their tongues, at least until their final
paychecks have been received and cleared the bank.

Two of the previous owners of the Blades, Don Michaels and James Lamont,
had helped finance the sale by agreeing to deferred payments with interest
spread out over seven years. But little more than a year later they were
in court suing for nonpayment and attempts by Window to retroactively
lower the purchase price. That legal wrangling dragged on until 2005.

Window Media blamed their poor financial performance in 2002 on a drop in
advertising and an increase in newsprint costs that affected all US

The New York Blade had broken even on a good year but never made
significant profit in its history. After several years of trying to make
it profitable, the new owners ?merged? it with the New York bar Guide HX
in 2005 and it effectively disappeared.

But despite failing with publication in New Orleans and New York and
closing them, the group continued to acquire properties. They include
decidedly "lighter" publications in Atlanta and south Florida, plus the
national magazine Genre. Those subsequent purchases were made through a
different corporate entity but are managed by Window Media.

Chris Crain remains as executive editor of the publications. But given his
high salary and the attitudes of Avalon principal David Unger toward news
and profits, speculation is rampant as to how much longer Crain will be


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