Southern Voice Magazine Closes, May Reincarnate

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(APN) ATLANTA — Employees of Southern Voice and David magazines showed up to work on Monday, November 16, 2009, to find the locks on the door changed and a short note, reading: “It is with GREAT regret that we must inform you that effective immediately, the operations of Window Media, LCC and Unite Media, LLC have closed down. Please return to this office on WEDNESDAY, November 18th, 2009, at 11:00 AM to collect personal belongings and to receive information on your separation stipulations.”

“Please bring boxes and/or containers that will allow you to collect all your personal belongings at one time. Regretfully, Steve Myers, Mike Kitchens,” the note said.

Dyana Bagby, News Editor for the now-defunct Southern Voice, told Atlanta Progressive News it was hurtful and offensive, and that they could have at least called her on Sunday to say the locks had been changed.

Southern Voice’s parent company, Window Media, had gone into federal receivership when its major stakeholder, Avalon, defaulted on a loan to the Small Business Administration.

Window Media owned not only the two Atlanta publications, but also the Washington Blade based in Washington, DC, the Houston Voice, the South Florida Blade, and 411 Magazine.

Activists worry that, without Southern Voice, there will be no other print publication to provide original, full-length reporting of interest to homosexual, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and intersex Atlantans.

However, Atlanta Progressive News has learned that the original founder of Southern Voice, Chris Cash, who sold the paper to Window Media about a dozen years ago, has initiated talks with Southern Voice’s erstwhile Editor Laura Brown to raise the funds to start a new paper.

According to media reports, the Washington, DC staff of the former Blade has already started working on plans to put out a paper next week, even if they have to print it at Kinko’s.

Cash posted a quick note on Southern Voice’s Facebook page asking anyone interested in starting a new paper to contact her by email. She’s gotten “tons of response, yeah, tons of response,” she told APN.

“So myself and Laura Douglas Brown… we have been talking a lot the last few days and… I’m sure other people are doing the same,” Cash said.

“We’ve been talking about what can be done to fill the gap. It’s not possible to buy Southern Voice out of the liqidation, it’s too saddled with debt. A new publication would have to be started. I’m hoping within the next couple weeks we’re gonna have a meeting. Laura and I certainly have our own ideas about what we think would work,” Cash said.

Windows Media filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy which means it would cease to exist rather than restructure.

When Creative Loafing, parent company of Atlanta’s Creative Loafing magazine, faced bankruptcy earlier this year, staff members there also felt confident that they would be sold, probably to their creditors, rather than simply shut down. Southern Voice staffers also thought the same thing, but apparently, they were wrong.

The reason Creative Loafing is still in existence today despite the bankruptcy, as previously reported by APN, is that Creative Loafing’s main creditor, Atalaya, could only get their money back by bidding on the newspapers and making them profitable.

Therefore, it is unclear as to why Southern Voice would simply fold, when obviously the SBA is not going to get their money–taxpayers’ money–back in the process. The SBA told the Washington Post newspaper that the SBA was not responsible for the closure and that the SBA had been trying to secure the sale of at least two of Window Media’s papers. The SBA says it communicated at least two purchase offers to Window Media through Avalon.

STAFF REACTION

“I was shocked by the sign. I didn’t know that this was happening. I had no inclinck this was gonna happen. We’d obviously been having problems financially, like every other newspaper. But it [was] fully expected to be sold. I really thought we’d be sold,” Bagby told APN.

Bagby also said she thought the paper had turned the corner after a strong Gay Pride issue and some good advertising revenue coming in.

“I went to the unemployment office today,” Bagby said.

“Especially for the queer community, I thought that we shared stories that people were willing to share about their lives, we reported on news that was important to our community, politics, we tried to cover the arts and nightlife scene as well,” Bagby said.

“I loved working at Sovo. I loved what I did. I loved what I hope to continuing doing, and I think Sovo did the best it could to serve a great community,” Bagby said.

“We have a meeting on Wednesday and that’s all I know,” Bagby said.

“I think it’s a loss, it leads a void for the lgbt community for that specific voice that people may not be able to hear. The print industry is going through a tough time, but I still believe it has a place,” Bagby said.

COMMUNITY REACTION

“I think it’s terrible,” Betty Couvertier, host of Alternative Perspectives on WRFG 89.3 FM, said. “At a time when the glbt is front and center in the news on all scores, we have no paper media to cover those stories.”

“Who’s gonna sit in at the Capitol at the hearings and stuff? Who’s gonna go to the community meetings and get the scoop on what’s going on in organizations? Who’s gonna get the scoop nationally, when ENDA is being postponed as of today in Congress?”

As for the idea of Sovo writers starting their own publication, “I think that the community would really really support that. And Donna [Narducci, former Pride director] alluded to maybe a fundraiser or something to help the writers because they haven’t been paid in several weeks.”

“If they themselves started something up, they’re well known in the community, and they have relationships with many of us. I think indeed they’d be supported,” Couvertier said.

ROLE OF PROJECT Q ATLANTA

Within the last year, former Sovo staffer Matt Hennie launched his own, online-only publication, Project Q Atlanta, that in the meantime will have to pick up a lot of the slack.

“I was there with the company for 8 years, the last five of which as editor, and left in 2006. Laura was my news editor; when I left she was promoted,” Hennie said.

“I’m surprised by how abruptly the company collapsed. It’s certainly been in federal receivership for more than a year. There’s no surprise they were having financial difficulties. My guess is the shrill tone of the letter [is an indication] of how quickly things fell apart this weekend,” Hennie said.

“It’s unfortunate and I’m sure it makes it more hurtful for the great employees over there to find out that way,” Hennie said.

“It’s a big loss. Those are big shoes to fill, Southern Voice has been around for two decades and has been there to cover the big milestones and big setbacks in the push for gay equality. For other outlets that are out there, it makes that job more difficult,” Hennie said.

“Southern Voice is quite a smaller operation than a few years ago, but they still had the largest assemblage of gay and lesbian reporters to go chase after stories and the media landscape doesn’t have that now,” Hennie said.

Hennie launched Project Q Atlanta in September 2008. “I wanted to get back into gay media. I’d been out of it for 2 years after leaving the paper and wanted to step back into it and felt that there was a niche that needed to be filled,” Hennie said.

“Southern Voice did a great job with its print publication but left some openings online, so I went after that opening,” Hennie said.

“Our approach to things was looking to get back to really the roots Southern Voice grew from, which was to be community-focused, to be out there covering community events and community groups, gay sports leagues and some of the things that were clearly neglected,” Hennie said.

“Project Q can dig down into different stories that are of interest to a particular readership, the kind of approach you guys [at Atlanta Progressive News] have,” Hennie said. “Essentially, we took advantage of the shift in consumer taste and the movement towards people getting their news and information online,” Hennie said.

“Southern Voice leaves behind some big shoes to fill. Certainly there’s some opportunities for us. At this point we’re letting the dust settle and looking to see how we can better serve the gay and lesbian population in Atlanta,” Hennie said.

“Clearly the paper’s demise leaves a void and certainly we want to be among those that fill that,” Hennie said.

Other than Project Q, and the nightlife publications like Gaydar and Pocket Rocket, “there’s not really any sort of [glbt] news and information site like Southern Voice.”

Hennie acknowledged that Project Q is a unique mix of more formal news stories along with features focusing on hot guys, or articles such as, “Want arms of death? Don’t forget to work on those triceps.”

“Our approach is to be fun when we can and serious when we need to be. There’s certain pieces that we do that appeal to different audience segments in the glbt community. There’s news, there’s opinionated blog posts, and there’s a little fun flesh offerings to draw people in as well,” Hennie said.

Mike Flemming, a former arts editor at Sovo and editor at David Magazine, joined Hennie as an equity partner in September of this year.

“I’d love to hire Laura Brown right now but I don’t have the money,” Hennie added.

POSSIBLE REINCARNATION OF SOVO

“We’re gonna call a meeting of anyone who’s interested, ex-staffers, ex-volunteers, anyone who’s been connected with Southern Voice after 21 years, and have a huge meeting and do some brainstorming and hopefully something will come of that, and hopefully sooner rather than later,” Cash said.

“The gay and lesbian community in Atlanta, they’re taking this very, very hard and understandably so.. we need a viable quality publication and we’re going to try to make that happen,” Cash said.

Cash said the group will unlikely to be able to launch anything before January 01, 2010. “Unfortunately we’ll miss out on those holiday and election [advertising] opportunities. It’s just not possible to get something off the ground that fast,” Cash said.

“It’s starting over again. It’s not taking what’s there, equipment and files and physical space and walking in there and doing it, it’s gonna take a little while,” Cash said.

“All of this is just talk at this point. I can’t speak for Laura, but I’m certainly committed to doing whatever I can to help to make this happen. But there are lots of hurtles to overcome before it does happen,” Cash said.

When asked whether Southern Voice could operate without an office, with writers filing on laptops and even cell phones, “it could be in the very, very beginning,” Cash said. “From my own experience of launching a newspaper I know how very, very important it is for camraderie and unification of the staff that they be together and that they have immediate access to one another.”

Cash recalled that she co-founded the original Southern Voice, which she calls Southern Voice 1, in 1988. “It was essentially me, I had a business partner who was also my life partner at the time that I brought on fairly early on because it was growing so big and so fast, I couldn’t handle it by myself, to handle the business side while I handled the editorial side. We kind of split up things that way.”

Windows Media approached Cash regarding purchasing Southern Voice from her in 1996; she sold it the following year. Windows Media went on to purchase other glbt publications in other cities.

After the paper was sold, “it changed in ways I didn’t anticipate and I did not agree with, but it didn’t change so much that I felt like it wasn’t still doing a service to the community,” Cash said. “There were certainly both business and editorial principles that I strictly adhered to that were not adhered to by the people who bought us [the new management].”

Asked whether Cash believes the new Sovo should go online-only, “I realize that I’m going against the grain with this, but I do not believe print is dead,” Cash said.

“I still think people like to hold something in their hands, they like to have something physical. I think it’s important from both a historical perspective and keeping us grounded to the Earth,” Cash said.

“Laura and I fully expect things [other publications] to pop up, more than one, before we get our product out there,” Cash said. “Let the best publication win. We’ll see who’s around in 5 years. In Sovo 1, I watched a lot of publications come and go.”

“The new one [Sovo reincarnation] will not employ 30 people [as the recent Southern Voice did]. We’re gonna be small and lean and mean. That’s the way I started out. I’m used to that, I believe in that, I believe that’s the way to go,” Cash said.

“That’s part of the problem for the people who bought Sovo. They thought they were some kind of big budget mainstream media outlet, and that’s not what Sovo was. It was a community-based advocacy publication, and they tried to be something else,” Cash said.

“It makes me very sad to think that it is gone. On the other hand, life is all about change. I’d like to think life is all about progress and I honestly believe that something even better will fill the gap,” Cash said.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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