ATLANTA - The nation's largest publisher of newspapers serving the gay and lesbian community has shut down and plans to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Employees arrived at work Monday morning to find out about the sudden end to the newspapers owned by Window Media LLC. At Southern Voice newspaper in Atlanta, editor Laura Douglas-Brown said the locks were changed at her office and a note was posted on the door.
She said the company's other publications - including the Washington Blade, Houston Voice and South Florida Blade - were also being closed.
"From my understanding, there was just no more money to keep these companies running," she said in a telephone interview Monday as she sat with her former employees outside their locked Atlanta office. "We had all been told that the companies would be sold. The fact that we were shut down was a complete shock."
The company's financial trouble stemmed from a number of factors. Besides an industrywide drop in advertising revenue amid the economic meltdown, mainstream publications are writing more about gay and lesbian issues, reducing dependency on niche publications such as Window Media's.
"Window Media long provided a very special outlet for the gay community to learn about itself way before there were a lot of other places to find that type of thing," said Michael Musto, an openly gay writer for the Village Voice in New York, which is owned by Village Voice Media Holdings. "This was the gay community writing about itself, and that's a voice we should never lose."
Steven Myers, co-president of Window Media in Washington, D.C., declined comment.
He said he'd be able to talk more about the closures later this week.
Few details were available on the planned Chapter 7 filing. Unlike Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases, which protect companies from creditors as they reorganize and continue to operate, Chapter 7 involves shutting down and liquidating assets.
The company had been struggling financially since last year. The company's majority stockholder, New York City-based Avalon Equity Partners, was taken over by the U.S. Small Business Administration in August 2008, administration spokesman Dennis Byrne said. He said the SBA does not expect to recover the $7 million that Avalon invested in Window Media.
Avalon owner David Unger said he was "not involved any more," then hung up the phone abruptly.
Just last month, the Washington Blade, the oldest newspaper in the U.S. for gays and lesbians with a circulation of 30,000, celebrated its 40th anniversary. Former editor Kevin Naff said he was greeted Monday morning by Window Media corporate employees who told him of the company's demise.
He said the staff was planning to meet Tuesday to discuss starting another gay newspaper under a new name.
"We are united," Naff said by telephone. "It's sad what's happened but hopefully there's a new door about to open."