South Florida Blade editor Dan Renzi stopped by his Wilton Manors office last Sunday evening to check his email, and encountered a strange sight. Michael Kitchens, co-president of Blade parent company Window Media LLC, was standing at the front door, crying.
"He looked at me and said, 'You can't go in. We're done," Renzi says.
It was a dramatic scene, bolstered the next day by news reports that Window Media, the nation's largest gay newspaper group, had suddenly shut down. The Southern Voice in Atlanta and the Washington Blade in D.C were unceremoniously shuttered, prompting
concerns across the country that gay and lesbian media was dead.
But Renzi says the hand-wringing in South Florida was overblown. On Monday,
employees at the Blade and its sister publication, 411 Magazine,
were back at work, with new office space and computers provided by the
publications' new owners, Oakland Park-based Multimedia Platforms.
According to Renzi, Window Media had been in financial trouble for months. The company's majority stockholder, the New York investment firm Avalon Equity Partners, was forced into receivership by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) last year.
This fall, Multimedia Platforms began negotiating to buy the Blade and 411. But before the sale could close, Window Media announced plans to file for bankruptcy and its papers shut down. Multimedia Platforms decided to take the money for the sale and start two new publications instead.
"We were ready for this to happen. This was no shock," Renzi says.
For months, Renzi says he had been urging Window Media executives to revamp the Blade's website, send out email blasts, and generally make the paper more interactive and responsive to readers in the digital age. His suggestions were shot down, he says.
(The Juice called Window Media headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday to get the company's response, but there was no answer, just an automated message saying, "The person you are trying to reach is not able to receive your calls.")
Now, because Multimedia Platforms co-owns the popular local gay website Mark's List, it can have the best of the print and digital worlds, Renzi says. 411 will become Mark's List Magazine, and the Blade will continue as a yet-to be-named newspaper that's published every other week.
Most of the writers, designers and photographers from the old publications have stayed on staff, Renzi says.
The new paper will still have community news and political commentary -- "We'll cover Charlie Crist," he says -- but will also contain more features, "because you want to lighten up once in awhile."
Having packed up his Hello Kitty vacuum cleaner and the rubber chicken from his old Blade office, Renzi is ready for a new start.
"We're finally alive again. We're off and running," he says.