City Paper is not for tourists
You might think that Washington Post staff writer Hank Stuever is a Metro Weekly kind of guy. He has twice graced the cover of the publication, a weekly LGBT glossy that subsists on kitschy interviews, party coverage, hot guys—and local gay news. Stuever met his long-term boyfriend, Michael Wichita, during his first cover shoot, back in 2002. In typical Metro Weekly fashion, Stuever was instructed to dress as an “old-timey paperboy.” Earlier this month, Stuever completed his second cover stint for the mag. This time, he allowed Metro Weekly to gift-wrap him like a human Christmas present and top him with an oversize bow, upon the release of his book, Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present.
Despite the exposure, Stuever insists he doesn’t choose sides between Metro Weekly and its longtime rival, the Washington Blade. For years, Stuever has picked up both publications at 14th Street gay bar the Green Lantern every Friday evening. He reads them both cover to cover. That weekend ritual positions the 41-year-old Stuever smack in the middle of D.C.’s great gay media divide: Are you a Metro Weekly man? Or are you a Blade man?
The clearest difference between the two publications is age. The Blade started publishing 40 years ago. People grew old with the Blade. Metro Weekly is 15. People read Metro Weekly to recapture their youth. The Blade man wants up-to-the minute details of Jim Graham’s latest publicity stunt. The Metro Weekly man is more interested in the movements of guys like Emore’J C., a 23-year-old modeling coach who works in a lotion shop and is currently a finalist for Metro Weekly’s “Nightlife Coverboy of the Year.” The Blade is 9-to-5. Metro Weekly is happy hour. While the Blade is ready to protest, Metro Weekly is ready to party.
Which Team Are You On?
Though some claim to read both Metro Weekly and the Washington Blade/DC Agenda, there is no such thing as a Metro Weekly-Blade kinda guy. You’re either one or the other, as the following breakdown shows.
Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham: Metro Weekly
Outspoken and embattled legislator is famous for having an original Mapplethorpe print. Also has a longstanding interest in bars and nightclubs.
Adrian M. Fenty: Metro Weekly
Via all those taxpayer-costing workouts, you can bet Hizzoner has sculpted some mean devil horns.
Peter Rosenstein Blade
Activist holds court at Dupont Circle’s Java House, chatting about politics, civil rights, coffee. Beefcakes not on the agenda.
At-Large Councilmember David Catania: Blade
Once fiery, flamboyant councilmember has settled into critical oversight role on the D.C. Council, policing city spending one line item at a time.
Philip Pannell: Metro Weekly
“The Queen of Ward 8” attacks opponents with ferocity, once referring to Mayor Anthony A. Williams as a “gutless wonder.”
Randy Shulman: Blade
The co-publisher of Metro Weekly lends a hint of the Blade demographic to the magazine’s masthead—especially in contrast with MW business partner Sean Bugg.
Christopher Dyer: Blade
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s gay liaison once plied city cabarets as cross-dressing chanteuse Cookie Buffet. How very trad.
The aesthetic differences have inspired a 15-year-long competition. “Everyone wants there to be a rivalry, but there’s not,” former Blade Editor Kevin Naff insists. “There’s no drama.” But for a time, the divide between the two pubs was virtually enforced. Several Blade employees report that Blade office computers were mysteriously blocked from accessing the Metro Weekly Web site. (Metro Weekly confirms the digital stonewalling.)
To Stuever, the Blade represents “the seriousness of being us.” Metro Weekly, on the other hand, represents the idea that “being gay is a big adventure.” Via e-mail, Stuever explains: “It’s like the difference in high school between NEWSPAPER CLASS and YEARBOOK CLASS. More kids like Yearbook class and more students like the yearbook and pore over it. Metro Weekly is the yearbook.”
The spirited competition for cultural dominance in gay D.C. threatened to expire on Monday, Nov. 16. That morning, the staff of the Washington Blade arrived in the office to learn that its parent company, Window Media, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the Blade was closed effective immediately, and everyone was out of a job. Naff says that his two-dozen staffers’ unemployment period lasted “about five minutes”—the time it took for the crew to begin formulating plans to launch a new publication.
It was just so…Blade. By the next morning, the Blade staff had moved its headquarters five flights down, to the Corner Bakery on the ground floor of the National Press Building. There, the staff christened its new publication the DC Agenda. “We really wanted to capture the seriousness of the new paper,” Distribution Coordinator Robbie Barnett says of the name. By week’s end, the now-volunteer staff had sent an abbreviated first issue of DC Agenda to newsstands. The new publication distilled the old Blade formula down to seven pages—a few briefs on developments in local and national gay news, a list of local Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities, and an op-ed on the importance of supporting gay media.
The Blade was never known for indulging in rest and relaxation. The newspaper, born in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall riots, has always tasked itself with the tireless, serious, and earnest job of covering every step in the gay rights movement. If anything, DC Agenda is more Blade than the Blade ever was—it’s more news-oriented, more activist-driven, more thankless, more focused, more underpaid, and more overworked.
As the Blade set to work redefining itself last week, Metro Weekly set to work repositioning itself. While the weekly LGBT magazine offered “condolences to the staff of the Washington Blade,” it also reminded readers that it was “Washington’s acclaimed gay and lesbian newsmagazine,” and was looking forward to “continuing our growth as the source for local LGBT news, politics and entertainment.” The day after the Blade folded, Metro Weekly sent off a letter to potential advertisers offering a 15 percent discount on all new contracts. “[R]ecent setbacks have caused new waves of concern about the availability of media to reach the local LGBT market,” the letter reads. “But as we enter the holiday season, our readers and advertisers have made 2009 a successful year—for both them and us.…We look forward to keeping you connected to the local LGBT community.”
Even with the Blade folded, no one publication can claim to be “the” voice of “the” LGBT community. Like any community, LGBT has fault lines, divisions, subdivisions, and sub-subdivisions. No one could fully represent them all.
Subjects covered in the final edition of the Washington Blade: ENDA, hate crimes, PFLAG, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, bisexual musician Amanda Palmer, domestic violence, AIDS, and immigration reform.
And in that week’s issue of Metro Weekly: gay skiing, Kathy Griffin, porn stars, hate crimes, bisexual musician Amanda Palmer, and a photo retrospective of the men and queens present at Ziegfield/Secrets on Nov. 7.
Both publications contained a few winks at its target demographics. The Blade’s man-on-the-street feature, “The Q,” zeroed in on a couple of typical Blade men—49-year-old landlord Scott Grant and 60-year-old gov- ernment employee Doug Gilzow—and got them to dish to the Blade about their Friday-the-13th superstitions (they don’t have any!). Meanwhile, Metro Weekly’s “cover boy” segment regularly features locals like Derrik, a hot, 24-year-old man with washboard abs and no shirt. Derrik yearns to dine with Pink. He keeps his condoms and lube in his closet. If he were a car, he would be a Ford Focus Hybrid.
Zack Rosen, editor of local LGBT blog The New Gay, used to be a Blade. Now he’s a Metro Weekly. Rosen, a former Blade arts writer, was forced to redraw his alliances rather suddenly in October 2008. “I don’t have much allegiance to the Blade anymore since they laid me off,” he says. “But I actually do read Metro Weekly. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case,” says Rosen. “Their culture writers are pretty good, the people doing the arts and music reviews are pretty good. There’s a chance I’m not going to read the cover story. And I’m definitely not going to read the cover boy.” In that omission, Rosen helps to work against the dominant Metro Weekly stereotype. “Many, many guys will read Metro Weekly just to see where a hot guy keeps his lube. And that’s why I was really reluctant to read Metro Weekly before—you see this naked boy, and it’s easy to think that there’s not a lot of substance there. But there is.”
Rosen’s affinity for Metro Weekly is perhaps a symptom of his dominant interest area. Rosen worked in the least Blade-y section of the Blade: arts and entertainment. In opposition to Metro Weekly’s blowout culture and party sections, the Blade reined in its extras with austere standards for coverage. “There were some things that absolutely had to be covered—all the symbols of traditional gay culture. And I’d put ‘culture’ in quotation marks,” Rosen says. “I had to review like a million house DJs. The grand opening of the new Universial Gear store. Some house diva that was big in 1993 and has a lifetime pass to play gay clubs,” he says.
Washington City Paper theater critic Trey Graham, who served as the Blade’s first arts writer from 1992 to 1995, recalls the journalistic standards of the Blade arts beat. “That was the hard and fast rule—the arts coverage had to have an explicitly gay connection, whether it was a gay creative artist or a gay character,” he says. “We would never write about the opera, for instance, just because a lot of gay men like the opera. There would have to be an out gay singer or an out gay composer involved.” In 2007, Graham critiqued the Blade for its policy of inserting “out gay actor” or “out lesbian artist” before each bolded name in its arts copy. “The Blade was [my] first journalism job, back when we still dodged the swooping pterodactyls on the way to the office,” he writes. “It was then the paper’s policy—and it may still be—that nothing got reviewed unless you could peg it somehow as Gay art.…The staffers were rolling their eyes more than a decade ago about having to label folks that way.”
Not so at Metro Weekly: “Metro Weekly will review Hot Chip because it’s good dance music, even though none of its members are gay,” says Rosen. “If you go to a Hot Chip show, there will be tons of gay people there. But they’re not interviewing the band because they have four queer members. They’re interviewing them because gay men like a good dance track.” The first issue of the DC Agenda didn’t feature any arts and culture coverage. But in a fitting gesture, the DC Agenda’s first bit of ad revenue came courtesy of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, a cultural institution accompanied by little question as to its performers’ sexual orientation.
Together, Stuever writes, the rival publications “were a complete package (no pun intended).” The tidiness of that package speaks to the false dichotomy that they were built upon. In truth, the competing publications have always catered to two sides of the same gay man: He is college-educated, white, just entering middle age, moderately wealthy, and living in Northwest Washington. The archetypical reader is most certainly not female—Metro Weekly pegs its readership at 89 percent male.
“The gay community, like any community, is a series of niches,” says Rosen. “The white, Northwest man that the Blade and Metro Weekly reach is just the largest, most visible niche in our community.”