City Paper is not for tourists
It’s 12:30 p.m. outside of the downtown offices of the former Washington Blade, which served as Washington D.C.’s gay newspaper of record from 1969 until this morning. Just hours ago, the staff of the Blade learned that its parent company, Window Media, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, that the Blade was closed effective immediately, and that the paper’s two dozen employees were all out of work.
Now, two guys in purple shirts are methodically removing stacks of boxes out of the office, located on the fifth floor of the National Press Club building. What’s inside? “Just personal belongings,” one says, as he heads to the elevator. Everybody has until 3:30 p.m. to clear out.
Reporters have been calling the office all morning in search of a comment, having only heard confirmation of the paper’s closure via Tweet. Finally, Editor-In-Chief Kevin Naff comes outside to make a statement. Hold on—-he has to pee. When he returns from the bathroom, he addresses reporters in front of the Blade‘s glass-enclosed offices. Inside, a couple of Window Media staffers can be seen shuffling around a glass conference room, hard at work dismantling the newspaper. One of them wears an eye-patch. “I can’t speak on behalf of the company, and I can’t speak here,” Naff says. So the group heads around the corner, where Naff stands in front of another large window looking in on Window brass. “You can refer to me as the former editor of the Blade,” Naff says.
He rolls out the details: Naff heard this morning that the paper was kaput. The staff began forming plans to start a new publication within “about five minutes,” Naff says. More information will be announced tomorrow. It won’t be called the Blade. “We’re going to take a day off to pack, and then dust ourselves off and get back to work,” Naff says. The staff’s focus is on the future, he says—-Naff can’t even immediately remember what stories the Blade had in the works for its next issue.
Other former employees are focused on the past two weeks. A woman steps off the elevator, a cell phone clutched to her ear. “And the worst thing is that we were supposed to get paid today,” she says, before running into one of her former co-workers and enveloping him in a hug. She doesn’t have a public comment. Lou Chibbaro Jr., the Blade‘s longest-running employee, is there to see what he can salvage from the past thirty years. Chibbaro arrived back at the office with a pack full of folding cardboard boxes in order to cart away some “personal papers and things like that . . . mementos, some award plaques.” Chibbaro won’t say if he’ll be involved in Naff’s new paper. “We’re interested in keeping the best of what we had going. But I can’t comment on what’s going on right now,” he says.
Robbie Barnett, one of the guys in the purple shirts, is back from unloading another dolly full of Blade leftovers. Barnett worked as the Blade‘s distribution coordinator until this morning, when he walked into the office in the middle of the closure announcement. Barnett says the news came directly from COO Steve Myers and CFO Mike Kitchens. Myers is the one in the eye-patch, Barnett says: “I think he might be ill or something.” Myers and Kitchens did most of the talking, Barnett says. “None of us really said anything.” The atmosphere, he says, was just “grim.”
Barnett says that he has not been asked to finish up his distribution duties by removing Blade newspaper boxes from the streets. For now, Barnett is just helping to unload the paper from the National Press Club, box by box. Steve Cheverton, a close friend of the paper, is also on hand. When Cheverton heard of the paper’s closing, he showed up with his Ford F-350 to help employees with the liquidation. “I know a lot of the employees, and I’ve supported them throughout, in all the gay pride marches and stuff like that,” Cheverton says. “I just think it’s really without integrity the way they did this . . . The least we can do is help these people take their stuff home.”
Photos of former Blade employees by Darrow Montgomery