by Josh Lysen, News Editor DC Agenda
If someone had told me Monday that my Thursday would culminate with wrapping a new publication's first issue, I would have laughed. Or cried. I'm really not sure which.
But that's the beauty of knowing such wonderful, dedicated and relentless people. If there was despair among the Washington Blade's employees, advertisers and readers when Window Media (ed. note. due to financial & legal difficulties suffered by its parent corporation Avalon Equity Partners) shuttered the publication, it didn't last long. Even as the staff was packing boxes and making some final calls, we were making plans to gather the next day. It wasn't particularly clear what was next for any of us, let alone all of us, but we didn't want our downcast faces to be the last we remembered of each other. So we set a time, identified a place and avoided saying "goodbye." Instead, the common departure line became, like any other day, "See you tomorrow."
Truth be told, though, I had trouble sleeping that night. The realization that I'd joined what seems like legions of unemployed journalists was frightening. I kept myself calm with the knowledge that I had many friends and professional contacts locally upon whom I could call for help. But my mind reeled and sleep was evasive. Eventually, I decided to get up and start working on moving myself forward. I applied for unemployment benefits. I mailed my final paycheck. I started networking. And I got ready for my meeting with the people I previously called my coworkers.
As I stood at the Silver Spring Metro platform, waiting for the train, I tweeted that I was "headed to an important meeting. May the fates smile upon this gathering."
We convened at the National Press Building's Corner Bakery, a restaurant at which I'd often bought dinner when I worked upstairs in the Washington Blade's offices. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about returning to the building with wounds that were still fresh, but I needn't have worried. It felt good to see my friends again so soon — and even better to quickly begin discussing how we could go about launching a new publication. Across the ensuing three hours, we took stock, made plans and forged ahead.
Most things went smoothly, but there were some hiccups. Choosing our publication's name proved among the greater challenges. We knew that we wanted "Washington" or "DC" in the title. But usage of the word "Blade" was inadvisable for many reasons, none the least of which was to avoid any perceived legal association with a company engulfed in some rather messy bankruptcy proceedings. Did we want to use the word "gay" in our name? I and others quickly and firmly spoke against the notion. The name should be inclusive, not limiting. So how would we convey that we're an LGBT community publication? One person suggested "pride" as an option. Not bad, but perhaps too closely tied to the seasonal celebration. Perhaps the word "proud" was an option? I suggested Proud DC, but it didn't stick.
It was Kevin Naff, the Blade's former editor, who suggested using the word "agenda" in our name. This, he said, would be an attempt to reclaim a word that's been used against the community. There were some reservations, but we decided to pause and consider the suggestion. Keying the idea to the Blade staff's award-winning reporting on national issues, ideas such as Capitol Agenda and Washington Agenda were offered. But both permutations were already in use and not available to be trademarked. How about DC Agenda? A quick check showed the DCAgenda.com domain was available. And nobody had registered it on Twitter or Facebook (ed. note. or YouTube). We quickly grabbed all three, settled on using DC Agenda as our working name and left the trademarking duties in the hands of our volunteer attorney.
With such heady discussions behind us, we broke into advertising and editorial groups. Assignments were made. Deadlines were set. People were excited. It was then we decided to publish our first issue in three days. Yes, we were crazy. But there was momentum. We had to capitalize on that and the outpouring of support we'd received from people locally and across the nation.
"To say that meeting was epic would be an understatement," was the quick and intentionally vague summary I tweeted Tuesday. "Epic meetings lead to epic work. But epic work could lead to epic win."
Less than 24 hours later, I was editing the first articles slated for DC Agenda's inaugural issue. Our working plan Wednesday morning was to parallel the Washington Blade's first issue in 1969 and publish one letter-sized page crammed with as much news as we could fit onto its front and back. But as the day progressed, we realized that the plan wouldn't work. Too many people wanted to advertise in our debut issue! The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Whitman-Walker Clinic, Human Rights Campaign and Universal Gear all wanted full-page ads! We expanded to four pages — then to eight! I was truly touched by the votes of confidence we had received. But the best was yet to come.
We had made it known that many of the Blade's former staffers would gather Wednesday evening at the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Washington. What had been blissfully scheduled days before the Blade's closure as just another promotional event had become something much more. On Monday, it seemed the event might be an informal wake for the publication. But on Tuesday, we realized that we could use the gathering as the launch event forDC Agenda. I teased the event on the Blade's old Twitter account, promising that it would be "worth the trip." Later, I noted the event would include "Free food! Awesome people! Cash bar! And … more!" Finally, with the event just hours away, I let the cat out of the bag: "What was once @WashingtonBlade is now @DCAgenda. Confused? Come to Hard Rock Cafe at 6 p.m. tonight!"
The teases and the free publicity the event got from the Washington Examiner, numerous blogs and many Twitter users drew 100 or more people to the gathering. It was great to see some key players in the local LGBT community, our biggest fans on Twitter and many new faces at the event. The show of support was so heartening that it was almost overwhelming. Hard Rock Cafe, which hosted the event and provided free food despite our inability to repay them, let me address the crowd at one point. I thanked everyone for their continued support and revealed to any who hadn't yet heard that the Blade's former staff was now hard at work at producing DC Agenda.
Lynne Brown, the former Blade publisher who'd taken the same role at DC Agenda, also thanked the crowd. It was then that she was given what I believe was the first revenue to line the DC Agenda coffers: The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington presented her a check to pay for their ad on the back page of our first issue. Lynne, who'd run herself ragged during the preceding 48 hours to establish the DC Agenda name, teared up at the gesture. It was a special moment for us and affirmed to us that with the community's love and support, this crazy idea of ours is viable.
Of course, there was one small problem. We still had to finish our first issue. So three of us grabbed a cab and headed to our art director's apartment.
It was almost comically crowded in Rob Boeger's apartment. In addition to him and myself, Kevin, reporter Chris Johnson, photographer Michael Key and online mastermind Aram Vartian were trying to find places to sit. Kevin hadn't yet seen any copy beyond the publication's introductory letter that he wrote. Chris had only just finished covering a congressional hearing and had yet to write his story. Michael had photos from the hearing to upload. And Aram joined the crowd to get some direction on the DC Agenda web site he and others would soon be creating.
It was a surprisingly high amount of work for an eight-page publication, but then again, we were creating it from scratch. Rob had a nameplate to design and we had columns to title. (My favorites? The opinion page columns are Personal Agenda and our online polls are tentatively titled Your Agenda.) Also, because there were so many ads, we had to figure out how to best trim the articles. But slowly, everything started coming together. By midnight, the editorial work was done and our crowd had dispersed. I decided to stick through the night so I could help Rob finish the issue in the morning.
I grabbed about five hours of sleep before Rob, I and the advertising department made one last sprint for the finish line. The last few ads arrived by e-mail, including the Gay Men's Chorus ad, which notably named DC Agenda as the "media sponsor" of its upcoming holiday show. The recognition caught me off guard and brought a tear to my eye. So quickly and so fully had the DC Agenda name been embraced by our advertisers and supporters that I was flabbergasted.
Lynne joined Rob and I for the walk to our printer and soon the files were in their hands. Upon our request, they printed a proof of the publication we'd collect from them mid-morning Friday. Seeing it in print — just holding it our hands — somehow made the exhausting craziness of the last 72 hours worth it. I suddenly couldn't wait to collect the 5,000 copies we were slated to obtain and distribute them for all to see! Sure, it was just eight black-and-white pages, but they were among the most meaningful eight pages to which I've ever attached my name. I consider it an epic win, personally and professionally, that my name and picture appear on the issue's cover.
All too often, the many deadlines and printed pages of my profession blur together. But the story behind this issue was so special that I'll remember it always. I just had to share it with you. Thank you for reading.
X-Posted with permission from Think Lynsen by Josh Lynsen an out bisexual journalist and newspaper editor. Lynsen was the News Editor of the USA's Flagship LGBT Publication the Washington Blade at the time of it's abrupt closure due to financial irregularities within a Money Management Fund that had bought the Washington Blade's parent company Window Media. On November 20th 2009 Lynsen was among members of the Blade's editorial staff as well as others who formed the core of the voluntary staff that relaunched a new LGBT Publication the DC Agenda to take the place of the Washington Blade. He has given BiNet USA permission to X-Post his chronicle of his "as it happens" view of these important events in the life of the LGBT Community.