Friday, December 21, 2007

Troubles at IN Newsweekly

The fallout over the IN Newsweekly staff revolt continues to unfold as contributors and even a former long-time editor bring their concerns about HX Media's failure to pay, editorial considerations and other issues to light. Below is a recap of the letter former editor-in-large Fred Kuhr and others sent to IN Newsweekly editor William Henderson, HX Media CEO Matthew Bank and others associated with both letters with embedded links (above) to additional postings and other information. Stay tuned...

December 8, 2007

Mr. Matthew Bank
HX Publications
230 W. 17th Street
New York, NY 10011

Dear Mr. Bank,

We would like to request a meeting with you to discuss our concerns about IN Newsweekly.

Increasingly, over the past several months, we have become worried about the paper's content, its overall focus, and future direction. We believe the overall quality of the publication, its journalistic standards, has suffered serious damage. Nothing less than its reputation and standing within the New England region is at stake.

For example, IN used to feature coverage from all six New England states. Now we're down to two - Massachusetts and Rhode Island - and on a hit- or - miss basis. Essentially, the paper has written off a considerable chunk of our geography, which was a distinct strategic advantage.

Perhaps some historical context will be helpful. For decades, Boston has been a two gay newspaper town. And IN's position is unique. Under two previous editors, In Newsweekly, over time, carved out a reputation for balanced, fair, accurate, in a word – quality, journalism. Editors and writers were not beholden to factions or cliques of individuals or groups. Nor did the reporting and opinion fan flames of controversy, with sensational coverage or “gotcha” journalism.

In Newsweekly is all about journalism, not LGBT activism, although the paper's opinion pages – praised in the past for having four full pages of columns and commentaries, never shied from staking out strong local, regional, and national stances. In sum, the paper's tone and content gave the LGBT community a voice it can hear and over time came to trust.

As contributors, we search for the truth, are respectful, and seek to minimize harm. We are professionals.

Current staffers are also professional in their Herculean efforts to meet deadlines, get the product out the door, onto the streets, and up on the web. Given diminished financial and human resources, we are amazed that they are still able to produce a weekly paper.

Nonetheless, we are very concerned about the paper's most recent focus on nightlife/arts coverage, with a dramatic departure from local reporting on hard news. For years, Chuck Colbert, perhaps the paper's most seasoned reporter and columnist, covered religion, politics, and government. Because of freelance budget cuts - we are told - he now pens only a one full-page weekly column.

Don't get us wrong: Colbert Reports is a good idea, one that developed from a collaborative conversation between writer and editor. But the under utilization of a talented and popular journalist is a disservice to readers who read IN precisely for the local angle and news content.

Editor-at-Large Fred Kuhr, another popular and widely read journalist, once contributed editorials, music reviews, and other features on a regular basis. Now, Fred only writes a column every few weeks.

From our many years of experience, we know that gay New Englanders are not predisposed to read out-of-towners. We acknowledge Washington and New York as major media centers. But more than enough happens in LGBT news, religion, government, politics, and community events throughout the region to fill a weekly issue to the brim. To rely on nationally syndicated writers or Associated Press stories is to relegate IN to irrelevancy and obscurity. Local readership simply will not take the paper seriously anymore.

The year 2008 is a presidential election year. Right now, candidates are out and about all over New Hampshire in search of votes, including LGBT support. Because of our regional strategic advantage, IN could be all over presidential politics. We are not, and that is a missed opportunity.

The front page of the current issue (December 5) features stories on gay friendly holiday shopping and Absolut vodka. While those stories do have a place in the paper, we cannot understand how they merit placement on the front page.

Meanwhile, the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective held their annual fundraiser, which attracted 450 people and benefited HIV/AIDS programs. The story ran as a “brief.” Surely that story merited serious consideration for page one.

In Rhode Island, an openly gay man, Frank Ferri, won election to fill a vacant seat in the state House of Representatives. Again, the victory ran as news brief. Yet, Mr. Ferri is the nation's first legally married (same-sex) person to win elective office. That's not only news: the story is big news. Joe Siegel is a resident of the Ocean State and is more than capable of covering that state's significant LGBT community.

Steve Desroches, our Provincetown correspondent, left the paper in August. Paul Olsen, our longtime Vermont correspondent, is gone. Maine receives little if any coverage. Yet Ogunquit is a major tourism draw, and Portland has a large active gay community.

In Connecticut, New Haven and Hartford have substantial gay communities.

For years, freelance correspondents have been the backbone of In Newsweekly's regional success story. Why have so many been left to fall by the wayside?

Several weeks ago, we learned of yet more severe budget cuts for freelance writers — down to $200 a week from a paltry $400 beforehand. That drastic cut comes after a series of other reductions.

In the current issue, however, we find advertisements for a nightlife editor and an assistant to the business manager.

As freelancers, we wait months and months for pay and back pay. We don't understand why HX lags so far behind in payment to us, while placing ads for permanent staffers. An ad ran for several weeks for a Boston-based writer to cover politics, government, and entertainment. We would like to know the reasons for this.

Now, we learn HX is hosting a 10-year celebration of quality journalism at the New York Blade. But we notice a parallel development between the NY Blade and IN: radical decreases in regional coverage, budget cuts for freelance writers, the shift in emphasis from solid news to entertainment: for those reasons and others, we are requesting a meeting with you and the local Boston staffers.

We look forward to meeting you in person for what we believe will be a mutually advantageous conversation.

Sincerely yours,

Chuck Colbert,
Fred Kuhr
Irene Monroe
Joe Siegel


Bill Berggren
Dean Burchell
William Henderson
Gary Lacinski
Karen Young

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