Out Magazine Lays Off Editorial Staff
Capital New York’s story on the relaunching of Out magazine under a new umbrella company to be headed by its present editor was only the latest chapter in the saga of Out Magazine. The magazine has laid off its entire staff; according to Editor-In-Chief Aaron Hicklin, "many" of them will be offered freelance positions without benefits instead.
Michael Goff and Sarah Pettit, both veterans of Outweek, a short-lived but highly regarded New York City LGBT newsweekly, founded the company. Goff left the magazine and New York for Seattle, to work on Microsoft’s ill-fated competitor to then-dominant AOL. He remains active in gay media.
Pettit, who had left the magazine after disagreements about its direction, died young but remains a respected figure in LGBT journalism circles. Her memorial service at the (Quaker) Friends Meetinghouse on Manhattan’s Lower East Side was a "Who’s Who" of gay journalism. The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s highest award is named in her memory.
Throughout its lifetime, Outweek managed to make itself a flashpoint of controversy. One publisher, Henry Scott, angered lesbians when he asserted that they didn’t share common lifestyle aspirations with gay men and that the magazine would have difficulty catering to both sexes.
One editor, English (as is Hicklin, who has lived in New York for several years) pushed the concept of "post-gay" at a public forum. The notion that the gay-straight divide was outdated may have been trendy in academic circles. But for an editor of a gay magazine, it meant a short end to his editorship.
Out Magazine suffered near-constant criticism from some quarters for featuring non-gay celebrities and for allegedly pandering to a well off demographic with an emphasis on features about grooming, fashion and acquisitions over politics. The magazine’s defenders, in turn, point to similar "lifestyle" publications for heterosexual men, such as GQ, and note that the magazine has featured pointedly political articles. Most recently, it received attention for publishing letters from the older gay brother of Tyler Clementi to his deceased younger brother, who killed himself in a highly publicized cyber-bullying episode at Rutgers University.
Out was also distinguished by its non-inclusion of any sex-oriented or escort advertising. The clean look and advertising policy helped it attract mainstream advertisers. The magazine competed with, and outlasted, competitors such as Genre.
Out was part of LPI Media, which published the Advocate, the longest-running gay newsweekly that was founded two years before Stonewall, as well as the corporate parent of Alyson, a book publisher of LGBT fiction and non-fiction; and HIV Plus, a magazine that competes with Poz.
In 2005, PlanetOut, a San Francisco-based LGBT mini-conglomerate, purchased the LPI products. But PlanetOut was having major financial problems. It went public, the first gay-oriented company to do so, and was listed on NASDAQ. But management was burning through the capital acquired from the IPO and was having difficulty showing a return to shareholders.
The company began selling off its assets piecemeal. In 2007, it sold RSVP Vacations to its more successful rival, Atlantis Events. The LPI properties were sold to Regent Entertainment, parent of Regent Releasing a major distributor of independent films (many, but by no means all of them, targeted to a gay audience), that has itself run into some financial difficulty in recent years. Regent has a close business relationship with Here Media, the umbrella company for here! Films, a mini-studio and the producer of here!TV, a pay-tier LGBT cable channel.
The Los Angeles-based company kept the Advocate in its hometown base there. Out remained in New York, where it moved within the Chelsea neighborhood, eventually settling into a large space on West 17th Street, just off trendy Eighth Avenue. PlanetOut, meanwhile, was delisted by NASDAQ and ceased operations a short time later.
In the present century Out Magazine has faced the same pressures as other print publications. The wholesale migration to the Web of readers has meant a decline in advertising revenue.
The Advocate hasn’t been immune to the same problem. It ceased publication as a standalone news magazine, is no longer available on newsstands and is now packaged with Out.
Out and the Advocate have been criticized by freelancers, on whom both publications depend for copy, as being slow paying or, in some cases, never paying at all.
Out also faced pressure similar to those facing other gay media: In an increasingly gay-friendly world, coverage of gay issues has migrated from the fringe to mainstream. Similarly, the "metrosexual" straight man has meant that magazines like Details, with similar emphasis on grooming and several gay-oriented feature articles, now have strong appeal to urban gay men.
Now comes the magazine’s latest incarnation as the flagship of a new company being formed by Hicklin. Hicklin apparently plans to lay off his staff and rehire them on a freelance basis, which will allow them presumably to pursue other projects but will deny them health benefits and vacation time. The staff is reportedly receiving the equivalent of a month’s severance.
Hicklin told Capital New York that his new company, which will continue an association with Here, aside from publishing Out, will concentrate on one aspect of magazine publishing that has been increasingly popular and lucrative: packaging content for corporate clients. Whether Grand Editorial, Hicklin’s new venture, will work on inserts, multi-page advertorials or standalone mini-magazines -- or all such manifestations -- has not been detailed.
In a press release, Hicklin noted that Grand Editorial, his new venture, "will include familiar faces and core talent from Out." Brian Gorman, the founder of Lords Hotel, a gay-oriented hotel in Miami’s South Beach, has been added to the roster of the venture.
How many of the staff will take Hicklin up on his offer has not been announced. Hicklin told Capital News that he is negotiating for office space in Carroll Gardens, a largely residential neighborhood in Brooklyn traditionally Italian but that has seen a large influx of young professionals in recent years.