Why we aren’t in the Pride Guide this year – reservations about the deal with Willamette Week

The 2008 qPDX Pride Guide ad

This Wednesday the Willamette Week, the alternative newsweekly that was given the rights to publish the Pride Guide this year, released the 2011 official Portland Pride Guide. Unfortunately, you won’t see us in it.

qPDX has had an ad in the Pride Guide for the last 4 years so it feels a little sad to be left out this year, but it just had to be. Ultimately, it was about cost, but there are a few things that gave us pause, including the implication that Willamette Week wouldn’t necessarily run articles concerning the LGBT community without striking a business deal.

For 2007 and 2008 we had big beautiful full color half page ads because O-Live was footing the bill, but I was involved in the buying decision and smaller ads (1/8 of a page, b/w) began at about $90. That’s what we went to for 2009 and 2010 after we took the site all indie. The Mercury was the publisher for those earlier years and El Hispanic news for the latter (although it was also included in Just Out). This year prices exploded, with the absolute bottom starting at a cringe-worthy $375. The argument was that WW has a much bigger circulation than EHN, which is true, although I’m not sure it’s all that much bigger than the Merc’s.

I expressed to both Pride NW and WW that it was cost prohibitive for us and WW salesperson Jane Smith was open to other options, which I appreciated. However, it wasn’t a deal per se, as she could only go down to $185 with no spot color and dialing the size down to a puny 1/16 page. I realize that this might very well be fair in the world of print advertising, but I also know that print advertising is dying. When one can buy effective Facebook ads that reach a much broader audience for a fraction of the cost we just couldn’t justify it. Polite as she was, Smith didn’t seem willing or able to actually offer any particular deal, and yet presented the offer as if it was. I’m guessing this is why there seem to be a lot of familiar LGBT supportive businesses missing this year. Where are all the real estate agents with bad haircuts? The tattoo parlors? Cupcake Jones? Q Center? I’m glad to see that Black Pride has a half page ad, although how the struggling org could have come up with $1500 is a mystery to me.

Perhaps more troubling than the unremarkable fact that a completely volunteer-run publication has no cash flow, were the initial arguments for going with WW as the Pride Guide partner in the first place. When responding to my feedback about the high cost this year, Pride NW Board of Directors Outreach Coordinator Mark Santillo said:

Here’s another [added value of publishing the Guide in WW]: pick up this week’s issue and you will see a story about a retirement home for LGBT seniors. They might not have researched and run that story before we struck our deal. We have adopted a very broad  and perhaps more nuanced perspective of value to our community and WWeek’s commitment to run stories about or of interest to our community is part of that.

Our 2007 ad. Ah, the memories.

Now the folks at Will Week are a smart bunch. I interned there the summer of 2000 and even still know some of the current staff. I have faith that they are capable of choosing and researching stories on their own. They’ve been doing it for 30 years. So why would a business deal influence editorial decision? Why should we reward a publication if they were not already running stories about the gay and lesbian community?

I have loved Willamette Week in the past, and they have had some damn good (Pulitzer-winning even) journalism. But they haven’t had much queer journalism, and even less lately. As gay male focused (and often lesbian mocking) as it was, WW lost it’s only column dedicated to LGBT topics, Queer Window, when it let longtime writer Byron Beck go in 2008.

Even as Pride’s main printed information outlet you see only a small reference to the Guide on the WWeek’s cover and nothing featured in the editorial content on the main website. I can’t even find any of the articles online at all (beyond the unsearchable NPaper version). It may seem like an asset to partner with a larger publication, but it is really worth it if that publication doesn’t even promote the guide itself and has never particularly had our backs?

Santillo also expressed a commitment to minority-owned media, most likely as preemptive response to reactions about the change in publisher, and I believe the sentiment is genuine. And I can’t promise that if a bigger, less radical, entity entity proposed me a stellar deal I wouldn’t sell some qPDX rights. But that balance is tough, and though I do not know the particulars of the various deals across the years, I’m not wholly convinced this move was worth it.

At the same time that Pride NW announced the deal with WW they also announced this year’s theme: Make It Happen, saying,

As we have seen across our country and around the world in recent months, when ordinary people come forward together and speak their truths, powerful forces can be unleashed that change the shape of things to come.

I couldn’t agree more. qPDX has been making it happen on a wing and a prayer for over 2 years now, and we will continue to do so, without any compromise, without any corporate sponsorship, and with our only commitments being to ourselves, our readers and our communities.

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