The Blade: A paper that provided a critical voice deserves resurrection.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

THE FINANCIAL problems of Window Media, the parent company of the Washington Blade, had been known for a while -- so much so that the 20 staffers of the weekly newspaper put in a bid to buy the publication last summer. No action was taken. And so, on Monday morning, after 40 years of chronicling the gay and lesbian community in the nation's capital and elsewhere, the Blade and several other gay publications ceased operation.

The Blade's importance to our area cannot be overstated. From the HIV/AIDS epidemic to hate crimes to the drive for marriage equality, the paper reported stories that the mainstream press initially didn't or wouldn't cover. And in the quest for fairness, it held people accountable -- gay and straight, elected officials and community leaders. Because of that, the Washington Blade, with more than 250,000 unique visitors to its Web site each month and a circulation of 23,000, was considered the paper of record by gays and lesbians across the country. Control of its archive of papers and photographs at its offices in the National Press Club is now in the hands of a bankruptcy trustee. Every effort should be made to keep the archive accessible to researchers and historians.

Business trouble for newspapers is old news but no less worrying for that. Democracy depends on a free and healthy press. Journalists at the local level are especially important as they report on the seemingly small decisions that can have a major impact on communities. Some employees of shuttered newsrooms have banded together to keep the sun shining on their local institutions. For instance, staffers from the former Rocky Mountain News in Denver have started two separate Web sites, the Rocky Mountain Independent and the INDenver Times. Former Blade editor Kevin Naff hopes to follow in their footsteps.

"We're united and determined to make a go of it as an independent company," Mr. Naff told us Monday. So, the former Blade staffers met to plot the publication's future yesterday. Mr. Naff told us that there will be a new paper. The intention is to have it hit the streets this Friday. The name will be different from the one they labored for. Our hope is that its mission to inform and enlighten will be the same.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company