January 19, 2009
Change our community could believe in
Posted by: Chris
UPDATE: I've updated this post to correct a couple of errors. I originally reported that editorial positions in addition to Mike Fleming's were eliminated by Window Media last week in D.C. and Atlanta. They were actually eliminated last fall. In addition, Mike's leap from sales to editorial came earlier than I remembered, when he moved to New Orleans in 2001 to take over the editorial reins in that office, not when he subsequently moved to Atlanta, as I originally related. Sorry for the errors!
PlanetOut isn't the only gay media conglomerate undergoing change and laying off top staff. The Window Media family of local gay publications last week eliminated several positions in Washington and Atlanta, including that of a key editorial position, just five months after eliminating two other editorial positions in Washington and Atlanta. Last week's casualty was Mike Fleming, editor of David Atlanta magazine and arts editor of Southern Voice, the city's gay newspaper.
I know both the company and the editor very, very well. I co-founded Window Media way back in 1997, and Southern Voice was our first publication, purchased in August of that year. I remain a co-owner of the company. Only a few months after SoVo, we added the Houston Voice and Mike Fleming was brought on board in April 1998 as the local publisher. That same day, I hired Matt Hennie to be the paper's new editor.
The two soon became best friends, but the Mike-and-Matt-Show was terrific professionally as well. Together and supported by a small but dedicated staff, they revitalized a dying gay newspaper and raised it to higher standards that ever before.
They would both go on to serve in a number of key positions over a decade of involvement with Window Media. Matt came back to Atlanta, working as my managing editor at SoVo and later taking over the publication when I moved to D.C. in 2001.
That same year, Mike decided to "jump the fence" to the editorial side, a rare move in an industry that (usually) treats separation between sales and editorial like the Constitution (usually) treats church and state. Mike won over skeptics, myself included, tackling with gusto, talent and a genuine commitment to the community the editorial challenges of our two publications in New Orleans, and later in Atlanta at Southern Voice and Eclipse (later David).
Matt eventually moved on from SoVo, jumping a different fence into the P.R. world, though he has returned to his roots with the terrific new site Project Q Atlanta. Mike soldiered on, even as both publications he cared about struggled through shifting priorities and difficult economic times.
The Atlanta LGBT community is better for it, just as the communities in Houston and New Orleans were previously.
Now Mike has been "downsized," and if you read his very personal final editor's note in David -- written without any idea that it would be his swansong -- it's almost eerily prescient:
A wise person once said, and a talented young man recently reminded me, "Change, and the world changes with you." We've been hearing a lot about change lately. …
Have you done any real introspection lately? What steps can you take, not just in the New Year as some resolution you'll break, but to find permanent solutions to long-term issues you drag around? You need to be the best you can be if we're going to pull this off.
And speaking of you, it's not all about you. Another funny thing about "we" is that one of the best ways to help ourselves is to help each other. That's something I don't think enough of us incorporate into our lives, and it's crucial to realizing the dreams of America's new era.
Mike goes on to practice what he preaches, taking a hard look at his own life and what he can do to give something back. I hope he realizes, even as he says goodbye to 11 years with Window Media, that he and Matt both have already given back immeasurably to the communities they love.
We all -- but especially your's truly -- owe them a huge thank you for that.
(Photo of Matt Hennie, left, and Mike Fleming via Facebook)
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