A 52 page tabloid, selling about 18,000 copies a fortnight, it was a business with a turnover of some £450,000 a year and employing at the height 23 people.
The collapse has been variously attributed to the financial demands of its former owner, bad management and ‘lefty lesbians’. One reader wrote after the last issue appeared, ‘As a subscriber and reader since its beginning I would ask you if you would forward me details as to what the hell happened…'”
I don’t know what the hell happened either as I wasn’t sufficiently involved in gay politics prior to the newspaper’s collapse.
However, I do know that in those pre-Internet days it meant the loss of an important voice for Britain’s gays and lesbians at a time when we were still very much up against it. Police harassment and entrapment of gay men was standard procedure, HM Customs were going into overdrive with their seizures of gay literature and the AIDS crisis was just unfolding.
I was so concerned I set up a local newspaper – Gay East Midlands (GEM) – even though I had absolutely no media experience whatsoever! On a more commercial level, the race was on to fill the void left by Gay News.
There were, in the first instance, a couple of attempts to establish a new national paper. The publishers of ‘HIM’ magazine produced ‘Gay Reporter’. This lasted for four issues and was perceived in some quarters as being disinterested in – if not downright hostile to – lesbian issues. It subsequently became a news supplement in its parent ‘HIM’ magazine, putting an end to any doubts about its view of the lesbian market.
‘Outrage’ was produced by a group of lesbians and gay men on a bi-monthly basis but, from memory, didn’t hang around too long either.
Somewhere along the line ‘Square Peg’ magazine emerged, with a studied emphasis on art, style and politics. In effect, it was probably one of the first publications to segment the gay and lesbian market by any measure other than gender. But, despite its market research and high production values, it too had a brief lifespan.
Then there was the ongoing saga of Gay News. Re-launching it was never going to be an easy task, the original having achieved somewhat iconic status within the gay and lesbian community. Its roots lay in the radical politics of the early 70’s and, even though it had seen some changes over time, it was still seen by many as a community enterprise.
The collapse effectively marked the end of that heritage. Ownership had been claimed by one man – Dennis Lemon – and his sale of the title to another – Nigel Ostrer – declared it to be a commercial, rather than community, asset.
That, in itself, rankled within some sections of the community. Any successor would have to address this legacy and recapture the goodwill of the community if it were to truly replicate the original. The scale and nature of the challenge meant that that was most unlikely to happen.
Nigel Ostrer began publishing under the title of ‘New Gay News’ – an instant, if unintentional, severing of its ties with the past. As such it beat its own path, taking its place amongst the ranks of other contenders for the title of ‘the’ national gay and lesbian publication.
It survived, but eventually the title was sold to Millivres Limited, who incorporated it into their existing magazine ‘Gay Times’. As far as I’m aware, the magazine is still officially called ‘Gay Times incorporating Gay News’.
And as for my own effort – Gay East Midlands – we lasted for nine issues before inexperience, internal tensions and lack of resources finished us off. But I’ll be blogging (a lot) more on that at some point in future.
Unsurprisingly, since I put GEM online a couple of years back it’s been seen by a much wider audience than we ever could have imagined. It’s even been archived by the British Library.
But then, such is the power of the Internet. If only we’d had it back then it could have saved an awful lot of conflict!