This past week, the nationally published Arts and Entertainment Editor of SFGN, Mary Damiano, contacted Bradley Bush, the Administrator of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus, and indicated that she wanted to do write about the organization and its upcoming season.
Damiano, however, was told by Bush that the “chorus is forbidden from sending press releases to SFGN or print publications or outlets other than The Agenda or Mark’s List,” and that an exclusivity contract had been approved by the Board of Directors to further that goal.
Contacted later by Features Editor Joey Amato, Bush then confirmed that no other gay publications could receive information, news releases, or advertising from the Gay Men’s Chorus, “that only mainstream publications could.”
Outraged by the information, SFGN Publisher Norm Kent immediately contacted Todd Wiley, the Director of the FTLGMC in order to verify the story.
Wiley indicated that in fact the chorus had contracted last year with the Blade and 411 for exclusivity, as a means of saving the cash-strapped group advertising expenditures. “We had given Hot Spots the same offer,” Wiley said.
Stated Wiley, “the magazine was going to give us in kind advertising for our group in exchange for us giving them exclusivity in promoting and sponsoring the chorus. We felt it could save us thousands of dollars.”
When asked whether that exclusivity went beyond advertising but included news and information, Wiley stated that he thought “Bush misinterpreted the agreement; that he would be allowed to send out news releases to gay and mainstream publications.”
Bush promised to produce the agreement and the news releases for SFGN’s review prior to the newspaper’s deadline on Saturday, but failed to do so
“The advertising limitation was a decision made by the Board and its officers,” Wiley explained.
Wiley said the arrangement continued with Mark’s List and The Agenda after the bankruptcy of 411 and the Blade.
“They called us,” he said, and “indicated they were the same people, and they were going to maintain the agreement we had with 411. So we said okay again.”
Wiley stated no representatives from Mark’s List ever indicated that they had formed a new corporation with new owners which had no legal ties to 411 or the Blade.
When Wiley was informed that neither the Agenda nor Mark’s List had any legal right to enforce the agreements of the defunct entities, he became perturbed.
“This changes the picture considerably,” he said, “We may have been misled.”
Yet, only hours later Wiley sent an email to SFGN Publisher Norm Kent reaffirming his organization’s commitment to maintaining “exclusivity in advertising and promotionsolely with Mark’s List and The Agenda for the remainder of the season.”
They remain the only media sponsors on the choral group’s website.
Asked whether marketing the chorus to a singular for profit publication, which serves the financial interests of a private corporation, when The Gay Men’s Chorus is a not for profit serving the entire community, Bush had earlier admitted “SFGN is raising a valid question. We may have to rethink this entire issue.”
For his part, Hot Spots publisher Peter Clark found this type of arrangement “unconscionable... We are supposed to be trying to build a community amongst our businesses, not tearing it down,” he said.
Clark pointed out that last year a similar arrangement inhibited him from promoting an AIDS walk.
Clark stated “that these agreements diminish the very purposes we are trying to support and serve.”
SFGN Publisher Norm Kent has also posted his comments regarding the situation in his editorial today.
He called the exclusivity arrangement an “embarrassment to the Gay Men’s Chorus and a disgrace to Mark’s List.”
Amongst the events the chorus has planned next month is a ‘Swing into Spring!” jazz fest, slated for Saturday, March 6, at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.
A second event two weeks later will be a cantata drawing on the inspirational works and words of Gandhi, Jesus, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama. That event is being billed as a night of “Brave Souls & Dreamers.”
Under the terms of the exclusivity agreement, if SFGN wanted to run a free full page advertisement promoting the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus concert next month at the Cathedral, it would violate their contract with The Agenda and Mark’s List.
Stated Damiano, who has covered the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus for the past nine years in three different publications, including The Express, the Independent and Miami Artzine.com: “I am hurt and disappointed that they would enter into an agreement which prohibits me from covering them. I have probably done more stories about them than any other writer in South Florida. This is a foolish move on their part.”