T he firestorm over the story last week that the Agenda editors have quit because of censorship by their secretive board of directors is worth addressing in an editorial today.
If you want to have a legitimate and credentialed newspaper, you have to report all the news, wounds and warts, letting the chips fall where they may.
You can always replace an advertiser. You can’t replace the truth.
Last year, one of our advertisers, Johnny’s Nightclub, was raided. We reported it on our front page. When two gay men were murdered in their home in Wilton Manors on Christmas Eve, we wrote about it because it was news. And when five gay men were murdered in a short time last year, we wrote about it also. You don’t get to choose the news. You choose only whether to be honest about it.
Last year, when another one of our advertisers, the Manor Entertainment Complex, was targeted by Wilton Manors zoning, we editorialized against unjust city enforcement. The Agenda wrote about it too.
Last year, when a prominent gay businessman was arrested, the Agenda wrote about it too. That is because after the collapse of the South Florida Blade, the Agenda was attempting to become a serious newspaper, trying to restore people’s faith in local gay journalism.
To their credit, when their paper was falling apart this summer, they went out and hired someone who got his start working for me when I published the Express Gay News. His name is Jeremy Jones, and he is a solid journalist. So is his partner, Dmitry Rashnitsov. Before he took a full time job in the not for profit sector, he was the Agenda’s editor in chief. He came upon a story about cell phone thefts in a local nightclub, and sought to alert the LGBT community to the dangers. It came to him in an unfortunate way. His phone had been stolen.
Somewhere between the time these two gentlemen thought to write the story and the time it made the printed page of the Agenda, their board of directors or Bobby Blair or Kevin Hopper got together and killed an honest and legitimate news story that you were entitled to read. By doing this, they did a disservice to you, the LGBT community, and their paper; no ifs, ands or buts about it.
It does not matter what excuse any of these bosses come up with. They ran into a principled reporter and his partner who would not back down. They gave up their jobs instead. They had a story to tell, and the Agenda would not let them tell it. If you can call that anything but transparent cen-
sorship, let me know. It does not aid the Agenda’s cause that
the story was going to reference a nightclub which is one of their chief advertisers. It appears they were unnecessarily protecting them. Why? What for? The problems of the Living Room are not unique.
All nightclubs have issues of various sorts. It is the nature of their business, dispensing alcohol to consumers who are partying and sometimes too much so. The problems come from noise, music, booze, overcrowding and everything else associated with an alcoholic beverage establishment. Sometimes, these events become newsworthy.
When the W Hotel on the Fort Lauderdale Beach was prosecuted for noise violations, it made the Sun-Sentinel. They advertise there, but so what? Your job as a newspaper is to report the facts, not cover them up.
By intercepting a legitimate story, the Agenda sold out. It censored a news story
which sought to alert the LGBT community of a situation you were entitled to read about. In doing so, they lost two loyal and faithful journalists.
We wish their new editor well in taking on his new tasks. But publishing a real newspaper is not about hugs and kisses and Valentines. It is not about promoting muscle beach parties or beer-indulging weekends with pages of free ads in exchange for complimentary tickets. It is about owning up to our community’s successes and failures, our honors and our humiliations. It is standing up for and protecting that community when it could be harmed by the wrongful conduct of others.
This newspaper, SFGN, is a member of the Florida Press Association, the Associated Press, and the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association. We compete for national journalism awards and have had bestowed upon us this year recognition for a media award from our gay and lesbian community center. There are standards we must meet and which we will never fail to honor.
No advertiser is worth the price of principle. No one can pirate SFGN’s commitment to report the news faithfully and honestly, with diversity and dignity, representing multiple opinions and a community of thought.
Given limited real estate on the printed page, it is sometimes extraordinarily difficult to select the pieces which make the paper and those which fall to the cutting room floor. But know this about us – any decision ever made here will be with the best interests of our LGBT community at heart, and not the pecuniary interests of any person or business in this town – period, end of story.