Gay newspaper to change its lifestyle

THE Pink Paper, the only national weekly gay newspaper, is having a facelift to transform it from worthy political campaigner to trendy all-round magazine. But before the new-look mag has even hit the streets, the change is causing controversy.

Its owner, Kelvin Sollis, decided that 10 years of losses were enough: it was time to go commercial. But the decision has hit some of the oldest readers hard - they think it is deserting its serious political agenda.

David Northmore, a Pink Paper journalist, believes gay politics had overtaken the paper's agenda. "In the beginning we were coming from the perspective of a gay community on the outside of society screaming to be let in. Now we are practically part of the mainstream, and the paper needs to reflect that."

The problem was, says David Bridle, the paper's general manager, that young readers were turning their backs on it. He knew something was wrong when gay men and lesbians stopped using its lonely hearts phone lines.

The new Pink Paper will still carry hard-core gay news. But it will have a definite shift towards lighter, more popular features and lifestyle items.

Also, David Bridle says, it needs to win back lesbian readers. The paper had catered too much for the young men so valued by advertisers, he says, and now needs to redress that bias.

But the Pink Paper's transformation has not come about without a fierce internal fight. Tim Teeman, the former editor, left the magazine after a falling out. At a leaving presentation he said that he had been treated as "beneath contempt", and was promptly escorted from the building.

Mr Bridle, who is responsible for balancing the books, says: "Teeman had a huge amount of independence and did a very good job. But he didn't want to sit down with the advertising department and the publisher and make sure the paper survived, to ask how the editorial content can bring in wider advertising."

Mr Teeman is concerned that the paper might now lose its "sophisticated" coverage of news and political issues, that it will go the way of the monthlies, which "believe that politics is a dirty word," and whose news coverage he calls "appalling".

The comments reflect the way the gay publishing market has developed in recent years. Gay clubs and bars are full of free magazines that concentrate on the gay scene. Others, such as the Pink Paper's sister paper, Boyz, and the relative newcomer Attitude, have a strong emphasis on celebrity interviews, fashion and lifestyle.

Boyz recently carried a cover of Lorraine Kelly, the GMTV presenter, and newly established gay icon, and a feature on Dame Edna Everage.

Boyz, which has until now subsidised the Pink Paper, says that some rivals in the market have made much of gay politics into a cult of victimhood. Colin Richardson, the deputy editor of Gay Times, rejects the notion that discriminatory laws and attitudes persist. "It's an accusation bandied about by people who have abandoned political campaigns," he says.

The debate between the serious and frivolous ends of the gay mag market has a powerful echo in the United States. America's largest gay magazine, Out, has just imported James Collard, a former editor of Attitude, to turn it into a more commercial product.

The controversy is just like that at the Pink Paper.

Mr Collard is praised by those who believe he is in touch with a younger, less agonised gay community. His detractors, in the meantime, accuse him of dumbing down and selling out.

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