Grey day for gay media as 'Pink Paper' folds its print edition

After 20 years fighting for the cause, the newspaper withdraws to the web

It is a weekend of celebration for the gay community, marking the 40th anniversary of New York's Stonewall riots, which lit the fuse for a worldwide backlash against homophobia.

It is also the time of the year when leading gay figures scramble to the news-stands to find out how they have fared in the IoS's annual pink list of movers and shakers. But amid the din of pink champagne corks popping comes the less cheering news that the Pink Paper, the leading newspaper of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual (LGBT) community, is to cease printing, dedicating itself to an online presence only.

Newly installed editor Tris Reid-Smith says the move is a necessary response to the sharp downturn in advertising, especially in property and recruitment classifieds on which the paper has long depended. Circulation has fallen to 60,000 per month, still an enviable figure for a specialist title. Reid-Smith hopes print production can resume once the recession is over, but does the demise of Britain's only national gay newspaper indicate a wider trend across the gay media, reflecting a decline in the demand for single issue publications?

Matthew Todd, editor of Attitude magazine, believes the community has become less sociable because of the internet, which has had a knock-on effect on distribution, as the Pink Paper, a free sheet, was traditionally distributed in bars and clubs. "Gay life is changing. Historically, gay people had to go out to meet people, and you used to pick up a copy when you went out. But Soho has completely changed thanks to the internet. Now sites like Gaydar keep people in."

While the Pink Paper has suffered, lifestyle magazines such as Attitude and Gay Times have blossomed. Todd has seen a rise in circulation since he took over just over a year ago, recently outselling straight men's lifestyle monthly Esquire at train stations. "We're in the lucky position of being respected beyond the gay community, and of having access to many big names." Among these was Tony Blair, who brought the magazine worldwide attention with an interview in April in which he criticised the Pope's stance on homosexuality.

Reid-Smith, who also edits the Gay Times, a monthly glossy, says he doesn't believe there has been a drop in demand. "Advertising has dropped off but the demand from the readers is still there." Millivres Prowler, proprietor of the Pink Paper and GT, also owns a number of "gay lifestyle" shops, selling books, films, clothing and jewellery. "We certainly haven't noticed a decline in spending in the recession."

When the Pink Paper was founded in 1987, HIV and Aids loomed over the gay community, the age of consent was still 18, and Section 28, banning the promotion of homosexuality, would soon be passed by the then Conservative government. These once contentious issues are now relics of a different age, and the need for a campaigning newspaper like the Pink Paper has lessened. Accordingly the gay media has responded by shifting its focus away from a political agenda to lifestyle issues. But the change in emphasis has not been universally welcomed.

Leading activist Peter Tatchell sees the demise of the Pink Paper as a blow to the liberation movement. "We still need a newspaper dedicated to fighting for gay issues. The Pink Paper picks up a lot of stories that aren't covered by the national media. The brutal homophobic murder of Michael Causer in Liverpool last year was virtually ignored by the press, which is odd because they gave extensive coverage to the racist killing of Anthony Walker in the same city. The Pink Paper is the only national newspaper dedicated to news of importance to the LGBT community."

Kim Watson, a director of Millivres Prowler, which bought Pink Paper two years ago, says the decision to go online was pragmatic, allowing the company to retain all its staff. But it is doing its readers a disservice, says Tatchell. "A lot of gay people are online, but a significant proportion are not. Old habits die hard. People have been used to picking up a copy at a bar on the weekend and may not log on to the website."

There is also some surprise that there was no warning that the paper was struggling. "They have acted in haste," says Tatchell, "There doesn't seem to have been any attempt to publicise its plight before closure. They certainly didn't rally the readers."

Reid-Smith says he will be keeping the Pink Paper's print future under constant review, but doom-mongers will say it is further proof of the end of the newspaper, and gay rights campaigners may rue the loss of a representative voice.

But at least a glass can be raised to the significant social changes the Pink Paper has been instrumental in achieving in its short 22-year history.