Rob Sharp: End of the road for an iconic champion of gay rights

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The Independent Online

Think free-sheet and you think of multi-coloured commuter-fodder littering public transport, not necessarily about one of the country's most community-cohesive, progressive publications. But the Pink Paper, the country's only gay national newspaper, has long championed the threats and triumphs facing Britain's gay community with a cover price totalling a big round zero.

This week, the Paper became the recession's latest media victim. Too dependent on recruitment and property advertising, when the two markets collapsed earlier this year the Paper and its publisher, the Millivres Prowler Group (MPG), found they lacked sufficient draw for mainstream recruiters to fill the hole in their revenue. Their sole presence will now be an online-only edition and a weekly email newsletter.

"It was never a problem with readership, we're doing really well with that, better than we can deliver on," says the newspaper's editor, Tris Reid-Smith, quashing speculation that a new breed of gay-only online networking could be siphoning off its public. "I don't think advertisers have fully latched on to the power of the gay market. Look at the average banking advert and there's always the stereotypical heterosexual family with a Volvo and a garden. They never try to reach out to new customers."

It is not the first upset the newspaper has faced. Founded in 1987, it went paid-for in 2000 only to reverse the move when its readers refused to pay. It has, however, enjoyed renewed success since relaunching as a tabloid in 2005.

Gay campaigners are now worried its closure could fragment the gay community. "We have lost a major source of news and information," says the gay and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. "It was an invaluable forum for debate and helped us to coordinate campaigns against homophobia."

Traditionally the newspaper would allow readers from Brighton to Inverness to catch up on events and issues in a format that had a clear identity. "Since newspapers were invented, they have been attached to individual communities," continues Reid-Smith. "They become a force of habit and you don't have to think about buying them. You read them on a bus or train and in bed on Sunday morning. Online has a whole different identity and meaning."

He is however, attempting to put a brave face on things. "We always traditionally held over news stories for print which we can now put straight on the website. Now, that will become our first priority."