Five years ago this month, Jerry Jones, the publisher of Out & About Newspaper, celebrated the debut, the first issue, of this newspaper.
"I started the paper because there simply wasn't a good source of what I'd call real, local GLBT news," he said. "There were two papers at the time, but they were both entertainment and nightlife oriented."
In that respect it has been a long five years. The GLBT community here in Nashville witnessed the immediate closure of one gay weekly newspaper when O&AN debuted, followed a couple years later by the creation and subsequent demise of another, and more recently the redesign and revitalization of a third.
"I can still vividly remember back five years ago to a booth at The Cooker on West End," said editor and creative director Brent Meredith, one of only a handful who made up the original volunteer group that worked to create those first few issues. "We were meeting to discuss how to get this thing off the ground. How innocent and excited we were then. All we knew was we had something special, and we desperately wanted to share it with all of Nashville and Tennessee."
We all have memories of our first meeting. I met Jerry Jones just after the new year in 2003 at Tribe, itself less than a year old. I'd answered a call for writers, for a business writer specifically and emphasized an interest in business far more than I ever had. Lord knows he's since seen through that, if not even then.
I met the rest of the staff at a meeting in his home, at the time in Antioch, a couple weeks later. It was an editorial meeting and so we tossed ideas around for the upcoming issue. What strikes me now as so fascinating is that those first issues were filled with introductory-style articles of organizations like NAPP (now the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce) and the now-defunct Rainbow Community Center, groups that had existed for a while but hadn't been recorded in our paper yet.
I suppose one of the great benefits of a newspaper that chose to invest itself in more than the social life of gay Nashville was that it democratized, or pulled out of the woodwork, GLBT organizations (and its members) that had existed in our midst but were without a community-wide platform to share their news. We also brought, in our own local way, news of interest to the greater nationwide GLBT community to light.
"I remember when Out & About first hit the stands and I knew I wanted to be a part of it," said senior writer David Miller. "My first piece was a three-part series about what it was like coming out after having been married and heavily involved with a Southern Baptist church. After the incredible response I received from readers about my story, I realized the paper was making a huge impact on the lives of the GLBT community in Nashville."
By joining an organization populated by volunteers, we each had the freedom -- to a degree -- to write about our passions. If you were to look through our archives, located at the O&AN website www.outandaboutnewspaper.com, you'd find a thread of interest running through many of our stories.
Daniel Kent was one of that small number of original volunteers. His interest in Arts & Entertainment, particularly after his promotion to one of the few editorship roles here, has long been apparent.
"Over the past five years of covering the Arts & Entertainment scene in Nashville for O&AN," he said, "I've had the rarest of privileges to be able to meet, speak with, and write about everyone from local entertainers like Minton Sparks, People's Branch Theatre, and The Nashville Shakespeare Festival to national celebrities like Lily Tomlin, Margaret Cho, and Olivia Newton-John. To be sure, these are all memories that I will cherish forever."
We've all seen, and documented, quite a lot of change in this community. It may be hard to believe now but just a short five years ago the gay-owned businesses on Church Street were few in number: Tribe and OutLoud! sat alone in our still-growing gay district, along with that bar where Club Blu is now, the one that continually changed its name and ownership.
At the dawn of O&AN we had yet to imagine the existence of Play, Club Blu, Joe, the expansion of Red, Out Central, Blue Genes, Church Street Café, the Café at OutLoud!, and Lucky's Garage. The foundation of the Hustler Hollywood store was a dilapidated gas station that had tumbleweeds -- or, at least, a collection of inner-city-style litter -- routinely rolling through it.
We've also seen a few historic businesses and organizations close, including: The Chute, the Gaslight Lounge, Rainbow Community Center, DeVil's, DeVil's Jungle, The Jungle (all three locations: remember that short-lived stint on Charlotte near the interstate?).
Out & About Newspaper has helped push our issues into the mainstream. The debate around the failed citywide nondiscrimination ordinance a few years ago was influenced by our voice. When Kroger pulled us from its rack a few months ago, the news brought us and our lives -- and the fact that we buy groceries too -- to the outside world. It's a credit to the respect we've gained in the mainstream that our publisher Jerry Jones, and editor Brent Meredith are routinely asked to comment on issues regarding gay Nashville of interest to the mainstream.
"Out & About Newspaper has given this community a voice and a place at the table with other local, statewide, and even national media," Meredith said. "They view us, whether they agree with us or not, as part of the fabric of our city and our state and can pick up a copy or read us online and see just how discrimination or intolerance affects us, how we live our lives, how we worship, whom we mourn for, how much we love each other and our children, and how we just want to be accepted unconditionally."
We've been of service to this community. When a Minneapolis-based organization zeroed in on our city hoping to (possibly) swindle our businesses out of advertising cash in the name of a GLBT business directory -- called The Source -- we sniffed them out. When the Nashville Scene produced a story, called "Policing Gays," that questioned the efforts of the city's police force that conducted a stake-out in search of drug use in this community by trolling gay "dating" Web sites, we looked into it.
Even our clarification that The Ellen DeGeneres Show had quickly and silently moved from WSMV (channel 4) to NewsChannel 5+ (channel 50) was of great interest to many readers.
The news sometimes hit home more than we wished it would. "When Eric Mansfield -- the partner of one of O&AN's staff writers, David Miller, was gunned down mere blocks from his home in an apparent robbery attempt," said A&E writer Daniel Kent, "I was asked to help cover the story as it unfolded. Away from the glitz and glamor of my usual beat covering this story, I witnessed an outpouring of support from the GLBT community as well as the community-at-large in a way that has been unparalleled by any other story before or since."
"Though I didn't know Eric or David as well as I would have liked," he added, "it was in following this story that I felt most a part of a greater whole and saw our oft-fragmented community uncannily united in grief and support for one of our own in his time of need."
David Miller agrees. "I truly feel we care about each other and the community," he said. "This fact really hit home when my partner, Eric, was murdered two years ago in an attempted carjacking. The paper immediately stepped up to do anything it could to help, from sending out immediate press releases asking for any information the community had about the assailants, to putting up reward money. That response made me feel cared about and loved through this very difficult time."
Two years ago we accomplished a GLBT first. Though there have been many gay-oriented television shows produced over the years, Out & About Today was the first to be directly affiliated with a national network affiliate. "The ability to do a TV show with NewsChannel 5 has been a personal highlight of being associated with the newspaper," said publisher Jerry Jones.
Co-host Pam Wheeler, who is also O&AN's community relations director, agrees. "I have a lot of fond memories trying to do outside segments for the show, at the HRC Wild West Showdown or the gay favorites party, and having them never make it to air because we were all a little too crazy in them. There's something about not being in the studio that made us all relax and be more like ourselves. It has been a pleasure working for the show."
And it all started -- the print edition, the TV show, the nationally ranked website -- with the help of a small band of committed, passionate volunteers. "Back in the day," said Pam Wheeler, "the staff manually put together the mailing for the subscription list. That was when the list was around 1,000. With it growing to over 3,000, we had to outsource it."
And, because of the cost, we eventually were forced to levy a fee for it. Few of us foresaw that day during those evenings, after a regular workday, usually a Monday, when we all congregated at someone's house. Under a mountain of envelopes, pre-printed address stickers, and copies of the new issue, we stuffed, stickered and sealed envelopes while gossiping about our experiences in this community and chowing down on pizza and Coke.
"My time with O&AN has been, quite literally, a journey I wouldn't trade for anything," Meredith noted. "Yes, we've aged and grown and experienced highs and lows -- that comes with any job -- but our amazing and talented staff of volunteers breathe so much life into us and into every issue, in print and online, that I still get excited every time we share a story with our readers. They depend on us, and we are here exclusively for them."
"I feel great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to give back to the community through my work with O&AN," Kent added, "and I look forward to another five years of working alongside some of the greatest and most talented people Nashville's GLBT community has to offer."
"Our growth has been slow and steady, much like the Nashville GLBT community," said Jones. "I can't imagine an article being done without recognizing those people who helped get the paper started. Matt Gore designed the paper's original look and masthead. Mike Robinson, Danny Norris, Melanie Meadows, David McKinnon, Daniel Kent, Susan Gates, Curtis Schwagel, Christy Ikner and Curt Bucy all worked hard to get those first issues out the door and did whatever it took to make it happen."
"Brent Meredith has moved up the staff ladder," he added, "starting out as an A&E writer to A&E editor and then quickly going on to editor and creative director. Beth Maples-Bays was a vital and important part of our expansion into East Tennessee. We've truly been surrounded and blessed with some exceptionally talented and dedicated people."
And it's only the beginning. An always growing and expanding Web site (we recently added an RSS feed to our website, allowing you to add our stories to your personal news aggregator) developed by Lane Scoggin and Shane Burkett with SBResults has helped move the local publication to national status - it was recently named one of the top 10 GLBT news Web sites. The website will always be updated to meet the demands of the medium and the readership. The print edition will always be available, usually the first Monday of every month. Our recent reader survey promises to invigorate our current offerings as well.
So thank you, Nashville, for five great years. We all look forward to many more!