William Waybourn Leaves Window

Gay newspaper publisher who led chain that bought NY, Washington Blades steps down

After roughly 10 years at the helm of Window Media, the gay newspaper chain, William Waybourn has stepped down as president of the company.

“I am grateful to the people who played such important roles building Window Media into what it is today,” Waybourn said in a January 20 press statement. “It’s unfair that I will get much of the credit for their hard work to make our publications the best in the gay press, and the alternative press as well.”

The statement was placed on the Window Media Web site after Gay City News contacted David W. Unger early on January 20. Unger is a principal in Avalon Equity Partners, the majority stakeholder in Window.

Unger first said, “No comment” when asked if Waybourn had left the company and then said, “It’s not official yet.” After making these comments, Unger insisted that he not be quoted, although the comments were made in direct response to this reporter’s questions without Unger first requesting he be off the record.

Waybourn founded the company in 1996 with Chris Crain, now the company’s executive vice president for editorial and production. Backed by roughly 30 small investors, Crain and Waybourn purchased the Southern Voice in Atlanta, the Houston Voice, and other gay media properties.

Their most ambitious buy came in 2001 when they bought the Washington Blade and its sister paper, the New York Blade, for $3.6 million. Unger’s most recent transaction was the 2005 merger of the New York Blade with HX, a weekly New York magazine, under the HX Media umbrella.

“There would be no Window Media without William Waybourn,” Crain said in the statement. “He has guided these publications and the people behind them through good times and bad. We are grateful for his leadership and wish him all success.”

Crain and Waybourn, who did not respond to calls seeking comment, built a chain that struggled financially. The company lost money in 2001 and by 2002 two of the three former owners of the Blades, Don Michaels and James Lamont, sued Window charging the chain was late in paying them. The case was settled last year. The prior owners of the Southern Voice and the Houston Voice complained about late payments. During 2002, Window was in default on a $1.0 million loan from the California-based Silicon Valley Bank that it used to finance part of the Blade deal.

The state of the company’s finances today is unknown. Window is privately held and does not disclose financial data.

When Avalon became Window’s majority stakeholder in 2001, the investment fund’s $63 million in capital made additional purchases possible.

Avalon was licensed by the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) as a Small Business Investment Corporation (SBIC) in 2000, according to documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Avalon had start-up capital of $20.8 million and the SBA approved a “commitment amount” of just under $40.9 million. Avalon could borrow all or some of those SBA dollars until September of 2005 when the commitment expired.

Avalon went on to buy gay media properties in Florida and Atlanta as well as Genre, a national gay magazine. Avalon also established a second operating unit, Unite Media. Because the SBA limits the amount of cash an SBIC can invest in any one venture, the creation of Unite allowed Avalon to purchase additional properties. The Window and Unite papers share content, staff, and, in some cases, even offices, though they are separate legal entities.

Suggesting that Avalon wants even greater control over the gay media chain, the press statement noted that Peter Polimino, Avalon’s chief financial officer, will be Window’s new president.

“I look forward to building on the growth of Window Media under William Waybourn’s tutelage,” Polimino said in the statement. “These publications are well-positioned to enter the new media age in a way that serves their unique readership while delivering excellent return to their investors.”

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