After being told over and over again that there were actual scandals to be exposed at Pink Triangle Press, Jesse Brown decided to let a former paid employee of Xtra write a loving farewell to the “gay and lesbian” newspaper chain that had folded six months previous. And that farewell letter was barely distinguishable from a piece that same Millennial hack, Erica Lenti, had written for RRJ in January.
Lenti made good use of Brown’s credulousness, willingness to backstab, and malign ignorance of the actual gay and lesbian press. She joined a list of other journos who recited approved bromides about all the good work Xtra did that we will all now surely miss.
To dumb Millennial hacks, Xtra is a cherished cornerstone of our diverse “LGBTQ” communities. Its most important feature was its “pink” (actually fuchsia) streetcorner newspaper box. These hacks are very concerned about the elimination of the container that held Xtra rather than Xtra itself, which I am sure they never read. (Can you imagine hetero hacks pulling out a copy of Xtra from a streetcorner newspaper box in broad daylight?)
The “pink” newspaper boxes were held up as a form of “visibility.” Fags holding hands in public is visibility; newspaper boxes are “unregulated, multi-hued hunks of metal.”
Every obituary for the printed Xtra that I read was premised on an idealized (this means false) conception of the paper. These hacks either have not actually read Xtra in recent years or are lying about it.
Matthew Hays, an Xtra contributor who did not answer my questions, wrote in the Globe: “All it takes is for one election to provide us with politicians hostile to the idea of a rainbow flag in a public square, and we’re back to square one,” despite the Constitution and established legal precedent. “For those reasons it is imperative that we have a press for and by Canada’s evolving queer communities.” (A press. Just one. As we’ve always had.)
Though I wasn’t quoted, my acquaintance James Dubro canvassed my opinions for an article in Now that was toothless and wilfully ignorant by any standard. “For many is disappointing and sad… because of the loss of visibility in the streets.” (That soon became the talking point for dumb Millennial hacks and for Craig Takeuchi in Vancouver.)
Toronto’s bien-pensant media intelligentsia want Xtra’s “pink” newspaper boxes back; what they don’t want is the task of investigating Xtra. When challenged, Lenti, via top-posted E‑mail, asked me what I would have written. Here it is.
“Publisher-for-life” Ken Popert
Although he has faithful lieutenants in David Walberg and Brandon Matheson, Pink Triangle Press has been run for decades by Ken Popert, whom I call publisher-for-life. As media barons go, you could situate Popert within a Bermuda Triangle formed by Charles Foster Kane, Anna Wintour, and Harold Ballard. Popert wears every major decision, and quite a few minor ones, committed by Xtra essentially from the day it came into being until now.
Popert started at the Body Politic collective in 1973, according to an RRJ retrospective. He took a break, but returned in full force in 1986, that report said. Popert has run the place ever since, a kind of single-party rule I associate with Alberta. (Or maybe it’s more like China, a socialist/capitalist régime ostensibly run by a “collective.”)
When hacks make it seem as though print Xtra just naturally and inevitably had to be shut down due to vague and faceless forces acting upon it, they’re unknowingly recapitulating Sarah Schulman’s definition of gentrification. They’re also concealing the fact that it happened on Popert’s watch.
Hack coverage of Silicon Valley is notorious for praising failed enterprises for blowing through millions in other people’s money, but I’ve simply never seen anything like the press’s complete unwillingness to lay responsibility for Xtra at the feet of the man who runs it. (Actually, I have: The career of Laas Turnbull, the widely unloved destroyer of one magazine after another [Shift, Eye Weekly, the Grid] who keeps failing upward.)
But to attribute Xtra’s failures to Popert might involve actual research and analysis. Canadian hacks are much too concerned with looking pro-queer and progressive to investigate this Canadian media conglomerate.
As much media concentration as the Irvings
I’d compare Popert to the Irvings, who own seemingly every media outlet in New Brunswick. I grew up under the Irvings and know what it’s like. What it’s like is Pink Triangle Press.
The Body Politic became Xtra, which later added Xtra West in Vancouver and Capital Xtra in Ottawa. At that point Pink Triangle Press was already running all the fortnightly or monthly gay newspapers in Canada. It already had control of that market.
PTP ran smaller publications – for Gay Pride and an advertorial compilation.
PTP bought into the unlucky winner of CRTC’s competition for a licence to run a gay TV station, PrideVision/OutTV. (The channels’ names have changed many times.) When the channel split into two, one half being a gay-porn channel, PTP retained stakes in both – 55% in the case of the porn channel, 24.9% for OutTV. (The CRTC’s ownership chart for OutTV [PDF] helpfully lists everything Pink Triangle Press owned at its time of publication .)
Obviously if you own part of a gay TV station you’re gonna want to put your own shows on the air. And so PTP did, via subsidiaries variously named Bumper 2 Bumper Media, which produced the dull gay travel series Bump and the dreadful Gayest Show Ever. (In all fairness, OutTV has aired exactly one viable home-grown show.)
PTP would have owned a share of Proud FM had PTP not accused the latter’s owners of acting disingenuously. (Popert “also complained that the new station wouldn’t pledge to using Xtra for its news content,” which would have made PTP the monopoly supplier of gay news to gay media in Toronto.)
After ridiculing Fab (I have an old clipping here by Nate Hendley, date obscured, with the dek “The competition takes a look at t’other guys”), PTP bought Fab in 2008. Complying with standard operating procedure when a conglomerate buys the competition, Pink Triangle Press shitcanned its editor, ran the thing for a while, then shut it down.
I could draw a distinction with the Irvings: PTP, a nonprofit, has to reinvest retained earnings. One obvious manner of reinvestment is acquiring the competition. The result is the same – a monopoly. (Actually a monopsony: Only PTP had the money to buy shares in the competition or purchase it outright.)
I call it that even though I know there were small competitors here and there, like local gay magazines (Icon, In Toronto, Outlooks) and what is still a going concern, Fugues in Montreal. Except the latter is in French and the former are at best comparable to alternative newsweeklies.
An itchy trigger finger for defamation
I previously mentioned that the world’s only Honoured Dyke with a boyfriend, Andrea Houston, got shitcanned from her reporter job at Xtra “not long after I complained that she published someone else’s defamatory comments about me.” Jesse Brown much later told me he knew of a “transcript” in which I was explicitly blamed for getting her fired, though I know nothing about that.
Actually, she was to blame. Andrea Houston did publish someone else’s words about me that were defamatory. It just didn’t hit the court system. But as such, she joined a long line of defamers at Xtra.
In 1996, Xtra carried out a vendetta against André Fiset, a gay businessman whom Popert, editrix Eleanor Brown, editor David Walberg, and “journalists” Colin Leslie and Marjo Cusipag decided they disliked, by all appearances. (While Fiset accepts an easy French pronunciation of his surname, he prefers it if you pronounce the T.) The article entitled “André Fiset says he stands up for himself,” Xtra (1996.07.18), by Leslie and Cusipag, contains a number of actionable libels by my reading. And by Fiset’s reading, too, because he took Pink Triangle Press to court for defamation.
I recall Fab, before it was bought by Xtra, reporting that Fiset’s lawsuit was settled on the courthouse steps. In interviews with me, Fiset confirmed that (“settled practically on the doorsteps,” he said). The case was about to go to jury selection, he told me. Instead, Pink Triangle Press paid “a substantial monetary settlement” and printed an apology in consecutive issues. I found that apology – curiously ill typeset – in the Gay Pride 2001 issue of Xtra (June 28):
Apology to André Fist
Pink Triangle Press, Xtra, along with its Publisher, David Walberg, Editor, Eleanor Brown, and Reporters Colin Leslie and Marjo Cusipag
wish to offer a wholehearted apology to André Fiset.
In 1996 we wrote two articles about André which were inaccurate and contained many omissions. We apologize for any harm this has caused André and we deeply regret it.
We also regret that this apology has been so long in coming.
We have settled the lawsuit André brought against us and we hope that this apology will remove any harm to André’s reputation.
“I certainly had serious questions about the integrity of Xtra and the people running it,” Fiset says. His questions concerned “the journalistic integrity of those at the top and how their agenda seemed quite contrary to their – let me think; what’s the expression here? – like their statement of purpose… some form of ethics or goals that Pink Triangle Press has which I felt clearly they violated.”
Further: “It was totally out of line with their mission statement, where truth didn’t seem to matter to them at all. They had an agenda.” While the published article notes that Fiset had written to Xtra before publication, according to Fiset the newspaper did not heed the warnings in that letter. Fiset had also written to the PTP board, he says. “I was surprised that the letter that I wrote to there was absolutely no attempt to deal with my concerns in relation to Xtra’s lack of ethics in relation to these articles.”
But that wasn’t the end of it. Left out of that apology was Anthony Cheng, a source quoted in the article. According to a court case decided in 2001 (Fiset v. Pink Triangle Press: 2001 CarswellOnt 2210, Docket 96-CU-112676), Cheng didn’t sign on to the settlement, so Fiset’s lawsuit against PTP, which also named Cheng, continued against Cheng. From the ruling:
he article contained a number of comments and quotations from the Defendant Anthony Cheng, alleging in essence that the Plaintiff did not pay his debts when due and owed Mr. Cheng money. All Defendants were served with a Notice of Libel and no response was made by Mr. Cheng. The comments attributed to Anthony Cheng were based on an interview conducted by Marjo Cusipag, one of the journalists who completed the Xtra story. The transcript from the audiotape of the interview with Anthony Cheng makes it clear that the words complained of were said to the journalist and reported in the magazine.
Portions of the examination for discovery of Anthony Cheng were read into evidence. In that evidence, Mr. Cheng acknowledged that the essence of his statements to the magazine were false. In particular, when Anthony Cheng had stated that certain funds were due and owing and outstanding from the Plaintiff to him, he neglected to tell the journalist that he, Anthony Cheng, had agreed to wait for payment of monies owing until settlement of a legal action that the Plaintiff had outstanding, and therefore there were no funds due and owing.
Mr. Cheng stated that he made the false statements since he was “upset” with the Plaintiff. Cheng agreed that his feelings could be called animosity as a result of the agreement that he entered into which would postpone the debt to him.
In the Statement of Defence filed on his behalf, Mr. Cheng denied that the words complained of were said, and pleaded justification and fair comment. Despite the admissions contained in the transcript of interview, and the transcript of examination for discovery, Mr. Cheng neither retracted the statements nor made any apology or indeed offer to settle prior to trial.
An offer to settle was made on behalf of the Plaintiff in June of 2000, to which there has been no response.
Cheng lost that case. He was ordered to pay $15,000 in general damages, $23,178.87 in aggravated damages, and $18,984.18 in costs. Fiset told me Cheng paid up – plus Fiset got a $30,000 settlement from another defendant.
Settling Fiset’s claim allowed Xtra to avoid a finding that it had libelled him. But Xtra actually had published somebody else’s defamatory statements.
Xtra would do the same in Andrea Houston’s case and in a different one where I was also targeted. What appeared to be a whole set of Pink Triangle Press employees, and editor-in-chief Brandon Matheson, allowed defamatory comments about me to remain visible on
DailyXtra.comfor months. I complained to Matheson in writing, but the comments only disappeared when all comments disappeared. (That was another manifestation of Xtra’s tendency to censor, but I’ll get to that shortly.)
During the same period, Xtra busily deleted comments it claimed were in violation of its comment policy, despite the fact editrix Robin Perelle refused multiple demands from me to clarify that policy. Undeterred, I published my own comments on a blog that Perelle and Xtra couldn’t touch. I also downloaded Xtra’s entire Web site a few times and have a nearly complete archive of all its articles and comments. In an environment where Xtra constantly deleted comments, especially any comment at all critical of transgenders, comments that defamed me were allowed to stand.
If I’d talked to Fiset earlier, I think I would actually have taken Xtra to court. I knew about his case all along, of course, but hearing from him directly would have decided the issue for me.
There was actual damage done to me, but Pink Triangle Press is likely to die of self-inflicted wounds. That isn’t wishful thinking: There’s a history.
If you don’t know anything about Xtra’s history with defamation, I doubt you also know about its history with embezzlement. For in 1996 and 1997, right under Ken Popert’s nose, Pink Triangle Press lost half a million bucks to its own bookkeeper.
Unlike in Cheng’s case above, the perpetrator of these crimes has, by all appearances, fulfilled the terms of his restitution order. Hence I see no reason to name him, especially since I lay the blame on Ken Popert’s mismanagement in the first place. PTP’s bookkeeper embezzled about $500,000 from Pink Triangle Press. He also made a lot of calls to Guyana, which was the Al Capone–like excuse Xtra used to fire him in 1997, as Xtra reported it did.
In “The bookkeeper pleads guilty” by Krishna Rau (Xtra, 1999.10.21), Popert, so very often quoted in his own paper, said “I’ve talked to our forensic accountants about this and they say you can put all the control mechanisms in place, but at some point you have to trust someone. You want a system where one person can’t control financial expenditures, but when you’re our size , that’s hard to do…. Part of the lesson there is you have to have an external accountant who, if you’re growing, can tell you where you should be, not where you were.”
Only in April 2000, according to an ad I have here, did PTP advertise for a controller. The ad said “the Press currently operates on an annual budget of about $6 million.” At the time of discovery for his lawsuit, Fiset told me, PTP’s financial statements showed about $5 million in earnings. Pink Triangle Press would never see that kind of revenue again, I believe. With no access to its books, I still doubt it will return to its post-1993 revenues of $2 million.
Digital dimes? More like pennies
Gay and lesbian publishing is not really a profitable activity.
– Ken Popert
While hacks all seem to agree the closure of the printed Xtra was a bitter blow to “the LGBTQ community,” their further message is that PTP is just adapting to the times. That was a pipe dream in 2012 and has been belied by subsequent events.
Of course the conversion of print dollars to digital dimes is happening. Further, gay businesses in Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver have gone tits-up. But Ken Popert, who once had to be told what Flickr was, ran an empire that could not see the future coming. Again that makes Xtra little worse than other newspapers – except for the fact that Xtra was a monopoly.
Pink Triangle Press had a lot of options at its disposal because it published a free printed newspaper with paid-for ads and ran a Web site it could have made people pay for. Instead it made everything free. And all along the entire operation has been underwritten by its gay-sex businesses – initially phone sex (e.g., CruiseLine) and now the sole “profit” centre, Squirt. That latter is at risk because it’s just a Web site rather than an iPhone app, which at least produces revenue on purchase. But even Grindr may be for sale; the whole sector may be shrinking.
(I have never once read any disapproval or even serious questioning of the funding model of Pink Triangle Press, a nominal nonprofit corporation whose money derives mainly gay men’s sex drive, if not gay sex itself. I wonder what hetero hacks really think of that. Then again, there seems to be no opprobrium directed at queen of Canadian alternative newsweeklies Now for continuing to publish illegal ads for prostitutes, many of whom might be victims of human trafficking.)
The last year of print Xtra was a travesty, which in this case does not mean “transvestite.” Essentially every article in that paper had been previously published online. There weren’t even letters to the editor, which Lenti claims to have edited, anymore; instead Xtra reprinted hand-picked blog comments in nearly all cases. With good-quality colour printing available, and with a few reporters still in its employ, Xtra could have restricted the most interesting and expansive stories to the print edition. You wouldn’t have to pay to read them, but you would have to read the printed newspaper.
Xtra recapitulated all the own goals of the newspaper industry in general: Printing everything in two places but charging for nothing; refusing to take advantage of the unique qualities of print; whittling down the reason people read your paper (its “content”) because you already whittled so much of it that readership is down, hence so are your profits.
Since the Xtra one could pull out of a “pink” newspaper box (even if you never did) was essentially a printout of a blog, why should it exist?
But just as hacks wrung their hands about the closure of print Xtra without admitting they read it, these same hacks either don’t read the online version or are wilfully misrepresenting it. If anyone knows about this it’s me.
Xtra.com, and later
DailyXtra.com have spent the last three years at war with its readership. Like all “gay” news sources, from the contemptible Joe·My·God to barely functional blogs like Towleroad and Queerty, “Quotidian Xtra” has become a transgender news service. Worse, because Pink Triangle Press holds grudges and plays favourites, Xtra has become the home of biased reporting and has censored opposing voices.
If you think I’m exaggerating that last point, then you obviously never read, much less contributed to, the comments on Xtra articles. You can’t do that anymore because Xtra decided to stop allowing comments. That’s defensible. But after turning off commenting, Xtra also unpublished all the previous comments, which is not practically different from deleting them. The publication whose predecessor was hauled into court twice on obscenity charges (and rightly prevailed) acted exactly the way you’d expect a monopoly to act. It censored criticism of itself.
As for slipshod reporting, let me give you a few Greatest Hits of Quotidian Xtra.
Xtra was an open supporter of QuAIA, the subversive organization that almost torpedoed Pride Toronto.
Calling Xtra an open supporter isn’t media analysis; it’s a description of Xtra’s own coverage. Who wrote that piece? Marcus McCann, who later refused to secure comment from me when Xtra ran two articles about me and the complaint I filed against QuAIA under Pride’s failed Dispute Resolution Process.
Worse, Xtra documented a separate complaint against QuAIA, which the head of the DRP, Doug Elliott, had improperly sent to Xtra, by publishing the whole thing, including unredacted names and home telephone numbers. That breach of privacy, which Elliott and Xtra were both guilty of, prompted the complainant to withdraw the complaint.
In other words, the man who should have been impartially running the Dispute Resolution Process and the monopoly gay paper engaged in machinations that left a complainant no other choice but to discontinue its complaint. All to the benefit of QuAIA, of course.
Xtra didn’t cover Doug Elliott’s resignation – presumably because they didn’t know it had happened until I told Sue-Ann Levy, who documented it in the Sun. Yes, the Toronto Sun was for a time a better source of gay news than Xtra.
Xtra effectively refused to cover the furious opposition to the rushed and unwanted renaming of Cawthra Square Park (next to the 519 and home to the venerable AIDS Memorial). The park was to be named after an heterosexual female member of the human-rights nomenklatura, Barbara Hall. Xtra hack Andrea Houston acted as though there were no opposition.
Xtra also essentially ignored the opposition to a plan to deface a dozen or so Church and Wellesley buildings with “queer” murals.
But here’s the real problem. Xtra’s core audience is lesbians and gay men, two groups that simply are not interested in reading about trannies all day. Transgenders, like “queers,” are not merely at odds with gays and lesbians but are bent on defining us out of existence and – ideally – eliminating us. Xtra, despite being Ken Popert’s fiefdom, officially pretends that transwomen aren’t men, transmen aren’t women, that sex can be changed, that “trans lesbians” and “the cotton ceiling” exist, that gay history is actually trans history.
Today’s Quotidian Xtra is so estranged from its core readership that it could not put together any original sources whatsoever for two eldergay suicides – of Christopher Peloso and Chris Hyndman. In both cases, Xtra had no quotes from their widowers and was reduced to something like rewriting wire copy.
And because it has no viable sources among lesbians and gay men, Xtra is unaware that Pride Toronto simply refused to investigate a complaint under its Dispute Resolution Process launched before the 2015 parade. (I filed that complaint. Against whom?)
Commercial gay blogs don’t have a future
They have never made money and never will. Gay newspapers and magazines can barely keep themselves afloat, and many have simply shut down. Xtra was an early adopter of this model, but the latest to disappear was Têtu. Half the reason Press Pass Q exists is to document industry layoffs and shutdowns.
Gay blogs are now transgender blogs. Because Xtra is not a newspaper anymore, it has become another transgender blog reliant on advertising (and the sugar daddy of Squirt). Daily Xtra has nothing to differentiate it from competing blogs except occasional Canadian coverage. They’re all queer/trans/“LGBTQ” publications with little to no original reporting and a great deal of manufactured outrage. Further, they are founded on the fratricidal lie that transgenders are more important than gays and lesbians.
Pam’s House Blend and an arch-transgender blog, Bile Rico, were the first to die. It is not wishful thinking to say that Daily Xtra’s demise is a matter of time. There is no commercially viable gay press.
This is what “media criticism” looks like
What you have read here is the result of decades of experience, well-maintained clipping files, and legwork. It is the result of deep knowledge of the sort dumb Millennial hacks not only don’t have but might angrily deny is even possible. (Because half the shit I told you here isn’t Googlable.)
A critique of Xtra and Pink Triangle Press is overdue if only because of Popert’s decades of mismanagement and Xtra’s journalistic failings. It’s also a monopoly, but PTP gets away with that because Toronto hacks are at pains to look progressive. Even if they never actually read Xtra – for years hacks couldn’t even render its name right – or even if they were recently on its payroll, downtown-progressive “media critics” have nothing but good things to say about this “LGBTQ” media outlet. All those good things to say are political positioning statements, not analysis. National Governing Media Critic Jesse Brown was easily the least credible critic of Xtra even before he hosted a glowing piece by a former employee.
Meanwhile, Xtra’s actual audience does not want an “LGBTQ” paper. After all, it died, and queers and transgenders are not a market segment.
While double-checking my files here, I found a letter I wrote to Popert in response to the party PTP threw for its 40th anniversary.
“About 300 people” were present, Xtra’s report stated, including, according to someone who was there, “everyone” Xtra ever fired. Except me.
You couldn’t be bothered to invite me despite my having contributed 83 articles to Xtra and Xtra West. Now I look back at David Walberg’s statement that I treated the paper with contempt as especially risible. In recent years I recall Matt Mills’s pitching me for some kind of writing assignment (possibly a column), only to scupper the deal before it could even happen because he wouldn’t meet to talk about it outside the killzone of Xtra’s former office. “Petty” doesn’t begin to describe your organizational politics.
For a nominally nonprofit “journalistic” enterprise that, by its own admission, relies on sex services to pay its bills, you sure have an intricate web of double standards – in this case, about how you treat your writers. And by far the worst fact is that neither you nor Walberg nor anyone else with PTP’s signature capacity to hold grudges will ever leave the organization voluntarily. You have put me in the position of waiting till you all die off or become medically incapacitated before I can reasonably expect any kind of change.
Grudges harm more than their target.