Gay journalism has struggled in this city, but the newest entry comes with insider clout and a mainstream pedigree. Launched late in 2009, the Wisconsin Gazette aims to cover the entire LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) market, from politics to real estate to entertainment. “It’s a vital niche,” says Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Louis Weisberg. […]


Gay journalism has struggled in this city, but the newest entry comes with insider clout and a mainstream pedigree. Launched late in 2009, the Wisconsin Gazette aims to cover the entire LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) market, from politics to real estate to entertainment.

“It’s a vital niche,” says Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Louis Weisberg. “Without a gay paper, our issues aren’t visible.”

He dismisses claims that the gay community no longer needs its own journalism: “We’re post ‘Will & Grace,’ but society lags predictably behind. There are young [gay] people in Milwaukee who don’t know they can’t get married.” The 58-year-old Weisberg says he’s met peers who don’t know of Milwaukee’s openly gay state senator, Democrat Tim Carpenter, or the state’s openly gay member of Congress, Madison Democrat Tammy Baldwin.

The Gazette is bankrolled by Leonard Sobczak, one of Milwaukee’s gay elite. A politically connected real estate broker, Sobczak served eight years on the city’s Fire and Police Commission and on many nonprofit boards.

“The goal is not to make money,” Sobczak says of the paper. “I’m passionate about the LGBT community, and this just seemed like a great opportunity to provide a service to it.” Still, he and Weisberg are confident they’ll at least break even. Weisberg has calculated a market of 140,000 LGBT adults in southeastern Wisconsin – “and that doesn’t even include Madison,” where he’ll also seek readers. Milwaukee draws people from outstate who migrate here for a larger gay community, Sobczak notes.

Besides personal connections – Weisberg and Sobczak dated for a time – Weisberg brings a lengthy journalistic resume. The Virginia native broke into newspapers in the mid-1980s, freelancing for publications ranging from Advertising Age to the Albuquerque Journal. He moved to Chicago and in 1990 became news editor of the Windy City Times, then a leading gay paper. A dispute with the owners led Weisberg and other staffers to quit and start the rival Chicago Free Press. The Times later folded.

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Eventually Weisberg went into marketing, still writing on the side. He was doing that when he moved to Milwaukee in 2008. He and Sobczak decided to start the Gazette after another gay paper, QLife, folded in December 2008.

QLife was one of a long line of gay publications, like Wisconsin Light and IN Step. The Gazette’s task won’t be easy, some say.

“Advertising dollars are dwindling,” says Kate Sherry, who edited QLife from 2006 until it closed and now is marketing director for PrideFest. “One thing we faced was people who were afraid to come across as a gay business and didn’t want to advertise.” Sherry says there was “nothing racy about us,” but she was still told by some outlets to stop dropping off the paper because “our neighborhood isn’t very comfortable with your type of paper.”

The Gazette hopes to break that resistance. Whereas its predecessors tended to go for flashy or slightly homemade feels, the Gazette looks more like a staid, upmarket newsweekly. That’s intentional, says Weisberg: His goal is to get shelf space in mainstream outlets, such as Barnes & Noble.

“We are ambassadors for the gay community to the straight community at large,” Weisberg says. So he shuns “bar-rag” staples like beefcake ads for 900-number phone sex calls. “It’s not an image we want to project.”

Instead, the paper targets the upwardly mobile and settled-down. A regular real estate column profiled gay-friendly Bay View. And Weisberg, who writes much of the copy, penned a feature about the LGBT archive at UW-Milwaukee.

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But the Gazette isn’t all lifestyle and soft-news. Weisberg’s story on new Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki focused on his hard-line positions, calling the cleric “an activist against child-abuse reform legislation, same-sex marriage, reproductive freedom and stem-cell research.”

Despite roadblocks at some mainstream outlets, Weisberg doesn’t blame homophobia, but a glut of freebies. To cut clutter, stores “have decided that they’ll just take The Onion and the Shepherd Express,” he says. So to rise above the crowd, the paper has run digital billboard ads and invested in 30 shiny news boxes.

The Gazette has won advertising bucks from the Marcus Center and the Pabst and Skylight theaters. It’s also turning heads. “They’re trying to bring in some fresh approaches,” says political blogger Cory Liebmann, who praises the interactive and social networking capabilities on the paper’s Web site.

But one former publisher is scornful. Jerry Johnson, who in the 1990s put out the Wisconsin Light with his now-deceased partner Terry Boughner, allows that “I’m hoping that the Gazette survives.” Then he complains its news “is flat, bland and uninteresting,” lacking local community stories. “They seem to be more interested in how the paper looks.”

But Weisberg feels his formula is working: With 10,000 or more copies every two weeks, he says, the paper’s breaking even – and catching on. “They’re calling us the Gay-zette,” he laughs. “We were hoping for that.”

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