a recent move to Sugar House and plans to expand their offices, one
local publication is showing that print is definitely not dead.
In fact, business is better than ever.
--- QSaltLake has become not only the ultimate publication for the gay community in Utah, but has managed to make itself one of the most anticipated publications for the public in general. Expanding like no local gay publications has before it, and attracting both a gay and straight audience with articles that rival the major papers. I got a chance to stop by their new offices (still under construction) to take pictures, as well as talk to Owner/Editor Michael Aaron about the magazine and its history, his history here in Utah, and some of the things Q is doing these days. Due to time constraints, he wasn't able to answer all my questions. But if the time ever comes, we'll revisit and post the rest of the questions I had for him!
Gavin: Hey Michael. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Michael: I was born and raised in Utah and have lived all but three of my 45 years here. I’ve left twice for the San Francisco Bay Area, but found the umbilical cord was not long enough and kept snapping me back here.
Gavin: You yourself have been an active member in the gay community over the years. What got you interested in writing about and for that community?
Michael: When I moved out on my own to attend the University of Utah, I began to understand that there was such a thing as a gay community. I would search the Daily Utah Chronicle for an ad placed by the gay Catholic group, Dignity. My sophomore year, Professor Phil Sullivan placed an ad about reviving the “Gay Student Union.” I, along with about a dozen others, showed up and I was elected co-president. I immediately became engrossed in the activist/writer life that, off-and-on, I’ve lived since that day. I wrote several op-ed pieces for the Chronicle and got some great response to them, including my first long-term relationship.
Gavin: You worked on both Triangle Magazine and The Community Reporter. What was it like working on those publications back in the 80's, and in Utah?
Michael: We found that there was a niche for a gay publication even in Utah, even in the 80s. We had a few issues with the press not wanting to print certain issues because of some of the ads and artwork, but they were always resolved and we were always out on schedule. They were both more a labor of love, since it was obvious we would never be able to make a living off the publications. It’s still a challenge today, but in the 80s it was our goal just to cover the print bill.
Gavin: Do you ever wish you could bring those older publications back, or do you believe they ran their course?
Michael: I’m incredibly proud of the work we did back then, and to some extent QSaltLake is an extension of what they were.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up Salt Lake Metro?
Michael: As the advertising industry largely collapsed along with the internet companies back in 2001, I was laid off from a very well-paying job. Luckily, I had paid off every loan but my mortgage and had no car payment, so I was able to survive on some freelance work and what savings I had for a few years. When Amendment 3 came along, I tried to team up with the publisher of the existing gay publication, The Pillar, but he wasn’t interested. I felt the community needed a more professional voice with true news and information. I decided to return to my roots and put out feelers for business partnerships.
Gavin: When did the decision come about to work with Steven Peterson, and what was the transition like to go from idea to reality?
Michael: Peterson heard that I was trying to form a publishing team and contacted me. He published the Little Lavender Book and had a sales team, an office, a printer, etc. It seemed a good fit since those were the things I was needing investors for. We brought on two people who had newspaper ad sales experience and they were able to sell the first issue with nothing but laser-printed comps of what the paper was going to look like. The community seemed eager for a new, professional voice.
Gavin: When that first issue hit, what was the reaction like from the public?
Michael: We had a huge party at Hotel Monaco the night we hit the streets, attracting the mayor, many local politicians, news personalities and community activists. We had so many people there, we had to have people wait in the lobby for room to open up to get in. The paper was an immediate hit.
Gavin: It's been said in the first two years there were always issues with advertisers, but nothing specific has ever been talked about. Can you elaborate on the issues and the struggle it was to keep them?
Michael: The issues were more about Peterson’s role as sales manager. It was a struggle to keep people and bills paid and we were bleeding money – my money – while he was putting fewer and fewer hours into the publication. I also looked into our accounts and found that money was being moved to his business and personal accounts. I called a meeting and tried to either oust him or buy the paper. He brought a lawyer and threatened to sue. I decided to put out my final issue of the Metro and simply walked out and started over in February of 2006.
Gavin: What affect did it have on the magazine and the staff, and what was being done at that time to keep it coming out?
Michael: When I walked, the few remaining contracts that still existed at Salt Lake Metro was what was keeping the paper running. I spent several days making phone calls to previous advertisers who had left because of conflicts with Peterson and collected enough advertising to print the first issue. I contacted each and every person involved in Salt Lake Metro and asked if they would come with me. They all did. I worked out of my house, reduced the run of the paper and the number of pages. I emptied the remainder of my 401K to pay the bills. After about a year, we were actually in the black and we expanded back into what we were and then kept growing.
Gavin: Even with things how they are today, do you regret that decision at all or did you feel you had not other option?
Michael: It was the only way to save the paper. The only decision I regret was not doing it sooner.
Gavin: What was the reaction from both the staff and the public when it happened?
Michael: There was a lot of confusion in the community. The question was, “is our community large enough for three publications?” (Pillar was still publishing at the time.) The answer was of course, no. But we knew Peterson wouldn’t be able to keep Metro going. I was surprised it lasted the 2 months it did.
Gavin: You started up TheQPages and TheQMap for yearly publication. Where did the ideas for those come from and how well have they done?
Michael: We knew that the Little Lavender Book was not going to be published again and thought there was a need for a directory. We started to make calls and found a lot of interest, so we moved ahead. We did pretty well on the Pages and the first issue stabilized us financially. The Map, and also our quarterly postcard pack mailing, are just other ways that we can reach our community. We take cues from larger communities and what resources they have that aren’t being done locally and move ahead with them.
Gavin: You also have the QCares Foundation going. Tell us a little about that and your goals with it.
Michael: We haven’t focused nearly as much as we need to on the foundation, but the goal is to raise funds so smaller groups can afford to get the word out to the community. We have less and less space to donate as we grow, so it is becoming more important to find creative ways to support upstart and struggling groups. Ultimately, we’d like the foundation to make cash donations for events and organizations. We also use the foundation to forward our PSA advertising that we produce, such as meth and hepatitis awareness campaigns.
Gavin: You left Downtown SLC last year to move into Sugar House. Why did you decide to move, and what do you plan to do with the new space?
Michael: Since we were working out of the house, we desperately needed to get out into an office as soon as it was financially feasible. We found a great, affordable office building which already housed a number of advertisers and the People With AIDS Coalition of Utah. It seemed like a good fit and we jumped on it.
Gavin: You also changed your website to be more news oriented, and specifically focus on local stories about the gay community. What has been the reaction to that?
Michael: The Web site is already one of the most-visited newspaper sites in the state. According to Alexa, we get about as much traffic as the Ogden Standard-Examiner, the Provo Daily Herald. The only larger newspaper sites are the Tribune, Deseret News and St. George Spectrum.
Gavin: Offhand, what's your take on the way local media has reported on stories involving gay issues, both good and bad?
Michael: Much has changed in reporting of gay news since the days of Queer Nation in the 90s. Back then, there was almost NO coverage of gay issues – to the point the group printed “OUT OF ORDER due to homophobia” stickers and put them over the coin slots. It caught their attention. Since much of what goes into the newspapers is from the Associated Press, the coverage is fairly adequate. But then, every once in a while you get these outrageous stories and just shake your head. There are also a number of stories which may be of interest only to the gay community that don’t make print or air. That’s where we fit in.
Gavin: What do you believe QSaltLake's impact has been on the scene and the community so far?
Michael: Our goal has always been to inform and help build the community. I’m proud that we can say we’ve been successful at that.