Friday, November 20, 2015

Vital Voice: Inside & Out

Last month I left Vital Voice after a firestorm erupted over my exit interview with former Rehab co-owner Jim Weckmann, and now that I'm no longer with the magazine I'm free to share some opinions. For my readers outside of the area, the glossy Vital Voice Magazine is the dominant LGBT publication in the St. Louis and Kansas City markets, but it began as a community newspaper much like The Bay Area Reporter or The Gayly.

Old vs. New Media

There's a vocal contingent in St. Louis who bitterly resents publisher Darin Slyman and the magazine in general for scrapping the original format for the lifestyle magazine concept. My answer to that is if you wanted the old version you should have supported it. Publishing and distributing requires advertising dollars, and former publisher Pam Schneider went $150k into debt to keep the community paper going and people still complained incessantly and expected everything for free. She went on to heavily subsidize the now-defunct LGBT Center of St. Louis by allowing them to pay less rent than what they owed, but when she finally sold the building many made her out to be a heartless, greedy landlord.

Enraged & Entitled

On the inside I witnessed the odd mix of hostility and entitlement firsthand. A perfect example is when the head of a now-defunct theatre company sent us a scathing letter saying we should be ashamed of ourselves for not covering The Normal Heart.

But we had covered it numerous times, and had even interviewed him. He was so disgruntled, it seems, because we didn't provide even more free publicity. Publisher James Lesch, normally the one who strives to calm the waters in these situations, sent a firmly worded rebuttal to the theatre's entire board, culminating with a demand for an apology. No apology was received and the company wound up folding within months.

Year after year the magazine gives free coverage for community festivals, whether they do business with the company or not, but despite choosing another, non-LGBT publication as their official sponsor, one committee was furious with Slyman for not getting national exposure for their event through his partnership with The Advocate -  a perk he provides for festivals who choose VV as their official sponsor. As an apparent result, tickets we were to receive for the VIP tent were "unavailable" and our excited, fresh-faced interns were told they couldn't hand out sunglasses and magazines at the festival.

A Tale of Two Cities

"I don't know if I should even let you in" snarled a notoriously bitter queen working the door of a popular Grove nightclub upon seeing Slyman approach. She was one of several affiliated with a local St. Louis LGBT blog who miss no opportunity to heckle Slyman and his staff, mostly over social media. At least the queen at the door delivered her hostility directly, unlike the others in the group who hide behind keyboards where they call VV writers "horrible people" and sometimes send hate mail under pseudonyms.

Meanwhile, Kansas City is warm, hospitable and lucrative - and they've even tried to get the magazine to relocate their base of operations there.

In the Black

The old Vital Voice was on the verge of folding. Darin Slyman was willing to save it, but not willing to go bankrupt to do so, and Schneider's example proves that one can give until it's gone and there's little appreciation in the end. Even in a community-minded business, you have to take care of business, and yourself.

Speaking for Myself

I know a few former VV employees who weren't happy when they left, and I don't claim to speak for them. I'm only sharing my own thoughts and observations.

While on the roster I wasn't permitted to speak in detail of the inner workings of the company, and despite the constant heckling we were to stay above the fray. Darin is not one to complain or to show emotion, but the way he's been treated by some in St. Louis is ridiculous and horrible, and I didn't want to officially close the chapter on my time working with him without first saying my piece.

Vital Voice is a business like any other. It employs people that have to get paid, and trains interns who go on to successful careers. You're entitled not to like them, but you're not entitled to anything more.

For my part, I'm enjoying the pivot to politics via, while reserving my local pieces for this blog where I no longer have to worry about skittish advertisers. I've lived all over and the biggest quirk I've found about St. Louis is the insistence that certain things aren't discussed. I think we're all better off speaking freely.


  1. "the biggest quirk I've found about St. Louis is the insistence that certain things aren't discussed. I think we're all better off speaking freely." Amen to that and I imagine I am among the many who appreciate your efforts to slog through the mud to provide truth..

    1. Chris Andoe. You are truly TOP SHELF! I"m in much appreciation!
      Darin Slyman

    2. Thank you. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.