UPDATED, 9:30 pm, May 18:
Josh Gross, the former part-time staff reporter with Just Out, confirmed tonight that he was fired Monday, May 4 from the publication after exactly two weeks of work. The reason he was given: because he made a factual error in his reporting of a May 1 newsbrief in the paper about emerging queer publication id magazine, a competitor which launched their new monthly print mag today across Portland.
Gross said he was handed typed reporting notes from a freelancer with Just Out, and told to "work with this" to write his brief on id magazine, and added he was pretty sure nobody fact-checked or edited his work. Then, he says when he came into his office Monday morning, an e-mail from id magazine editor Duncan was in his inbox, which he described as "a crazy tirade" - Duncan was furious she'd been referred to as a "he" in Gross's news brief. Gross says he was then called into a meeting with publisher Marty Davis that morning, and fired over the mistake. "Marty was really paranoid about the whole thing. 'It’ll be all over the Mercury blog,' she said. Apparently she was right about that."
More alarming than his firing, though, is a new allegation from Gross: that Just Out publisher Marty Davis asked him to lie about his sexual orientation, and fell just short of asking him his sexual orientation outright during the job interview process.
"It’s illegal to discriminate based on gender or sexuality, and that includes being straight," Gross says. "In the job interview, she made this little comment, ‘are you active in the gay community?’ And I said the truth is, I’m straight, I’m an ally in the gay community." Gross says Davis’ response to this was: "if anyone asks you, tell them you’re 'questioning,'" meaning unsure of his sexual orientation, which Gross says he is not.
"I’m straight," Gross continues. "She asked me if I could maybe make out with a guy in a bar every so often. I found that so offensive. To ask me to lie about my sexual orientation to keep this job… it’s offensive. I have no problem with who I am."
So, is Gross upset about being fired? "Literally after being out of work for a whole year, yeah: I was looking forward to getting off food stamps," he says. "Of all the things to fire me for, it was so fucking ridiculous. And I’m not the only person who thinks this." And what’s Gross doing now for work? "Nothing," he says. "I was fired and that’s it." Davis responded to an e-mail seeking comment by denying that Gross was fired from the paper, though he no longer works there.
Original post follows...
Aaaaand roll drama!
Portland’s newest print publication for the queer community, id magazine — a full-color glossy monthly led by marketing consultant Christian Messer — hits the street today. By this afternoon, it should be available at coffee shops, bars and retailers across the city, including especially along the Stark Street corridor. It joins Just Out, published since 1983, as the second print pub aimed at covering the LGBT community across Oregon.
That’s the easy news. But behind the scenes for weeks now, a bitter drama has played out between the two publications: a war of words and egos between senior staff members and supporters of both publications that has the queer community here buzzing.
“We don’t want any drama and we never did,” says id magazine’s new editor-in-chief, West Duncan, who called the Mercury last week to tip us off on alleged “harassment and slander” directed at the new mag from Just Out publisher Marty Davis (full disclosure: I worked as staff writer and then news editor at Just Out for one year).
Duncan claims that via e-mail, Davis threatened to launch personal attacks against her and the magazine, in the May 15 Just Out edition, to try and derail id’s launch. Duncan suggested Davis was angry because a writer from her publication named Josh Gross, in a news brief on id magazine in the May 1 Just Out, inaccurately referred to Duncan — herself a former freelancer for Just Out — as a “he.” The inaccuracy incensed Duncan, who fired off an e-mail to Davis demanding a correction. No correction was printed in the May 15 Just Out, though
Duncan says she's heard that Gross, the writer of the brief, was fired from Just Out because of the incident. Gross and Davis have yet to respond to e-mail messages seeking comment.
“We’ve never had any beef with her until she reported wrong facts,” Duncan says of the incident, adding: “I have no intention of starting a turf war.”
In later messages, Duncan says the magazine is working to put the incident behind them, and to focus instead on the publication’s launch, writing:
All I want is to put out a quality news source, and be a resource for all in the community, rather than continue to divide us.
Unfortunately I can't share the letter I have [from Davis], as it would only stir this sticky mess up again. I can tell you she has only sent me 1 direct letter, warning me of her "attack" that she was to launch on me on her pg. 3 address on May 15th. She and Christian (my publisher) have exchanged other emails, all of which she has never cc'd me on. Christian has. Her last email was yesterday, telling Christian that she's calling a truce and "doesn't want drama anymore between publications."
The launch at the Jupiter fell through as they have an allegiance to Marty and don't want to piss her off by supporting us. They are open to working with us in the future, but are too concerned about their image is there is any indication of bickering between JO and us. So, long story short, they are choosing the same ol' route for now.
She added she was “desperately looking for another venue now” for the magazine’s launch party, which has yet to be scheduled.
Duncan got a copy of the mag to me yesterday, and it’s an interesting product: certainly “community-oriented,” light on news or substantive journalism (the cover story, “The Economy: How Our LGBTIQ Community is Winning The Battle,” is an unsigned puff piece for magazine advertisers), and riddled with way too many errors of grammar and spelling for a 36-page publication just getting out of the gate.
“We’re doing things differently,” is how Duncan describes the mag’s mission. “We’re trying to focus on a wider array of stories.” She offered some examples: “A lot more with youth and elders… and a lot more with the trans[gender] community. Ultimately we’re going to do things more intellectually. Generally the rule in journalism is to dumb things down for your readers, and we know that the queer community here is really really smart.” Duncan says the mag is on track to expand in terms of distribution (they’ve printed 2,000 hard copies for this first run) and size over the months ahead: they're already on track for their next issue, due out June 1st, just in advance of Portland Pride.
In the midst of a national print media crisis, are id magazine’s dreams naïve? Duncan says no. “Our response is this is the best timing we could have chosen. We have very little competition and people are thirsty for new things,” she says, “and have been asking for a new gay media outlet for a really long time.”
For more on the explosion of new LGBT media in Portland, be sure to pick up the Mercury’s June 4 “Queer Guide” for additional reporting from Sarah Mirk.