AIDS Mag Dies

Plus Voice, the Chicago-based magazine for “the HIV community,” has gone under after just one issue. Launched extravagantly last winter with a party at Marche, Plus Voice was by some measures an immediate success. “We blew our goals off the map in terms of circulation growth and the same with advertising growth,” publisher Joseph Crump told us.

Unfortunately, the business plan also anticipated a heavy dose of philanthropy. “It was just a lot harder than we ever anticipated to get significant-sized grants,” Crump said. “There are so many worthwhile causes out there, and a lot of them have to do with direct aid–providing medicines or beds or other medical services [to AIDS patients]. It’s a difficult argument to make that a magazine is a better place for a foundation or wealthy individual to put its money. And in fact, that is never an argument we wanted to make.”

Crump said he was hoping to tap the marketing and communications budgets of the large donors, but discovered few have any interest in funding not-for-profit magazines because their thirst for funds is so unquenchable. “The foundations that didn’t have restrictions said, ‘It’s a marvelous idea. Come back in a year when you have six issues under your belt.'”

Unlike Poz, a similar magazine based in New York that is published for profit and aimed at an affluent market Crump describes as “gay white men, downtown New York gay white men,” Plus Voice wanted to reach a broader audience. “We did some really aggressive outreach in poor minority communities,” Crump told us. This included a promise of free copies to any person or institution who asked for them. “It started out about 80 percent of the requests that came in were with a check, and that percentage really flip-flopped. By the end about 80 percent of the requests were for free. That was something we were not prepared for. It was a very expensive proposition.”

We first wrote about Plus Voice last October when it was a prototype simply called Plus and founding editor Brett Grodeck was full of enthusiasm. After dummying up a second issue that no one would ever see because of the decision to cut the magazine’s losses, Grodeck spoke with us in a far less ebullient state of mind.

“I’m actively looking for work,” he said, “and the thing about being HIV positive is you can’t get anyone to believe that you’re healthy. I’m healthy and I’m kicking and I’ll be kicking a long time. I’m sort of burnt out on magazines–they just work you like a dog and then they fold underneath you–so I’ve contemplated public relations and communications.

“I converted the Plus Voice press kit to the Brett Grodeck resume kit. The problem is I built my reputation on being HIV positive. That’s fine, as long as it’s not in your backyard. It’s sort of an unspoken thing. People pat you on the back, ‘That’s great, I think what you’re doing is great, but I don’t think I’m going to hire you.’ There’s something about openly, publicly having the virus that stops people in their tracks.”

Grodeck wishes now he’d set up Plus Voice to make a profit and then made it. “Here’s something,” he volunteered. “The nonprofit community, especially the AIDS community, in Chicago is pathetic. They fight each other, stab each other in the back. It’s brutal, it’s really nauseating. ‘My dying Hispanics are worse than your dying African Americans. My dying women are worse than your dying drug injection users.'”

Are they fighting over bones?

“That’s part of it,” Grodeck said. “But there’s enough money. There’s a pretty good amount of money. They’re clawing over whether they would have ten million dollars or a half a million. It’s my opinion people claw and fight over petty issues because ultimately AIDS is a very ugly reality, and it’s easier to fight over Stop AIDS getting more money than the Test Positive Aware Network than to contemplate the fact we’re all dying.”

Cops Can’t Write?

Hubert Holton is a cop’s cop. His father served with the Chicago Police Department 33 years and rose to command rank. The son’s been on the force 25 years; he became a commander 9 years ago when he was just 38 years old.

Three years ago the New York Times carried a piece on the changing nature of the American police force. A picture of Holton accompanied the article, which described him as a Vietnam veteran with a master’s degree. “Police work used to be like a laborer’s job,” he told the Times. “The only real requirement was you had to be tough. Now, that’s not what we’re looking for. You don’t spend that much of your time actually fighting crime. I’d say only 4 percent of the job.”

He went on, “The job has become more complicated. People are demanding more. They want all kinds of services from us.”

Last week Holton made the papers again. The Chicago Defender offered the reactions of various south-side residents to news that he no longer commanded the Grand Crossing District. Everyone expressed dismay. “He speaks at community functions,” said one community leader. “He puts together crime statistics every month to keep people abreast of the crime situation. He’s very visible.”

Two days later, a completely different sort of article ran in the Sun-Times. It was a “Chicago Profile” by Bob Herguth, topped by a picture of Holton holding a copy of the book he’s just published, Presumed Dead. “The first signing is Saturday at the Dark & Stormy Nights mystery writers’ conference,” Holton told Herguth. “This is the midwest chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. I’m vice president of the organization. I’ll become president in January.”

In a matter of days Holton had become a published novelist and a demoted cop. Could one of these milestones have had anything to do with the other? The temptation to believe so is too much for some of Holton’s friends to resist. “He was called into Rodriguez’s office and told he was being demoted because there’s too much going on in his life,” mystery writer Barbara D’Amato called to say. “The only thing he does is he goes home and writes four pages a night. This is a guy who works 10, 12, 14 hours at the station every day. Many of us who write are so indignant we can hardly speak!”

Presumed Dead is dedicated to “all the men and women of the Chicago Police Department, which is the best police department in the world.” The jacket describes Holton as “publishing’s top cop, the highest ranking active police officer currently turning his attention to novel writing.” This is language that might have persuaded Superintendent Matt Rodriguez that Holton’s focus was wavering, just as the false claim that Holton was “commander of the largest and most diverse district in Chicago” might have struck the superintendent as braggadocio.

Holton says he complained to his publisher, Forge, about the extravagant language on the jacket, but the publisher didn’t budge. “It’s a publicity thing,” says Holton. At any rate, although Rodriguez might have read the manuscript weeks ago, after Holton submitted it to the department for review, the jackets are brand-new and Holton’s sure Rodriguez couldn’t have seen one in advance.

D’Amato had told us Holton would sound a lot less heated about his demotion than she did, and she was right. “I don’t want to embarrass the department,” Holton began. But, he continued, “the story is what it is. He said he liked me and he liked the things I did. He didn’t say something was wrong. He just felt I had too many outside interests.”

Holton’s been assigned to the midnight watch in the Wentworth District. He reverts to lieutenant, which, he reminded us, had been his permanent rank all along. “I serve at the pleasure of the superintendent in those [command] positions. He just said I didn’t fit into his plans for the department and that was it.”

Rodriguez, through a spokesman, flatly denied that Holton’s writing had anything to do with his demotion. On the contrary. He’d actually complimented Holton on his outside interests, which marked him as “a well-rounded individual.”

Holton says he didn’t ask Rodriguez what outside interests, exactly, the superintendent had in mind. “I was in a state of shock when it happened.” But he can assume. Aside from being treasurer of the St. Jude Police League, a benevolence society, police work and writing are his life.

“There’s nothing else. I don’t have anything else. I’m divorced. My daughter’s 23 years old. I live alone.”

Spanish to English

Jorge Oclander, the La Raza reporter whose kick-ass coverage of schools superintendent Sharon Grant we hailed a few weeks ago, is moving to the Sun-Times. “I’ll be doing education,” he says. “I’ll be doing politics, I’ll be doing casino boats. I’ll be doing everything of interest to Chicago and particularly how it affects the Hispanic community.”

When we heard about this we weren’t sure it was such good news. Chicagoans who read ethnic papers such as La Raza deserve top-notch journalism too. But Oclander told us he insisted on not leaving his old audience behind; so he’ll still write a weekly column for La Raza or for the Sun-Times insert it publishes, La Raza Domingo. “They were very supportive of that point,” says Oclander about his new bosses. One of them, he says, “looked at me and said, ‘Jesus, one person who still has loyalty as a criterion.'”

Writing in English, Oclander will reach a wider, more influential audience. He concedes, “I would like to be read by more than two of the members of the school board.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sue Hostetler.