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Final edition.

When the New York Native folded January 13 after 16 years of publication, few were surprised. Operating a gay newsmagazine in New York City is a herculean task. Publications go in and out of style--and solvency--faster than the latest fashions. Costs are high, and competition for readers from nongay media is intense. But the Native's demise may actually have had more to do with its unpopular crusade to disprove the widely accepted notion that HIV is the cause of AIDS.

"Over the past year the myth that the epidemic is over because, of new drugs has meant that we are perceived as unnecessary to readers and advertisers," says Charles Ortleb, the editor and publisher of the weekly. "I'm afraid people are going to learn the hard way that the new AIDS drugs are a lethal combination of toxic activists and fraudulent science. But I would not have changed our AIDS reporting for a million bucks."

But while Ortleb saw the Native as a lone voice in the wilderness, others saw Ortleb as a crank. "The end of the Native is a sad story," says Rodger Streitmatter, author of Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America. "Ortleb took what was once a solid publication on increasingly weird tangents about how pigs and monkeys have something to do with AIDS. Journalism quickly gave way to advocacy of the strangest kind."

Indeed, in the early '80s the Native's pioneering AIDS reporting was credited with drawing attention to the disease when others refused to cover it. Yet Ortleb was criticized for later turning the Native into a forum for conspiracy theories that HIV and antiviral drugs are part of a vast government plot to exterminate gay men. (In Ortleb's view AIDS is caused by human herpesvirus 6 and closely associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.) The Native's readership declined from a high of 20,000 in 1985 to just 8,000 in 1996.

Ortleb's maverick approach claimed another publication as well. Christopher Street, founded by Ortleb in 1976, ceased publishing with its January edition. The monthly literary journal with a national following nurtured a generation of gay male writers, including Edmund White and Randy Shilts. But critics say that, like the Native, Christopher Street began foundering when Ortleb turned its pages over to his unique brand of AIDS coverage. The cover of the November 1995 edition, for instance, featured a bare-chested man next to the headline GULF WAR SYNDROME AND THE AIDS COVER-UP. Still, Michael Denneny, a senior editor at St. Martin's Press, says Christopher Street will rate an important place in gay literary history: "In his ability to find and develop young writers, Chuck was unparalleled. I've always said that he sacrificed a lot to the epidemic. It took him away from his true identity as a poet and writer. It was something he felt he just had to do."

The Native's failure follows that of Outweek and NYQ, weekly newspapers that shut down in 1991 and 1993, respectively. At least for now, LGNY, a biweekly newspaper founded in 1995, has the market to itself. "The basic problem is that this is a city where gay people do not always identify with a gay community," says Ortleb. "The cliches are true. People think that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. They don't necessarily turn to gay publications for their information."

Ortleb says he has no plans to abandon his lonely crusade to prove the medical establishment wrong. He is at work on creating what he bills as "the first musical in cyberspace," a Web site devoted to debunking the connection between HIV and AIDS--in verse: "I've got 900 songs sketched out already. Maybe if you can sing and dance to it, people win finally get it."
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Title Annotation:analysis of the cause of closure of the New York Native gay issues publication
Author:Bull, Chris
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Feb 18, 1997
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