Don Michaels

Don Michaels Pioneers Portrait

Don Michaels arrived in Washington, DC in September 1976. 
Photo © Patsy Lynch

“We would tell reporters, you've got to get things right, you've got to get the facts in here.  Tell it like it is; don't put your own spin on it because ... it's so important for gays to have a history.  It's very important for future generations of gay people to have that ...”

Don Michaels took The Washington Blade,  the gay community's newspaper, from a non-profit volunteer operation to a solid corporate and professional news organization that chronicled the development of Washington, DC's gay community.

Michaels came to Washington from Buffalo, NY where he had been president of Buffalo's Mattachine Society and had run the local gay community center.

In January 1977, Lou Chibbaro, a reporter for the Blade, suggested Michaels volunteer with the paper.  Michaels started out delivering Blade copies and writing freelance articles.  In April 1977, he was hired, at $314 a month, as the paper's first paid (albeit part time) employee.  Over the next 23 years, Michaels moved to managing editor and eventually publisher.  The paper grew from a monthly volunteer-run tabloid to a weekly newspaper produced by a professional news organization.   The Washington Blade (as it became at the 1980 reincorporation as a for profit corporation) developed a firm financial footing.

Michaels firmly maintained his predecessors' policy of avoiding editorializing.  The policy held until the sale of the paper in 2001 despite tremendous pressure to take editorial stances, particularly during the first years of the AIDS epidemic and the campaign of Michaels' friend Jim Zais for the city council.

AIDS brought the newspaper tremendous challenges as well as opportunities to solidify the newsroom.  Under Michaels' leadership, the Washington Blade informed the community about the virus, from Margot Fromer's 1983 articles on medical and prevention news to Lisa Keen's award-winning 1985 series chronicling the illness and death of DC lawyer Ray Engebretsen.  This six month series raised local awareness of the risks posed by AIDS.

Michaels committed the Washington Blade to covering the local gay community and to accurately chronicling its history.  During the newspaper's 1980 reincorporation as a for profit corporation, the incorporators consciously chose to add “Washington” to the title.  Michaels recalls, “we had been talking about calling it the Washington Blade because we wanted to have a visible tie to our community roots  ... We are the WASHINGTON Blade.”
oups and to documenting gay veterans' experiences.

Resources for Don Michaels: 
Hard News: Former Blade Publisher Don Michaels
Cutting Edge: The Washington Blade