Networking, Survival and Salsa With the R-J

The state’s largest newspaper got a new editor in December, and last week he spoke to an audience comprised primarily of gay and lesbian businesspeople in a Mexican restaurant at the bedraggled and beloved Commercial Center. Apropos of the venue, the times and the newspaper industry, the topic was survival. It was not gay rights, nor the state budget implosion, nor the political slant of the paper—but the challenge of being viable.

Review-Journal Editor Mike Hengel, a Midwesterner by way of Arkansas, was self-effacing, calling himself “an ink-stained wretch,” admitting the R-J has “a long way to go on Twitter” and saying Google is a better way to search his paper’s archive than the paper’s own “search machine.” While Hengel explained the digital revolution’s impact on the news business, the guests—invited by LAMBDA, a LGBT professional networking association—multitasked, listening, nibbling burritos, checking their smartphones.

As Hengel spoke of the need for adaptability, the man next to me handed out six different business cards for six different businesses, all his own, paper-clipped together: mobile media marketing, video services, erectile stimulants, legal services, identity theft protection and Web marketing. While Hengel explained consumers’ decreasing attention spans, another person at my table—a dental hygienist who sells Mary Kay on the side—whispered about skin care and quietly passed out product catalogs.

“We’ll get there,” Hengel said of the elusive there that ensures survival, “but probably not as fast as you’d like us to. I’m sorry.”

The crowd applauded, asked a few questions, did the requisite handshaking and card-swapping, and filtered out into old Commercial Center. Survival networking accomplished.