Failed Carolina gay news merger reveals serious allegations
Updated: January 14, 2010 at 8:22 am
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Originally published: Sept. 20, 2009
Updated: Oct. 3, 2009
[Ed. Note — View our Oct. 3 Editorial addressing this story: “Fulfilling our obligations to serve you”]
A recently attempted and failed merger between three Carolinas LGBT publications has resulted in several accusations, concerns and questions regarding unpublished print editions and pre-paid advertising by several Carolinas businesses and non-profits.
The Asheville, N.C.-based Stereotypd, a monthly LGBT news publication, and the Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based OnQ Carolina Edition, a bi-weekly glossy gay nightlife guide, announced Aug. 22 they would merge under the leadership and direction of Jamie Seabolt, executive editor and creator of OnQ.
Stereotypd business and artistic director Porscha Yount, OnQ‘s Jamie Seabolt and Stereotypd editor Lin Orndorf distributed a press release announcing the merger. In it, Seabolt is identified as the Asheville paper’s new publisher and Stereotypd is identified as “part of the OnQ Network.” A few days later, the new OnQ team announced a merger with the Charleston, S.C.-based Drag Magazine.
By Sept. 16, the situation had devolved into a convoluted series of events, with Stereotypd and OnQ staff each accusing the other of bad business practices and financial mismanagement.
Yount and Seabolt both confirmed the original intent of their alliance was not a full-blown merger. With Stereotypd publisher Ira Schultz and Orndorf, Yount is a part-owner of Out in the Carolinas Publishing, Inc., Stereotypd‘s corporate owner. Yount and Orndorf are life partners.
“The original plan was to share pay for a sales rep and do collaboration on sales,” Yount said.
Seabolt’s and Yount’s statements to Q-Notes regarding how the merger was first proposed and by whom have been in conflict with each other. Seabolt and Orndorf provided Q-Notes with a scan of a handwritten document identified as a “working agreement” between the parties.
In the Sept. 5 document, which is signed by Seabolt, Schultz, Orndorf and Yount, Stereotypd was to be split evenly between “OnQ Network” and Stereotypd.
Seabolt said a new publishing company was to be formed by Yount and Orndorf for their share of the Asheville publication. Although identified as “OnQ Network LLC” in an electronic edition of Drag Magazine’s September issue, Seabolt has not yet filed any legal paperwork to incorporate. Seabolt said he has begun the process to file with the North Carolina Secretary of State.
In two press releases on Sept. 16, Stereotypd and OnQ announced the merger between their publications and Drag Magazine had been called off; differences in business practices and artistic direction were cited as the main cause of the split.
SC Pride sponsorship soured
More than a month before the announcement of the failed merger, Seabolt signed an advertising contract with Ryan Wilson, president of SC Pride, for the group’s upcoming Sept. 12 festival in Columbia.
Wilson said his organization paid $650 for a series of five full-page ads in five consecutive issues of OnQ Carolina Edition. Seabolt confirmed the transaction and Wilson provided a signed contract. According to the document, SC Pride was given a 50 percent discount on OnQ ad rates. The ads were to begin running July 24 and end Sept. 11, Only two print editions, published July 25 and July 31, were ever produced and distributed.
Seabolt said he contacted Wilson to tell him he was having problems with printing, but Seabolt never informed Wilson the print issues would never be produced.
“I told Ryan Wilson we were having trouble printing,” Seabolt said. “When I told him that, I could have possibly two days later got enough money from advertisers to make the issue work.”
When the money never came in, Seabolt was unable to produce the first OnQ August issue. He said he never informed SC Pride of the issue’s failure because Wilson said he was too busy to discuss the matter.
Wilson said he was never contacted by Seabolt regarding printing problems.
“We never had a conversation about ads,” Wilson said. “There was never communication on Seabolt’s part to me or to Clay [a SC Pride volunteer] about printing issues. I don’t believe that conversation ever occurred.”
In an email dated Aug. 17 provided by Seabolt, Wilson asks Seabolt to respond to a sponsorship agreement between OnQ and the SC Pride, which included the five full-page SC Pride ads and the 50 percent advertising discount .
“I am CCing Clay on this email so that you have his email,” Wilson wrote. “He will follow-up shortly so that ya’ll can work together since I have been and will be otherwise occupied on executing the bigger picture of the whole week. Please reply back to both of us with your agreement so that we can move forward with securing the tent and other equipment that we need.”
Wilson alleges Seabolt did not respond to the Aug. 17 email until Aug. 25.
In an email from Seabolt to the SC Pride volunteer, Seabolt wrote, “I am on the road today and actually am moving out of my apartment tomorrow. I will try to answer your questions as soon as possible when I can get to a computer.”
After a follow-up email from the SC Pride volunteer, Seabolt responded on Aug. 28 and confirmed the details of the sponsorship agreement.
“I am on the road all week so at present I dont (sic) have a printer to print, sign, and resubmit,” Seabolt wrote. “I am good to go with all that I had promised Ryan VIA phone, text, and e-mail. “I wont (sic) be able to submit you a ‘signed’ contract until Monday.”
Despite the assurance he would fulfill his end of the sponsorship agreement, Seabolt never produced OnQ’s two August issues or the first issue in September.
Joint contracts unfulfilled
Starting sometime in August – one joint OnQ–Stereotypd advertising contract was signed Aug. 21 – advertising for both publications was sold as package deals. Funds collected from some of the new contracts were deposited into the Out in the Carolinas Publishing bank account, according to both Seabolt and Yount.
The two disagree over where the money was supposed to be directed.
In one transaction with a gay business in Greensboro, N.C., Seabolt said he told Yount to “put the money in our accounts,” and alleged Yount convinced him it would be better to use Stereotypd‘s credit card processing system over Seabolt’s PayPal account.
Both Yount and Orndorf said Seabolt was the one who told them to use Stereotypd‘s checking account and credit card processing.
“All along Jamie kept saying until we get banking accounts straightened out that we have one bank account that things go into and we’ll transfer money to other accounts to pay for things,” Orndorf said. She said the plan was to either pay for OnQ’s printing or give the money to Seabolt so he could complete the transactions.
Seabolt said he had no access to the Out in the Carolinas accounts and funds that should have gone toward September production never met his hands. He claimed those funds went to pay off old debts incurred by Stereotypd, including a bad check written to the publication’s print broker. A check to Seabolt from Out in the Carolinas also bounced. Orndorf and Yount said arrangements were made to pay their print broker and other obligations in full.
Seabolt claimed a combination of financial difficulties led to interruption in OnQ’s August and September production.
“It was a matter of money,” Seabolt said, adding several advertisers had yet to pay him for ads run in OnQ. “You do with what you can and if you don’t have the money to print you either skip an issue or do electronic only. All paid publications are finding it difficult to find paying advertisers and getting them to pay on time.”
He alleged September production for Stereotypd was interrupted due to financial mismanagement on the part of that publication’s staff.
“All of the money from all the new sales from OnQ, Drag Mag as well as Stereotypd was absorbed,” he said. “The money disappeared covering Stereotypd’s old debts through its old publishing group. I had to make the decision that we had to cut Stereotypd’s issue for September because there was no money to print all three.”
Orndorf told Q-Notes her publication has been having trouble keeping up in a bad economy and floated the idea of combining their September and October issues long before talks of a merger took place.
“It has been a hard summer for us,” she said. “It really has carried over from the spring. We started having clients not paying on time and some clients not paying at all. We’ve always had one or two in the past but then we had like ten. It made it very difficult.”
Seabolt offered no explanation as to why he did not have access to financial accounts of a newspaper of which he had been named publisher.
In another joint OnQ–Stereotypd advertising agreement, Seabolt offered Asheville’s Blue Ridge Pride four full page color ads spread across both publications in issues to be published from Aug. 28 through Sept. 25. But neither Stereotypd‘s September issue nor OnQ‘s August or September issues were ever published.
Blue Ridge Pride’s Amy Huntsman, who signed the advertising agreement with Seabolt, said she and others began looking for print copies of the publications and could never find them.
“There was a breach of contract,” she said. “We would be getting four full color ads. One in Stereotypd in September and two in OnQ for September and one in OnQ in October. We paid for half the amount due for that.”
Huntsman said Stereotypd has taken steps to resolve the situation.
“Because of the breach of contract, we were refunded money from the folks at Stereotypd,” Huntsman said. “They are being generous and working with us and giving us some comp things for the misunderstanding and lack of follow through.”
An OnQ contract with Blue Ridge Pride, provided by Yount, shows the group was supposed to pay $262.50 on several dates. A total of $525 — two payments — was refunded to the group by Stereotypd.
Schultz confirmed that advertising payments were refunded to both Huntsman and the Greensboro business.
In a third unfulfilled contract, Seabolt collected a $200 payment from Columbia nightclub H20 for three ads which were to run in OnQ Carolina‘s Aug. 27 and Sept. 15 issues and Stereotypd‘s September issue.
A contract, also provided by Yount, was signed by Nikki Williams on behalf of H20 and Seabolt. It includes a notation documenting the initial $200 payment on Aug. 23.
Seabolt said he approached Williams regarding the situation and discussed arrangements to make up for the missed print issues. He said Williams found the agreement acceptable. A phone call to Williams by Q-Notes went unreturned and Q-Notes was unable to confirm these details with her.
Missed issues the norm?
Failure to produce issues of OnQ Carolina Edition, either in print or electronic-only, seems to be the rule rather than the exception and points to an alarming trend of inconsistent production and misleading sales pitches.
OnQ’s first printed edition, dated Oct. 10, 2008, appeared at 2008’s NC Pride festival. It was followed by a second print edition on Oct. 24, 2008. On Nov. 7, 2008, OnQ published its third issue. OnQ’s fourth issue didn’t appear until December. At the time and until now only the front cover of the lone December issue was ever published on the magazine’s website or Myspace account.
Other published issues included issue number five in February which was distributed electronically in PDF or JPG photo files on its website and Myspace account. Seabolt did not begin keeping a regular print schedule until OnQ’s sixth issue, published May 8, 2009.
Seabolt claims the only issues he missed were in January and that electronic versions of his magazine were distributed to readers via email in February, March and April.
Seabolt declined to provide PDF files for the missing issues of OnQ.
“I see no point in sending all of my past issues as it should have no involvement in the article,” he wrote in an email.
The issue numbers of OnQ Carolina Edition’s publicly archived issues – whether on Myspace.com, the publication’s website or on issuu.com – all run sequentially from from one to twelve.
Seabolt said he did not begin printing the publication until May 2009. However, a November 2008 email from former account executive Michael Woods to the manager of the White Rabbit store in Charlotte shows OnQ said the publication was already in print and had thousands of copies distributed across the region.
“OnQ Carolina Edition is the only North & South Carolina based gay publication that is 100% digitally produced, environmentally productive, and 100% color,” the email read. “It is a bi-weekly publication that prints no less than 5000 copies that are distributed throughout North & South Carolina.”
The publication’s 2008 media kit and rate card also contained similar misleading information.
“OnQ prints no less than 36 pages per issue with a press run of no less than 5,000 copies every two weeks,” the media kit read.
Several OnQ issues have fallen short of Seabolt’s 36 page count guarantee. The media kit also claimed the publication was distributed to several hundred locations.
This summer’s recent string of events, including Seabolt’s breaches of contract, is not the first time Seabolt has come under scrutiny for alleged financial mismanagement, missed or late print issues or failure to fulfill his end of agreements.
Originally from West Virginia, Seabolt started his first gay publication, GoGayGuy, in West Virginia in 2003. Seabolt claims he operated six papers from 2003 to 2005, including the Pittsburgh-based Get Out Pittsburgh and Cleveland ROX.
Business owners and non-profit organizations tell similar stories about their experiences working or interacting with Seabolt.
In November 2003, Seabolt’s GoGayGuy held a contest in which remaining proceeds were to be donated to several AIDS charities. In an article in the Dec. 14, 2003, issue of his publication, Seabolt wrote the event raised $487 for the Charleston (W.Va.) AIDS Network, the Tommy Kersey Foundation and the Tri-State AIDS Task Force, according to a Dec. 16, 2003, news article in The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette.
The article also stated Seabolt planned to donate the money to the AIDS organizations at Christmas. The organizations had not yet received the money and one group sent Seabolt a letter asking for a detailed account of the funds raised and a check for the group’s share by Jan. 6.
Four days later, The Gazette reported Seabolt would send the money to the three organizations.
In his interview with Q-Notes, Seabolt claimed the daily newspaper had contacted him “the day after the event,” and that he’d not yet had a chance to send the money to the charities. According to the Dec. 20 Gazette article, Seabolt’s contest had ended on Nov. 16.
Seabolt also allegedly ran into troubles in Pittsburgh, Penn., where he operated Get Out Pittsburgh. The area’s established LGBT newspaper, Out (which predates the national Out magazine), filed legal paperwork accusing Seabolt of infringing upon their trademark.
“We served him with papers to have him quit using the name because of the similarities with our newspaper,” said publisher Tony Molnar-Strejcek. “He ignored them and we never got a response.”
Molnar-Strejcek said he attempted to track down Seabolt when he packed up, moved out of his storefront office and seemed to disappear. Shortly thereafter, Seabolt stopped publishing Get Out Pittsburgh, along with his other publications.
“At that point, we discontinued any legal action,” Molnar-Strejcek said. “It wasn’t worth it and ultimately, he did what we wanted him to do – stop using the name.”
Seabolt said he wasn’t infringing on anyone’s trademark and said he contacted LPI Media, owners of the national Out magazine at the time.
“Get Out Pittsburgh wasn’t infringing on any trademark because officially, according to the copyright database, the public rights to ‘Out’ was registered to LPI Media,” Seabolt said. “I approached LPI media explained to them my situation and they said if there were any lawsuits that were taking place it should be between LPI Media and the Pittsburgh organization known as Out.”
A sales and marketing professional, who said he worked with Seabolt in Pittsburgh and has asked Q-Notes not to use his name in print, said Seabolt left writers unpaid and had trouble sticking to deadlines.
Seabolt said he never missed an issue of Get Out Pittsburgh and only one issue was ever late. In that one instance, Seabolt said his printer refused to run the publication because the press manager found the issue’s back page ad to be offensive.
He said he left no one unpaid when he stopped publishing the paper.
Molnar-Strejcek said he spoke to several writers who were looking for Seabolt at the same time he was.
“They wished me good luck on finding him and if I had the opportunity to talk to him to let him know they wanted to be paid,” Molnar-Strejcek said.
Seabolt said he stopped publishing all of his papers in April 2005.
“It was going so large, so quickly, I was burned out,” he said. “I was done. Over it. I knew I could make a lot more money and have a lot less headaches working for corporate America.”
Pointing the finger
The turmoil resulting in shared disagreements between Seabolt and Stereotypd staff has left both sides feeling burned by the other.
Seabolt said his claims can be supported by documentation, much of which has been examined by Q-Notes. He said he intended to take legal action against Out in the Carolinas Publishing.
“You really have been fed a lot of false claims by Porscha [Yount] that they can not (sic) supported (sic) with documents,” Seabolt wrote in an email to this writer. “I wouldn’t think it worth the risk to run her ‘gossip’ to try and make me look bad, which would result in Regent Media getting involved.”
Regent Entertainment Media, Inc., is a subsidiary of Here Media, which owns and operates Gay.com, The Advocate and Out magazine, among other products.
Seabolt was named a Mr. Gay.com 2008 Community Leader. In several emails to Q-Notes, Seabolt claimed he was a “Regent Media property” as a Mr. Gay.com titleholder and insisted this news article must be run through and approved by Regent Media’s legal team prior to publication.
Seabolt said others are attempting to make him “look like the kind of person who does not make good.”
“I do make good,” he said. “I’m a national community leader for a reason. It is not because I’m scandalous…Regent Media did their research, too, and I still won my title.”
But both Yount and Orndorf feel they’ve been the victim of a scam. Over time, Orndorf became more uncomfortable with Seabolt’s business practices and tactics.
“It gradually became clear to me that it was much more like a Ponzi scheme than anything else,” she said.
Yount echoed Orndorf’s thoughts.
“I definitely feel like I’ve been taken for a ride,” she said. “I feel really stupid right now. I can’t speak for the other people on our staff, but I think that sentiment is fairly shared around these parts. I feel like I’ve been completely conned.”
Yount and Orndorf said the deal moved too quickly. They didn’t have time to investigate finances or draw up any legal paperwork.
Seabolt insists he’s done nothing wrong, but said he’s often found himself in highly controversial moments.
“Why do I always catch so much heat? I don’t really know,” he said. “I’ve been asking myself that for 28 years. Sometimes there are just problems in a community and sometimes it is easier to just point fingers to the most visible person.
“I’ve always made it my habit to be seen and be out there because it makes people feel more comfortable in being involved…but the consequence is that you’re always the target. It is easier to point fingers toward the person that everybody knows.”
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About the author: Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.