Lesbian reporter fired by prominent queer publication for being too old

Lesbian reporter fired by prominent queer publication for being too old
Note: Updated at the end of the article.

When veteran reporter Karen Ocamb, 66, got the call asking her to come into the Frontiers Magazine‘s office while she was on vacation, she knew something was wrong. It didn’t take remarkable investigative skills to realize the financially struggling publication was going to let her go.

Since joining the print publication as a full-time staffer in 2002, she’d risen through the ranks to become news editor. But the new owners wanted to change the magazine’s direction to focus on millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000 and coveted by advertisers. When she arrived at the meeting, management informed her she was being “laid off,” but not fired outright.

Now, however, they’re admitting she’s been fired – because she’s too old.

Bobby Blair, CEO of Frontiers parent company, Multimedia Platforms Worldwide, told PressPassQ the company “found $1.1 million of efficiencies” by “reducing print staff.” The media conglomerate also owns New York’s Next magazine, FunMaps, Guy magazine, and Florida Agenda and the new millennial-focused Wirld website.

“Unfortunately, Karen fell where we realized we were moving toward a digital and millennial audience, and we wanted to give the generation of millennials a real shot at creating our content,” Blair told PressPassQ. “Karen did an incredible job and is very much missed. We would like to use her services in the future from time to time, if she would like to.”

In an interview with PressPassQ, Ocamb talked about her suspicions when she got the unusually timed call.

“About two weeks before I was terminated, there were rumors that I was on a list to be let go,” she said. “But since no one from the company had raised that as a possibility, I set it aside and did my work.”

“News had always been an anchor for the magazine, no matter how many changes Frontiers went through over the years. But I had my suspicions about how I might fit in. So when I was called in from vacation for a five-minute meeting, I was pretty sure I knew what would happen. Nonetheless, as intellectually prepared as I might have been, there’s still a toll letting go of my long career of community service through Frontiers.”

“Lay offs are hard, no matter how they are handled,” Ocamb said in an interview with LGBTQNation. “So being told I’m not needed anymore has been strange for me. I’ve tried to be gracious, after all – people I care about still work at the company and I carry with me the memories of when Frontiers was important for news about HIV/AIDS and the latest civil rights battles. As someone said in an email, this smacks of a ‘post-gay’ move. I just don’t think we’re ‘post gay’ yet. On the other hand, given Bobbie Blair’s comment, I am now most definitely ‘post-Frontiers‘.”

Bob Witeck, President of the DC-based communications firm Witeck Communications, expressed concern about Blair’s decision to abruptly fire one of the most respected journalists in queer media.

“I have known Karen for decades, and worked with her much of that time,” he said. “I consider her one of our hardest-working, most knowledgeable and passionate journalists reporting on and serving the LGBT community. She has very, very few peers in my book. She knows firsthand that every later chapter has built on earlier ones, since her encyclopedic memory is phenomenal.

“It’s hard to understand the business choices made by Frontiers, or why her dismissal seemed prudent, necessary or even cost-effective. I can’t believe firing Karen will help one iota with either their readership or advertisers. I imagine this means they will report fewer stories and far more superficially in the future – which may only degrade their product over time.”

Longtime activist and digital media leader Mike Rogers, co-owner of news site RawStory, was even more blunt.

“It is astonishing to me that a publisher would say they basically fired someone so they could hire a younger person,” he said. “How can we expect new generations to learn about our past if we do not have seasoned reporters producing content and educating younger LGBTQ people?”

Ocamb, for her part, agrees with that assessment. “I think Bobby Blair’s comments were both sexist and agist,” she said. “But he doesn’t really know me. We never actually met so I don’t know if he knows or cares about my history with LGBT media.”

She defended her digital bona fides. “It’s a history that includes the digital transformation in media. I have been blogging since 2007 with The Bilerico Project and Huffington Post and I had my own successful blog, LGBT POV, where I gave a lot of young people the opportunity to post their first pieces.”

Ocamb added that age is not relevant to reaching a younger audience through digital media but that journalism experience is. “I came out of mainstream broadcast journalism and shared several ideas for producing unique news webcasting. So I do not think one’s age automatically renders someone digitally incompetent.”

Blair’s comments may have put his company in a dangerous legal position. “The only upside to the situation is that we now know Mr. Blair is an ageist who it appears may have broken the law,” Rogers added. “Not only is that outrageous, I would be shocked if that is legal in California.”

In California it is illegal to discriminate on age in hiring. This includes hiring a younger job applicant over a more qualified older employee just because the other applicant was younger; denying a promotion to an older worker, and hiring a younger person to fill the position; and engaging in acts designed to encourage older workers to quit.

In 2005, a federal court ruled in favor of a 63-year-old former employee who was replaced by a younger worker after the company announced its intention to “hand-pick employees whose mindset resides in the 21st Century.” After asking the employee if he was ready to retire, his supervisor sent an email to the company’s human resources department saying the man wouldn’t be able to “adapt to a rapidly changing business environment and new company management style.”

“It’s very clear that Frontiers will not be the trusted publication we have known for years, and never benefit from Karen’s smarts and archival knowledge,” Witeck said. “It’s all about trust and expertise – which Karen Ocamb owns in giant measure.”

Los Angeles may be known for the worship of youth and beauty, but Blair has effectively killed the one thing left that a storied publication like Frontiers can still bank on in a digital age – their reputation.

Attempts to reach Blair by telephone and email for comment on this story were unsuccessful. It is unknown how many other staff members of the company’s print publications were laid off or terminated or what their ages are.

UPDATE: Peter Jackson, President, & Group Executive Publisher for Multimedia Platforms Worldwide, responded to this article by posting a statement in the comments section. He did not attempt to contact the author to answer any questions, request any corrections, or lodge any complaints.


A report published today by our business rival Q.Digital regarding the layoff recently of our long-time journalist Karen Ocamb is inaccurate, inflammatory and malicious.

Multimedia Platforms Worldwide (MMP) purchased Los Angeles-based Frontiers magazine, a biweekly print and online magazine now in its 35th year of publication, late September 2015 with the goal of improving its value and importance to readers and advertisers, as we have with our other media brands in New York, Florida and other markets across North America.

Like any well-run public company, we carefully reviewed Frontiers’ operations, researched the market and developed a strategic business plan to streamline and improve efficiencies – thereby securing the magazine’s stability and future. Regrettably, that included the tough decision to cut three staff positions, including Ms. Ocamb’s position as news editor.

We lead the chorus of industry professionals who sing the highest praise for Ms. Ocamb’s work as a journalist spanning three decades in LGBT media. Her expertise in political reporting and in-depth social analysis, specifically from an LGBT perspective, is unequalled in the industry.

However, as a digital-first multimedia company whose major overall focus is entertainment and lifestyle, not politics or hard news, we must align and balance our human resources and budget with the demands of our readers and customers if we are to operate as a viable entity. These are routine, internal business decisions made by businesses daily.

Any suggestion that Multimedia Platforms Worldwide applied ageism to force Ms. Ocamb out of the company is ludicrous. We are an equal opportunity workplace and, in fact, have no fewer than three other employees senior to Ms. Ocamb who serve in other prominent positions within the company.

We find it distasteful that Q.Digital, a company on whose websites Ms. Ocamb’s writings have appeared, should use this opportunity to fan the flames of discrimination.

We call on Q.Digital for an unconditional apology and withdrawal of the article in question.

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