[Marxism] The Village Voice
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 19 06:56:32 MDT 2006
(This article makes it sound as if the Village Voice is the victim of a
recent rightwing coup when in fact the paper has been sliding to the right
for at least a couple of decades now. The paper was started in the 1950s by
Norman Mailer and friends who felt the need for a dissident voice in the
Eisenhower era. In the early 1980s--the last time it was readable--it had
columnists like Alexander Cockburn, James Wolcott and Doug Ireland.
Nowadays the columnist with the largest allotment of space is Nat Hentoff,
the bilious civil libertarian and neoconservative. I pick it up every
Wednesday morning and read it on the bus while going from 3rd Avenue on the
East Side to Broadway on the West, where it goes into the trash. Thank
goodness for the Internet where you can still read Cockburn, Wolcott and
Ireland without the massage parlor and mobile phone ad.)
Can Village Voice Make It
Without Its Lefty Zetz?
By: Gabriel Sherman
On April 18, The Village Voices music editor Chuck Eddy was fired by
Village Voice Media. Mr. Eddy is the 17th employee to leave the paper,
either by resignation or termination, since Village Voice Mediathen called
New Timesassumed control in November. The paper lists 60 editorial
positions on its masthead.
Last week, on the April 13 edition of the radio program Democracy Now!,
host Amy Goodman brought current Voice columnist Nat Hentoff and staff
writer Tom Robbins on the show. They were met by the recently resigned
Press Clips columnist, Sydney Schanberg, and the papers recently fired
Washington correspondent, James Ridgeway.
The interview was a boisterous consciousness-raising session about the
evils of Michael Lacey, Village Voice Medias executive editor.
Mr. Lacey, the man responsible for much of the overhaul at The Voice since
New Times completed the $400 million merger in November, didnt appear on
the program. But listeners were treated to an FM version of whats going on
at The Voice for the last four months: two sides bitterly talking past each
As the dissident Voice staff tells it, the new management is a bunch of
out-of-town bean counters bent on dismantling a precious 50-year-old
journalistic institution. The new management, in turn, depicts the paper as
a haven for thumb-suckers, with a staff so self-satisfied that it refuses
to stop writing left-leaning commentary and go out and do some reporting.
In tone and nuance, the standoff now suggests a battle over a decaying
historic buildingbetween a pushy, mercenary developer and a bunch of
cranky cat-and-newspaper-hoarding tenants.
It wasnt always this way. Earlier in the relationship, some Voice staffers
had warily welcomed the arrival of New Times, hoping the new management
would reverse an internal perception of neglect on the part of the former
The paper was not putting out stuff we had come there to be a part of,
one Voice staffer said. There is a lot of pent-up frustration.
And New Times, though the dominant partner, took on The Voices nameThe
Voices name had more cachet.
The New Times/Voice deal was approved by regulators in November 2005. In
January, Voice publisher Judith Miszner resigned. Editor Don Forst resigned
in December 2005. Doug Simmons took over from Mr. Forst, and Ms. Miszners
position was taken by Michael Cohen, the publisher of Miami New Times.
The top editorial authority was Mr. Lacey, who began flying in, when
needed, from Phoenix, Ariz., where he resides.
Mr. Lacey made it clear that though his chain had bought The Voice, he
didnt have much taste for the newspaper as it was constituted. If he was
the new landlord, he was talking about a gut rehab at a minimum, and
possibly a teardown.
At a Feb. 1 meeting, Mr. Lacey bluntly told staffers of his plans to eschew
Bush-bashing commentary for local investigative pieces.
Now, the organization of the paper is being changed. Much of the front of
the book is being overhauled. Mr. Ridgeways column has been killed, and so
has Mr. Schanbergs Press Clips column and Toni Schlesingers Shelter
column, which provided quirky interactions with apartment and loft
dwellers. The film-review budget has been cut by two-thirds, according to a
source, and some film reviews are now being contributed by freelance
writers from other New Times papers. According to Voice staffers, New Times
has also dismissed The Voices three-person fact-checking department and
laid off two of the five copy editors. Last month, Mr. Lacey killed interim
editor Ward Harkavys blog, the Bush Beat. The end-page essay has been
discontinued. Voice writers now have to use the New Times stylebook, and
according to a source, there are wordsincluding meta and
subversivethat are now banned from the paper.
In a phone conversation, Mr. Lacey said that all the changes are designed
to create space for more magazine-style reported pieces. Commentary, at
least as currently practiced in The Village Voice, has no place in the New
I want our writers to start reporting, Mr. Lacey said. One of the things
that happened with the Internet and blogging is that it made simple
punditry in newsprint irrelevant. Its no longer timely.
(Everything I do is reporting, Voice columnist Nat Hentoff said by phone.
I have no patience for people who write off the top of their heads based
on what other people have said.)
Im going to change the dynamic, Mr. Lacey said. Its true for any paper
we operate: We have a reputation for doing hard news. We call people up and
get the information. We dig the records up. If people arent comfortable
with that, theyll have to find employment elsewhere.
This is so simple, Mr. Lacey said. Its almost like reading See Dick
Run. Our job is to go out and get the information about how the deal went
down. All the punditry that goes on in your head at 2 in the morning is no
more valuable than a sophomore in college debating over espresso. The deal
is always more interesting and more complicated than you know sitting at
your typewriter. Once you go out and start talking to people, you get a lot
of new information.
Mr. Schanberg, the media critic, said he decided to resign after Mr. Lacey
told staffers he didnt want references to outside reporting in The Voice.
I came to the conclusion he didnt like my work, Mr. Schanberg said. I
couldnt work for someone where my product wasnt respected.
(On Jan. 3, Mr. Schanberg took on the Bush administration over the National
Security Agency wiretapping story. On Jan. 17, he wrote about James Risens
book on N.S.A. wiretapping.)
Mr. Lacey is currently interviewing candidates for a permanent editorhis
most recent interim editor, Doug Simmons, was fired last month. According
to one staffer, more than 50 candidates have been considered. Mr. Lacey
declined to name potential selections, but said he is considering
applicants from national magazines, daily papers and alternative weeklies,
and hasnt set a timetable for his decision. He is not limiting his search
to New York Citybased candidates.
That would be a real plus, but ultimately, its the writers who have to
know New York City. Its not like any city is unknowable, or unlearnable.
The question is: Will they put in the effort to work all the time to grasp
Once he lands his new editor, Mr. Lacey said the role of a weekly paper
such as The Voice is to set the agenda, not comment on it.
All that chatter, all that bloggingits people writing about what other
people have reported. We can our wrap our hands around the throat of the
beast, find out what happened, and give that to readers, he said. Its
fun. Its a kick-ass way to make a living. We have found a way for all the
troublemakers at the back of the school bus to make a living. You want to
sit in your room and ruminate? Not on my nickel.
Can Mr. Laceys new rumination-free, troublemaking Voice convince a new
generation of readers accustomed to getting their classifieds on
Craigslist, their music reviews on Pitchfork and their dose of political
commentary from The Daily Show to not pass by the free stacks that wait
lonesome on Village corners?
When Dan Wolf was the editor, you would find conflicting points of view in
every issue, said Ed Koch, a friend of Voice founder Wolf. After his
departure, I thought The Voice became much more radical in its point of
view and more uniform. When it becomes predictable, you ignore it.
The original Voice was an iconoclastic newspaper, said New Yorker media
critic Ken Auletta, who covered city politics for The Voice in the early
70s. Increasingly, the paper became predictable. You would pick up a
headline and know whats in a story. Despite the fact its now free, youd
walk by it and not read it because youd know whats in it. I suppose Im
being unfair because I wasnt reading it that often. And maybe I missed it,
but there were few surprises.
For some, The Voice has remained relevant on beats, including labor, class
and politics. Wayne Barrett I read closely, said Patrick Healy, The New
York Times chief New York political correspondent. He is a real
institution on the political beat.
But current and former Voice staffers see New Times focus on local
reporting and seeming disinterest in national politics and commentary as an
abdication of duty, of a dismantling of their institutions. And it was Mr.
Laceys March 31 firing of Washington, D.C., correspondent James Ridgeway,
a 30-year veteran of the paper, that has been the clearest signifier of
that new direction.
It just didnt make sense that we have an office in D.C. when what we
needed to do is concentrate on New York City, Mr. Lacey said.
[Mr. Lacey] wants to cut the budget and fatten profits, said Karen
Durbin, The Voices editor from 1994 to 1996. I hate to be blunt about it,
but it makes my blood boil. The paper always did national and international
coverage. It was part of who we were, and part of who our readers are.
As editor, Ms. Durbin sent Mr. Ridgeway to Haiti to file dispatches on the
civil unrest there. The Voice always stood on two pillars, politics and
culture, she said.
What the new owners havent grasped yet, said staff writer Tom Robbins,
is that New Yorkers care more about whats going on in the Bush
administration than they do whats going on in the Bloomberg administration.
Mr. Ridgeway, a Newspaper Guild member, has retained attorney Jan
Constantine and is currently considering legal options to fight his
dismissal. Were reviewing our options, Ms. Constantine said by phone
April 17. She said shes been retained by Voice writers worried about their
job security and further dismissals.
Well, I think all journalists should check their ego at the door, Mr.
Lacey said, when asked if Voice staffers might be angry about giving up
national ambitions. The history of this business is filled with people who
have to turn their heads sideways to fit through a door because their ego
is so large. Humility never hurt anyone.
But its hard to achieve a state of humility through force. For one thing,
a newspaper with radical staff changes is a grim place to show up each day.
On April 17, online managing editor Nathan Deuel quit to take a position at
Rolling Stone. A day later, Web manager Akash Goyal also quit the paper,
according to a source.
There have been many good music editors, but Chuck Eddy was the most
efficient, most professional I worked with, said Voice senior editor and
rock critic Robert Christgau on April 18. He was fabulous to work with. He
was the only editor who got his sections in not on time, but ahead of time.
He was so easy to work with. He was great.
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