[Marxism] The Village Voice

Louis Proyect 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.)

http://www.nyobserver.com/20060424/20060424_Gabriel_Sherman_media_offtherecord.asp
Can Village Voice Make It
Without Its Lefty Zetz?

By: Gabriel Sherman
Date: 4/24/2006

On April 18, The Village Voice’s 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 Media—then called 
New Times—assumed 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 paper’s recently fired 
Washington correspondent, James Ridgeway.

The interview was a boisterous consciousness-raising session about the 
evils of Michael Lacey, Village Voice Media’s 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, didn’t appear on 
the program. But listeners were treated to an FM version of what’s going on 
at The Voice for the last four months: two sides bitterly talking past each 
other.

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 building—between a pushy, mercenary developer and a bunch of 
cranky cat-and-newspaper-hoarding tenants.

It wasn’t 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 
owners.

“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 Voice’s name—The 
Voice’s 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. Miszner’s 
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 
didn’t 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. Ridgeway’s column has been killed, and so 
has Mr. Schanberg’s Press Clips column and Toni Schlesinger’s 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 Voice’s three-person fact-checking department and 
laid off two of the five copy editors. Last month, Mr. Lacey killed interim 
editor Ward Harkavy’s 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 words—including “meta” and 
“subversive”—that 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 
Times regime.

“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. It’s 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.”)

“I’m going to change the dynamic,” Mr. Lacey said. “It’s 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 aren’t comfortable 
with that, they’ll have to find employment elsewhere.

“This is so simple,” Mr. Lacey said. “It’s 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 didn’t want references to outside reporting in The Voice. 
“I came to the conclusion he didn’t like my work,” Mr. Schanberg said. “I 
couldn’t work for someone where my product wasn’t 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 Risen’s 
book on N.S.A. wiretapping.)

Mr. Lacey is currently interviewing candidates for a permanent editor—his 
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 hasn’t set a timetable for his decision. He is not limiting his search 
to New York City–based candidates.

“That would be a real plus, but ultimately, it’s the writers who have to 
know New York City. It’s not like any city is unknowable, or unlearnable. 
The question is: Will they put in the effort to work all the time to grasp 
this place?”

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 blogging—it’s 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. “It’s 
fun. It’s 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. Lacey’s 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 
70’s. “Increasingly, the paper became predictable. You would pick up a 
headline and know what’s in a story. Despite the fact it’s now free, you’d 
walk by it and not read it because you’d know what’s in it. I suppose I’m 
being unfair because I wasn’t 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. 
Lacey’s 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 didn’t 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 Voice’s 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 haven’t grasped yet,” said staff writer Tom Robbins, 
“is that New Yorkers care more about what’s going on in the Bush 
administration than they do what’s 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. “We’re reviewing our options,” Ms. Constantine said by phone 
April 17. She said she’s 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 it’s 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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