Village Voice Editor Tony Ortega leaves the alt-weekly

The Village Voice
In a blog post published Friday morning, Village Voice Editor Tony Ortega announced he is leaving the paper: “Next week will be my last as editor of the Voice; I will be leaving to pursue a book proposal about Scientology in its time of crisis.” (Ortega’s memo to staff follows the jump.)

Via IM, Music Editor Maura Johnston confirms she’s leaving, too. In an email, Village Voice Media boss Michael Lacey says “Our new music editor begins a week from this coming Monday.”

Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke quotes two unnamed sources, one a former staffer and another “familiar with the beleaguered paper” who say Ortega was pushed out by VVM management.

The former staffer also said Mr. Ortega began to worry
about his future when writer James King joined the staff in January
from the Phoenix New Times, which is headquartered in the same
building as Village Voice Media’s corporate management. Mr. King was known among staffers as a favorite son of VVM Executive Editor Mike Lacey and the chain’s bosses in Phoenix, a fact that made Mr. Ortega uneasy.

The Voice laid off several staffers in August. Rosie Gray wrote in BuzzFeed at the time that the paper “seems finally on the verge of actual collapse” but I found her estimates of the Voice’s remaining staff to be stingy.

David Carr wrote that the Voice Gray was eulogizing “has not existed for many years.”

The problem with so-called alternative weeklies is that they were often formed in opposition to the daily newspapers in their respective markets, offering a spicier take on civic events and cultural coverage that reflected what was actually nascent in various places. With dailies limping in almost every American market and the listings and classifieds that were the bread and butter of weeklies now all over the Web, alternatives are just one more alternative among many.

Here’s Ortega’s memo to staffers:

Friends,

For some time now, I’ve been talking to Mike and Christine about a project I have in mind, and now seems like the right moment to pull the trigger. With Scientology on the cover of mainstream magazines and in theaters, I figure it’s a sign that I should take my own chances at a book proposal about the church in crisis. For that reason, next week will be my last here at the Voice.

You all know how much I’ve enjoyed my tenure here. Arts editor Brian Parks and I were fortunate enough to celebrate with Michael Feingold when he was named a Pulitzer finalist for his brilliant theater criticism. Editing Graham Rayman’s “NYPD Tapes” series was a highlight of my career. I am indebted to writers like Roy Edroso who helped us transform the Voice into a daily digital enterprise. And Nat Hentoff recently gave me too much credit for having a passionate interest in the early history of this newspaper, something I indulged in my three-year Clip Job project.

Thanks for helping me get back some of that early Voice spirit over the last five and a half years, even as we were dealing with the Print Apocalypse in general, and a building seemingly forever under construction in particular. I’m looking forward to visiting you when you get into the new digs in the spring — maybe this time the elevator will be worth a damn.

Seriously, you’ve made working here the best job I’ve ever had, and over the next week I look forward to speaking to each of you about what it’s meant to pull these oars together. Let’s do it over some beers, preferably.

Tony O

Correction: This post originally credited Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke’s piece to a different author.

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  • http://twitter.com/ohnostudio Libby Stack

    I will miss him, but as he says, the time is right for him to pursue the bigger fish.