The Village Voice is not dead yet, contrary to reports

BuzzFeed | The New York Times | Vouchification

In a BuzzFeed piece about how The Village Voice's management killed the paper, Rosie Gray says The Voice's staff, once an overstuffed sofa of attitude and snark, is down to "one news blogger, two features writers, a music editor, a few people working on listings and one critic, aided by a couple contributors, writing about food," Gray writes. "Voice editor-in-chief Tony Ortega declined to comment on how he’ll continue to fill the paper and site with content."

I checked Gray's estimate of the Voice's staff with Ortega. "You can see from the masthead yourself that she's pretty far off," Ortega wrote in an email. He said the paper has 15 full-time edit staffers, two part-time staffers and four "Bargaining Unit Freelancers," a union-contract term for "people who freelance enough to qualify for benefits," Ortega wrote. His list:

Three feature writers (Graham Rayman, Nick Pinto, Greg Howard), our columnist (Michael Musto), news blogger (Jim King), two full-time food writers (Tejal Rao and Robert Sietsema), calendar editor (Angela Ashman), clubs editor (Nick Murray), and our full-time theater critic (Michael Feingold). We also have two more or less full time freelance movie writers (Nick Pinkerton, Melissa Anderson), and freelancer Alexis Soloski, and two part-time calendar writers, Araceli Cruz and Heather Baysa.

There's also arts editor Brian Parks, music editor Maura Johnston, film editor Alan Scherstuhl, copy chief Amanda Woytus, art director John Dixon, associate art director Jesus Diaz, Web editor Nick Greene and associate arts editor Eric Sundermann. And Ortega.

I helped manage the production of an alt-weekly for four years, and if Ortega can't fill a paper and a website with that kind of staff, he should have his snark license revoked during the next Association of Alternative Newsmedia conference. How that crew will be able to ride out ever-declining print advertising revenues and mission confusion is a separate problem.

Gray also writes that from 2005, when New Times bought the Voice, the paper's staff assumed its swashbuckling out-of-town owners -- "I've heard the words 'frat boys' and 'assholes' used to describe them, and have maybe used those myself," she writes -- "were interlopers bent on squeezing the last drop of juice out of the paper before leaving it to die." That suspicion looks reasonable, she says, after the Voice laid off three staffers Friday. The bigger problem, Gray writes, is:

...they’re not Voice people. And it’s hard to explain the importance of being a Voice person if you’re not one. The Voice, as marginalized and irrelevant as it has become, really was the voice of the city and of a certain kind of New Yorker. It was insouciant and jubilant, with sharply reported city politics pieces sitting next to art house movie reviews and sex ads. The afterglow of that leaves an impression on those of us who worked there, even if you’re like me and were born well after the Voice’s heyday.

David Carr writes that "The version of the Voice that was the 'the voice of a city' has not existed for many years," and that echoes a problem for alt-weeklies everywhere. Mike Lacey, Jim Larkin and the other Village Voice Media (formerly New Times) executives Gray blames, "aren’t killing The Voice; the informational ecosystem is," Carr says.

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.

Mike Fourcher (who as Carr might say had a cup of coffee at Journatic), writes about trying to buy alt-weeklies at the turn of the century and discovering their audience was aging out:

...when we talked with editors and publishers, we learned a sad truth that has played out again and again with alts in cities across the country: Most alternative newspapers were little more than greying-hippy butterfly collections, built to satisfy the tastes and interests of a dying crowd. “They’re all tracking their demos,” one angry twenty-something editor told me over too many drinks in a hotel bar. “The dirty secret is that most alt readers are fifty-plus. Let’s hope the advertisers don’t find out.”

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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