Between 2000 and 2010 I wrote 30 different pieces for the Village Voice, a few of which I’m quite proud of. More than that — I was beyond proud to be associated with that legendary paper, even as an occasional free-lancer. I’d begun reading it in 1987, when the contributors included Jules Feiffer, Nat Hentoff, J. Hoberman, Robert Christagu, Wayne Barrett, Richard Goldstein, Gary Indiana, Alisa Solomon, etc etc etc. Oh, yes — and Michael Musto and Michael Feingold. Can I get a “What the hell?”
They’ve all been shit-canned within the last several years; apparently the new corporate business plan is to circulate blank sheets of paper to grateful commuters to stare at as a conceptual monument to a once great city. The decline has been gradual. While the Voice was still a great paper in the 80s, I always felt it was bit ossified by that point. Perpetually in defensive mode during the Reagan-Bush era, in contrast with the paper’s glory years of the 60s and 70s, the Voice was now a countermelody to the tune of the times. The tone of the writing was often (understandably) bitter, angry and alienating. While I always read the Voice, my paper of choice in the 90s became the Russ Smith-John Strausbaugh New York Press, which seemed more vital, with its hedonistic, libertarian, and deliberately provocative in-your-face outrageous content.
But I’m afraid it was the New York Press that may have eventually killed the Voice, even if the New York Press, properly speaking, died first. For you see, the New York Press was free. The Village Voice, back then, cost a dollar. And to compete with the New York Press, in 1996 the Village Voice stopped charging the dollar.
The first time I was ever decently paid for my writing was for a Village Voice assignment. Did it feel great? Hoo, boy, yes it did. Not for itself, not because it sure is great to get money (if that were my thing I would have gone into a drastically different line of work) but because I felt I’d earned it. After struggling in the city for a dozen years, after spending thousands to study at NYU (where I learned to write criticism), after amassing a storehouse of knowledge, acquiring contacts, honing my prose, learning to look and to listen and to report (and, yes, opine), I was worth it. Not as a question of justice, but strictly from a market perspective. I literally deserved to be paid in exchange for what I had to offer. Still do. (And so–my point—do all those contributors listed above).
NOW: the Voice’s stated reason for letting go all of those people I mentioned above was money. In recent years, it’s gotten ridiculous, so much so that I’ve VERY rarely picked it up to look at any more. J. Hoberman is my favorite critic. I was in the habit of reading his invariably brilliant review column every week. My allegiance is to the content, not the masthead! It IS a newspaper, a thing-one-reads, is it not? Well, no, that is what it USED to be. The press release about the recent staff changes was hilarious, something to the effect of “the Voice will continue to offer the top-notch content that, blah blah blah”. Why, you stupid, provincial thugs — CONTINUE? Do you think we were born yesterday? It hasn’t offered that for YEARS! (With apologies to Messers Musto and Feingold, who are the exceptions — you know what I mean. It’s been years, maybe a decade?, since one picked up a copy of the Voice and read the whole thing).
For those who don’t know, the Voice was taken over in 2005 by some businessmen who run a chain of alt weeklies out of Phoenix. They are apparently such brilliant businessmen (as so many seem to be these days) that their strategy for success is to cut costs by ELIMINATING THE PRODUCT. This is a kind of genius, really, if you think about it. I mean, why would anyone pick up the paper just to look at advertisements? They wouldn’t. Clearly the endgame of the new owners is the destruction of the company so that someone, somewhere can make a profit by not producing anything. They do this without any scintilla of responsibility to the public, the culture or anyone but themselves. The life of this city has been spiritually impoverished, probably permanently, in the interest of some asshole’s swimming pool.
Times are tough, we just had the worst economic drought since the Great Depression. You know what you do in that case? CHARGE THE DOLLAR. Personally, I’d pay for content. You know how William Randolph Hearst built his media empire? By SPENDING MONEY and HIRING CONTRIBUTORS WHOM THE PUBLIC WANTED TO READ. Readers are attracted to the paper as a result and along the way they may happen to see advertisements. No one, aside from sort of mental defective, picks up a paper strictly to look at advertisements.
Think about this when your head hits the pillow tonight, and I say this without ironic intent or exaggeration — the best free weekly newspaper in this city at this moment is now officially The Villager.
For much more on the Life and Death of the Village Voice, see my 2017 article here.
I wrote for NewYork Press, and I can say yeh– we did that. But the Voice was already ridiculous by then.