Saturday, September 01, 2018

Farewell, Village Voice

For the last decade or so, I have only occasionally read Village Voice, mostly online, but once upon a time, when I was in my 20s and living in Boston, acquiring a copy of the Voice at one of the news stands there, and perusing it to find out what was happening in New York, was one of the highlights of my week. (Back then I also read the New York Times in print almost every day too.) The Voice provided a trove of news about politics, in New York and beyond, as well as some of the most invigorating criticism about art, entertainment, the broader culture and the world, that you might find anywhere. For me it constantly outmatched Boston's own Phoenix, that city's alternative paper, and was part of a national ecosystem of similar papers that offered fresh, often left-leaning and progressive but always counter-mainstream perspectives on the state of the world. Now, the Voice is gone.

It's where I first learned about New York's legendary Public Theater and its pathblazing directors Joseph Papp and George C. Wolfe; it was one of the mainstream places where I regularly found informative reportage, Andrew Kopkind, Richard Goldstein and others, about about HIV and AIDS. It was a regular-go to learn about the newest and less common films, books, music, theater and performances of all kinds. The Voice also brought to me and countless readers original photography (Sylvia Plachy, C. Carr, etc.), cartoons by Jules Feiffer, Ted Rall, Lynda Barry, Mark Alan Stamaty, and Tom Tomorrow, and literature (I recollect reading a story by the great poet Elizabeth Alexander's there, among other gems). I was enthralled by Greg Tate's, Joan Morgan's and Gary Indiana's criticism, and when my friend Scott Poulson-Bryant (now Dr. Poulson-Bryant, and a professor at Fordham University) secured an internship and then a job there, it seemed like an unimaginably wonderful thing had occurred. Other than Greg Tate, the one columnist I made sure never to miss was Michael Musto, whose tour through NYC's once inimitable queer club scene will probably never be equalled again.

When C and I moved to the New York area, the Voice remained a paper I rarely missed reading. I'd even looked in its ads section in my search for an apartment when heading to NYU. When Annotations appeared, a young writer named Colson Whitehead wrote one of the most insightful, praiseworthy reviews the book received, and it meant everything to me that it appeared in the Voice. When the Voice became free in New York in 1996--which I loved but also figured was a bad sign--I would grab a copy in Manhattan before heading back to New Jersey, where we still had to pay for them. Yet I also paid attention to the labor strife that was wracking the paper in 2005 and 2006, and again in 2013: editors fired or resigning, writers sharing their fears over decreased benefits and the new owners' tunnel vision, and worse. Even as its leadership changed, the Voice remained one of the rare news organs that seemed not to coddle the rich and powerful--I recall Wayne Barrett's extensive  reporting on Rudy Giuliani's administration, and the time it ran an article outing New York's conservative Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan--and continued to employ incisive writers like Steven Thrasher. Yet in the end, its most recent owner, and the shifts in the media industry, ensured its demise.

Established in 1955 by Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher, John Willcock, and Norman Mailer, the Voice was the US's first alternative weekly, and received a wide array of honors over its 63-year existence, including Pulitzer Prizes, National Press, and George Polk awards. It survived a number of owners over the years, until it was sold in October 2015, by its penultimate owner, Voice Media Group, to billionaire heir Peter Barbey. In August 2017, the Voice announced it would cease to exist as a print publication, and its final print issue appeared on September 17, 2015. Although Barbey said that he wanted to save the Voice, and despite his considerable financial reserves, he claimed that financial exigencies required him to shut down the paper, even as he allegedly has been searching for someone to buy it. Yesterday, the electronic edition ceased publication, half the staff were laid off, and those who remain will assist for a limited period in archiving the paper's rich store of articles and materials. Yet the fact remains that one of the once truly vital organs of reportage, investigation and criticism, for New York, the US and the globe, is gone, and with it passes an era--many really--that we will somebody

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