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Village Voice Goes Way of The Village: Gentrification, Corporate Owners Killed It

The Village Voice through the decades; Left its founding issue, center from the ’70s and a 2016 issue. (Photo: IM Collage)

The Village Voice was born in the cauldron that was Greenwich Village in New York City during the 1950s. Right off the bat, The Village was a shithole back-then, which meant rents were cheap, allowing a critical mass of artists, musicians, intellectuals and sundry radicals to congregate and make history.

It was New York’s answer to the Left Bank in Paris. The Voice was a mirror of that culture. But the Village of Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and John Clellon Holmes, died a long time ago.

The news isn’t that the Village Voice is now dead, it’s why did it take so long?

Waves of gentrification and luxury high rise construction fractured the tightly knit community, forcing artists to flee to Brooklyn or even Hoboken. Today, people like Alec Baldwin, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary-Kate Olsen and anyone else who can shell out seven figures for a condo live there.

Fragments of the old Village still exist, but it’s like a miniature theme park now, another Chinatown designed to attract gawking tourists.

“Today’s news on the official passing of The Village Voice was not unexpected, but truly sad,” said David Salidor, a longtime New York City PR man.

“In its heyday, The Voice was a must read,” Salidor says.

Writers like Robert Christgau, Norman Mailer, Arthur Bell, Andrew Cockburn, Michael Musto and Nat Hentoff among others pioneered the New Journalism Movement. It was a must read, not only in New York City, but anywhere in the nation where new ideas flourished, in places like college campuses and my bedroom, where I read it out of sight of my father.

For some reason, he had a problem with it, although he never said why. He’d just occasionally tear it up, which made me value it that much more.

The Village was the cradle of the modern LGBT movement and the East Coast birthplace of both the Beat Generation and the ’60s counterculture.

“When I was living in Greenwich Village in the 1970s and the 1980s, no week was complete without reading The Village Voice,” says Mark Bego, a pop journalist and author.

“Even when I was the Nightlife Editor at Cue magazine, I needed to consult The Voice about which singers were coming to the local clubs–like The Bottom Line, what jobs were available, and what was going on in my part of New York City. This is truly the end of an era,” he adds.

Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf, John Wilcock and Norman Mailer launched The Voice in 1955, working out of a two-bedroom apartment.

It specialized in New York City, and later, national politics, along with signature coverage of arts, culture, music, dance, film, and theater. The Voice’s reporting was in a class all its own.

“its imprimatur was essential in breaking a new act, record or movie,” says Salidor. “Michael Musto single-handedly crafted his own persona and became a much sought after presence when he left the paper. A good record review from Christgau was manna-from-heaven, while a negative one stopped the project in its tracks.”

Arthur Bell championed LBGT rights long before it became a fashionable thing to do and Mailer, well, need I say more?”

It took on everyone and anyone in power and won three Pulitzer Prizes, the National Press Foundation Award and the George Polk Award for outstanding reporting.

But that was then.

The Village Voice’s death was long and slow, but it can be traced back to 2005 when New Times Media, a chain of alternative newspapers out of Phoenix, Ariz., bought the paper. The company changed its name to Village Voice Media, but it never came close to capturing the magic of the early paper.

Veteran writers, who gave The Voice its distinct character, were forced out or retired. The squeeze was on for profits, and cuts followed cuts. The company added its notorious back page sex ads and was often accused of aiding and abetting child sex trafficking.

At one point, a petition signed by 225,000 people urged the company to pull the ads. It finally did and spun off the ads into a separate Internet based operation called “BackPage.” It was recently shut down by the feds. The campaign was led by Mailer’s son, John Buffalo Mailer.

As bad as the ads were, they were a cash cow and helped keep the paper afloat.

In an effort to boost flagging circulation–and ad revenues–the company went from paid circulation to free distribution through street boxes. It went through the motions to protect its legacy, but it was never the same and slowly lost relevance.

Every now and then, I would pick it up, but it got harder and harder to find on the streets over the years, a sign of its continual retrenchment, like a retreating army pulling back its perimeter.

Three years ago, billionaire Peter D. Barbey, bought the paper through his investment company Black Walnut Holdings L.L.C..

He vowed to invest in the paper and once again make it relevant in the cultural life of New York City, according to The New York Times. But even his pockets weren’t deep enough.

“Today is kind of a sucky day,” Barbey told deadline. “Due to the business realities, we are going to stop publishing Village Voice new material.”

Apparently, that means the Website will remain active to milk whatever revenue it can from aging articles.

Half of the remaining 20 staffers were laid off today, according to reports. The other half are only on board to wind down operations and digitize the paper’s extensive archives. The Voice stopped publishing its print edition last year in one of many cost-saving measures.

Barbey issued a statement today citing “increasingly harsh economic realities facing those creating journalism and written media.”

“Like many others in publishing, we were continually optimistic that relief was around the next corner. Where stability for our business is, we do not know yet. The only thing that is clear now is that we have not reached that destination,” he said.

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