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Can Village Voice Make It
Without Its Lefty Zetz?

 

By Gabriel Sherman

On April 18, The Village Voice’s music editor Chuck Eddy was fired by Village Voice Media. Mr. Eddy is the 17th employee to leave the paper, either by resignation or termination, since Village Voice Media—then called New Times—assumed control in November. The paper lists 60 editorial positions on its masthead.
 
Last week, on the April 13 edition of the radio program Democracy Now!, host Amy Goodman brought current Voice columnist Nat Hentoff and staff writer Tom Robbins on the show. They were met by the recently resigned Press Clips columnist, Sydney Schanberg, and the paper’s recently fired Washington correspondent, James Ridgeway.
 
The interview was a boisterous consciousness-raising session about the evils of Michael Lacey, Village Voice Media’s executive editor.
 
Mr. Lacey, the man responsible for much of the overhaul at The Voice since New Times completed the $400 million merger in November, didn’t appear on the program. But listeners were treated to an FM version of what’s going on at The Voice for the last four months: two sides bitterly talking past each other.
 
As the dissident Voice staff tells it, the new management is a bunch of out-of-town bean counters bent on dismantling a precious 50-year-old journalistic institution. The new management, in turn, depicts the paper as a haven for thumb-suckers, with a staff so self-satisfied that it refuses to stop writing left-leaning commentary and go out and do some reporting.
 
In tone and nuance, the standoff now suggests a battle over a decaying historic building—between a pushy, mercenary developer and a bunch of cranky cat-and-newspaper-hoarding tenants.
 
It wasn’t always this way. Earlier in the relationship, some Voice staffers had warily welcomed the arrival of New Times, hoping the new management would reverse an internal perception of neglect on the part of the former owners.
 
“The paper was not putting out stuff we had come there to be a part of,” one Voice staffer said. “There is a lot of pent-up frustration.”
 
And New Times, though the dominant partner, took on The Voice’s name—The Voice’s name had more cachet.
 


The New Times/Voice deal was approved by regulators in November 2005. In January, Voice publisher Judith Miszner resigned. Editor Don Forst resigned in December 2005. Doug Simmons took over from Mr. Forst, and Ms. Miszner’s position was taken by Michael Cohen, the publisher of Miami New Times.
 
The top editorial authority was Mr. Lacey, who began flying in, when needed, from Phoenix, Ariz., where he resides.
 
Mr. Lacey made it clear that though his chain had bought The Voice, he didn’t have much taste for the newspaper as it was constituted. If he was the new landlord, he was talking about a gut rehab at a minimum, and possibly a teardown.
 
At a Feb. 1 meeting, Mr. Lacey bluntly told staffers of his plans to eschew Bush-bashing commentary for local investigative pieces.
 
Now, the organization of the paper is being changed. Much of the front of the book is being overhauled. Mr. Ridgeway’s column has been killed, and so has Mr. Schanberg’s Press Clips column and Toni Schlesinger’s Shelter column, which provided quirky interactions with apartment and loft dwellers. The film-review budget has been cut by two-thirds, according to a source, and some film reviews are now being contributed by freelance writers from other New Times papers. According to Voice staffers, New Times has also dismissed The Voice’s three-person fact-checking department and laid off two of the five copy editors. Last month, Mr. Lacey killed interim editor Ward Harkavy’s blog, the Bush Beat. The end-page essay has been discontinued. Voice writers now have to use the New Times stylebook, and according to a source, there are words—including “meta” and “subversive”—that are now banned from the paper.
 
In a phone conversation, Mr. Lacey said that all the changes are designed to create space for more magazine-style reported pieces. Commentary, at least as currently practiced in The Village Voice, has no place in the New Times regime.
 

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You may reach Gabriel Sherman via email at: gsherman@observer.com .

This column ran on page 1 in the 4/24/2006 edition of The New York Observer.

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Nat Hentoff.

 
 


 

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