The Village Voice, which was founded in 1955 and left an indelible mark on New York’s cultural and political landscape for decades, has finally faced up to its daunting business reality and opted to cease editorial operations.
The news bubbled up in reports early this afternoon by Gothamist, the Associated Press and Columbia Journalism Review. Those outlets obtained a recording of a conference call with staffers conducted this morning by Peter Barbey, who bought the weekly from Voice Media Group in 2015.
“Today is kind of a sucky day,” Barbey said on the call. “Due to the business realities, we are going to stop publishing Village Voice new material.”
About half of the remaining 20 staffers were laid off as of today, with the other half winding down operations and focusing on digitizing the paper’s extensive archives. In 2017, the Voice had stopped publishing its print edition but remained online.
In a later statement, Barbey said the paper “has been subject to the increasingly harsh economic realities facing those creating journalism and written media.” He added, “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.”
There was a small ray of hope during the staff call that the paper might not be completely dead. Barbey indicated he was “still trying to save the Voice” and had held talks with “other entities” in recent months. Ending editorial operations was a condition of proceeding with those discussions, he said.
Print newspapers, both daily and weekly, have been ravaged by the rise of the internet. First came Craigslist, which devastated publications’ classified advertising businesses, followed by the explosion of digital information online. A publication such as the Voice, despite its pedigree, could not measure up to the sheer volume and variety of choice online. The death knell for the alt-weekly followed news of the gutting of the New York Daily News and retrenchment in city coverage by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
The Voice, founded by a group that included novelist Norman Mailer, served as a left-wing provocateur and a cultural maypole for a cross-section of New Yorkers and readers who got to know the paper as it began to circulate outside the city. The stable of arts critics shone especially brightly, including jazz expert Nat Hentoff and pan-musical guru Robert Christgau, film writer J. Hoberman, experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas and puckish gossip columnist Michael Musto. Jack Newfield, Molly Haskell, Andrew Sarris and Jules Feiffer were among the many other contributors.
While it seems difficult to imagine today, the challenge of the Voice to the city’s status quo on the eve of the earthquake of the 1960s is the stuff of cultural legend. A book about the weekly, Kevin Michael McAuliffe’s The Great American Newspaper, seems remarkably prescient 40 years after its publication. It describes the stew of forces that led to the creation of the Voice, particularly the backdrop of the Cold War and Eisenhower-era conformity.
Geography proved to be another crucial ingredient in the Voice‘s story. Light-years removed from today’s high-gloss realm of ritzy condo towers and luxury boutiques, the paper was an emanation of a corner of New York that offered a unique perspective on the city. “The dropouts and the beatniks and the aesthetes and the outsiders all went there,”McAuliffe writes, “down below Union Square where all the forlorn Communist Party rallies were held, below 14th Street where the streets and the people got a little crazy, to Greenwich Village.”
Readers of all ages, especially New Yorkers and media types, have been reminiscing and lamenting the demise of the paper on Twitter throughout the day. Here is a selection of tweets:
And here is the full statement from Barbey, provided to Deadline:
“This is a sad day for The Village Voice and for millions of readers. The Voice has been a key element of New York City journalism and is read around the world. As the first modern alternative newspaper, it literally defined a new genre of publishing. As the Voice evolved over the years, its writers, editors, reporters, reviewers, contributors, photographers, artists and staff were united by the idea that the they spoke for and fought hard for those that believed in a better New York City and a better world. The Voice has connected multiple generations to local and national news, music, art, theater, film, politics and activism, and showed us that it’s idealism could be a way of life.
“In recent years, the Voice has been subject to the 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.
“The Village Voice was created to give speed to a cultural and social revolution, and its legacy and the voices that created that legacy are still relevant today. Perhaps more than ever. Its archives are an indispensable chronicle of history and social progress. Although the Voice will not continue publishing, we are dedicated to ensuring that its legacy will endure to inspire more generations of readers and writers to give even more speed to those same goals.
“We have begun working to ensure that the enormous print archive of The Village Voice is made digitally accessible. I began my involvement with the Voice intending to ensure its future. While this is not the outcome I’d hoped for and worked towards, a fully digitized Voice archive will offer coming generations a chance to experience for themselves what is clearly one of this city’s and this country’s social and cultural treasures.
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank everyone who pulled together to attempt create a new future for The Village Voice. Their passion and perseverance have inspired me. I will always be humbled by the grit they’ve shown and the dedication they have displayed.”