I was holding off on commenting about the relative mess at the Village Voice in New York. But since no one came around begging for my opinion (the way they do all the time, y’know), I selflessly offer it here.
Only the cruel and the masochistic cheer when the lions of our so-called profession are forcibly removed from their well-warmed seats, and I feel terrible for Chuck Eddy, with whom I worked once or twice in a former lifetime. (Word is still confused about whether Bob Christgau is still in the house.) Although I never worked with James Ridgeway, a peek at the man’s resume also requires a thoughtful and sympathetic moment of silence.
Lisa Chamberlain–who, incidentally, is a fabulous writer–has a very nice and loud “So What?” up on her blog today about the latest developments, and we had a nice little back ‘n’ forth about it. One of the things that continues to flummox is that alt-weeklies–like their daily newspaper cousins–still enjoy pretty good margins, when you consider the matter paper by paper. But owners and investors are increasingly nervous, as a consequence of consolidation in the industry, and the resulting debt burdens.
If a unified Village Voice and New Times chain is a more powerful chain, prepared to do more journalism and less navel-gazing, then why are they cutting so many jobs and good people hither and tither? True, shoe-leather is a lot more expensive than seat covers. I assume Mr. Lacey and his army of executive editors will empower all local editors with an unprecedented, massive inflow of cash and resources for all those ass-kicking, T-N-T City Hall pieces that will bloom like a million mushrooms across the land. Oh wait, first we need to cut all that unecessary fat and waste, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
As I sort of feinted over at MNSpeak, the business model and the editorial model of the typical alt-weekly have never been more polarized. It’s an old truism that there are two kinds of people who pick up an alt-weekly. Those who read it (fans of “magazine-style” journalism and crit, who seem to be getting older and more feeble all the time) and those who use it (listings). As long as there are bars with stages, and as long as there is co-op advertising dough from liquor suppliers, there will be an alt-weekly in every major American metro, if for no other reason than point-of-distribution listings. (See our ad, right there in the lobby!)
The real question in my mind is whether any of that money will EVER migrate online, and subsidize an evolved business model AND editorial model. Taking the
point-of-distribution angle further , the answer may not be all that
encouraging (for a while–maybe until there are more of those flat-screen ads
posted above the urinal, ha ha ha).
Chamberlain nailed Mr. Lacey pretty fearlessly, and I have my own views of his crisis-style of management. Instead of firing Bob Christgau, for example, I
would maybe screw up my best Lacey-inspired bravado, sit “the Dean of Rock Criticism” down and given him a blank check, and say, “Remember that great piece you wrote about the emergence of Punk Rock in London, circa 1978–and how it was going to change the world as we know it? Now I want you to go wherever in the world the most important music is happening right now. If you can’t find someone to talk to and a story to file, don’t bother coming back.”
In other words, fine with the “more-reporting-less-navel-gazing” chorus. But to fire internationally respected critics with good–if dusty–reporting chops, and take the Voice aggressively local (like every other paper in the chain) is insane for one of the world’s pre-eminent print brands. And the fact that they bought the name along with the flagship paper implies that they should know this. In my humble and clearly misguided view, Lacey and Larkin should look to the New York Observer for the profit margins in that approach–as great as the NYO is, and as necessary as it is.