Sunday, January 28, 2007

Silenced Voice

Readers in many U.S. cities will be familiar with the so-called “alternative weekly” newspapers. These are tabloids styling themselves as alternatives to the mainstream dailies. Occasionally they produce some OK local journalism. But most of them are drab, mediocre fish-wrap with a phony “hip” attitude, a few middle brow columnists, one or two local feature articles a week, listings for local arts, and a ton of advertisements. You can scan these rags in less than a half an hour with rarely a need to pause over an article that’s even remotely challenging, much less anything like great journalism.

The master template for this shit-for-brains newspaper genre is the New Times in Phoenix, Arizona, run by an arrogant huckster named Mike Lacey. Lacey went about buying up weekly tabloids around the country and turning them into identical, irrelevant, disposable crap. It was easy to ignore this parasite, considering the far greater problems afflicting American media in general. That is, until New Times bought The Village Voice.

I have read The Voice for over thirty years, and was a regular subscriber for almost twenty. Although it was published in New York, and printed its fair share of local stories, its scope and influence was larger than that. It was one of the very few papers in the country that regularly covered progressive politics and culture. I could spend hours reading the paper’s political columnists, feature articles on world and national issues, and film, theater, and music sections. When it was announced that the predator New Times was absorbing the paper, to a long-time lover of The Village Voice, it was like a punch in the gut.

Right off the bat, the excellent James Ridgeway was fired, and Sydney Schanberg quit. That’s when I cancelled my subscription. Since then, we’ve seen Michael Atkinson and Dennis Lim axed from the film section, and Robert Christgau and Chuck Eddy from the music pages. Those are just some of the bigger names—over thirty other staffers have been fired as well, to be replaced by idiot clones of editor David Blum, and recycled writers from other New Times rags.

The usual line you read is that The Voice was already predictable, a shadow of its former self. And Lacey talked like he was going to make the paper better, more “relevant.” All you had to do was pick up any one of his birdcage-liner publications across the country to know that this was a lie. But the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the putrid swill.

In a time of illegal war, right-wing Republican scandal, and a level of both political meltdown and progressive activism not seen since the 60s, you can read The Voice now and barely have an idea that any of this is going on. Nat Hentoff is the only one writing about national issues--in fact the only real columnist left. We’ve had cover stories about American Idol, a gay rugby player, a woman addicted to candy, and an exposé of male pick-up techniques (which turned out be both phony and plagiarized). A recent cover story purports to criticize Tom Wolfe for writing about historical preservation just to salvage his career, a charge which applies more to the article itself, which offers nothing but baseless insinuations in a desperate attempt to be “cutting edge.”

You can read the first three paragraphs of any of these articles and know exactly what they’re going to say. They’re always boring. Whereas I used to spend hours reading The Voice, I can now just go to the library, scan the first part of the paper briefly for something interesting (which I never find, outside of Hentoff), read J. Hoberman on film, Feingold on theater, and be done with The Voice in less than twenty minutes. It’s now an empty, cowardly, dull, mindless publication, just like everything else Lacey has ever touched.

Memo to Mike Lacey: fuck you. You’ve turned one of the country’s best and only progressive newspapers into a piece of shit. Your features are just like every other stale “alternative” weekly article I’ve ever read. Despite your pretentious blatherings, what you produce is not journalism. I have read journalism, and I have read The New Times, and I know the difference. Please sell The Voice to someone with a soul—you can go back to Phoenix and have a fine career as a pimp there. You’re out of your element in New York.

Lacey will just keep on sucking the life out of newspapers, which is what he knows how to do. All I can say is, don’t subscribe to The Voice, or buy from the companies who advertise in it. If The Village Voice is ever to be reborn, this zombie New Times imitation of The Voice needs to die.

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