The Village Voice goes silent

A classic Fred McDarrah photo of Bob Dylan that was on Page One of The Voice’s final print edition one year ago. McDarrah was a top photographer for The Voice in its early years. Photo by Fred McDarrah

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | After 63 years, The Village Voice ceased publication last Friday. Owner Peter Barbey made the announcement to his staff, saying that “business realities” had forced the closure.

Barbey bought the iconic paper, founded in 1955, three years ago, and ended its print edition one year ago, after which it only appeared online.

But with Friday’s news, the Voice has ended publishing any new material. A skeleton staff is being retained to handle archiving of the paper’s past issues online.

Gothamist reported that Barbey had been in discussions about selling the alternative tabloid.

In statement, Barbey said, “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… .

In recent years, the Voice has been subject to the increasingly harsh economic realties 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.”

Barbey’s family owns the Reading Eagle newspaper and fashion brands like The NorthFace and Vans.

Ed Fancher, founding publisher of the Village Voice, speaking at Jerry Tallmer’s memorial service at Theater for the New City in February 2015.  Photo by Tequila Minsky

Ed Fancher, The Voice’s founding publisher, said he met Barbey twice.

“Evidently, he felt he was losing too much money and it wasn’t turned around the way he wanted it to,” he said.

“We almost collapsed every week,” he said of the paper’s early years. “We just postdated our checks to our writers for a week or two. We were at the northeast corner of Sheridan Square. There was a liquor store right across the street. He put out the word that any Village Voice checks could be cashed at the store.”

Of course, many of the writers would buy a bottle of booze when they cashed their checks, so it worked out well for the store owner.

Fancher was the paper’s publisher until June 1974, when it was sold to Carter Burden, who promptly sold it to New York magazine.

“We didn’t want that because Clay Felker seemed to have a different vision,” Fancher recalled of New York’s flashy editor. Among the Voice’s other owners over the years was Rupert Murdoch.

Fancher, 95, who lives in Gramercy, was also a practicing psychotherapist when he was at the Voice. Having completed analysis, he retired as a psychoanalyst five years ago. He said he’s glad that The Villager is still around.

“When we started The Voice, we were oriented to compete with The Villager. Absolutely,” he said. “The Villager was this established, successful, family-oriented paper. Here we are 63 years later. I read it every week. The Villager is healthy. It has a good readership.”

Asked if community newspapers have proven to be a more viable “business model” than alternative weeklies, Fancher said, “I don’t know — I hope so. There are enough people that are interested in community news. I mean, The Villager still has ads.

“I also would like to commend The Villager for taking on Jerry Tallmer,” he added.

“I’m sad about it,” he said of the Voice’s ceasing publication. “But I think since it stopped being in print, I lost my interest because I’m a print guy.”

Jerry Tallmer, center, in front of the old Village Voice building on Greenwich Ave., with publisher Ed Fancher, left, and editor Dan Wolf, right. The late Tallmer, who was the paper’s associate editor and its first film and drama critic, would go on to write for The Villager in his later years.

Former City Councilmember Carol Greitzer, 93, recalled the key role the Voice played in local politics in 1961 in helping her and her running mate, James Lanigan, of the Village Independent Democrats club, beat Carmine de Sapio and his female running mate in the race for district leader. The reform Democrats’ historic win marked the end of de Sapio’s reign and the powerful Tammany Hall political machine.

“I think the Voice was very helpful, if not instrumental, in a our first victory against Carmine de Sapio when I was elected district leader,” Greitzer said. “And I have very fond memories of it from that time.”

Writers lamented the loss of a paper that not only featured so many of its own great staff writers and columnists over the years, but was also once — during its heyday — a place for others to get published.

Susan Shapiro, who teaches writing at The New School, with a focus on helping people get their work getting people published, called the news heartbreaking.

“Losing The Village Voice is a complete heartbreak for all writers, journalists, readers and intelligent artistic people on the planet,” she said. “It was an important innovator and political statement that championed freedom of speech and gay rights and fought against racism and homophobia.

“I wrote book pieces for the Voice in the ’90s. It was one of the only places where you could write long reviews, using first person, and mention many books or authors. It will be sorely missed.”

“My husband Charlie Rubin wrote a popular sports humor column for them from 1982 to 1984 with Warren Leight, and some of his old pieces (“Dick Young in Hell” and “Favorite Dinosaurs of the Mets”) have recently been circulating on Twitter,” Shapiro said. “I think it led him to TV comedy jobs on “SNL,” “In Living Color,” “Seinfeld” and Jon Stewart.”

Susan Jane Gilman, a best-selling author, posted on Facebook after the news of the end of the Voice, saddened at the passing of a cultural touchstone.

“When I was in high school, my English teacher urged me to submit a piece I’d written to The Village Voice,” she wrote. “I did  — and they published me. It was my first professional byline. I was 16 years old, and the Voice paid me $200 — the most money I’d receive for a freelance article until I was almost 30. My English teacher, of course, was Frank McCourt. He and The Village Voice launched me and were absolutely pivotal in making me the writer I am today. I cannot fathom that now they are both gone.”

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