Trying to Read the Village Voice Could Drive You Nuts. I’m Still Gonna Miss It.
The Village Voice could epitomize everything that was wrong with or simply annoying about the alternative press.
Its closure this week was still a harsh, depressing, serious loss at a time when we badly need the things the Village Voice did well.
Named for and loosely rooted in New York’s Greenwich Village, The Voice covered New York politics and select New York issues.
While it’s an American sport to complain about greedy landlords or rapacious real estate developers or corrupt politicians or oily judges, The Voice sent out reporters who dug in unwelcoming places until they found out whether we were right.
When, where, who, how, why. It’s called investigative journalism, and The Voice is hardly the only newspaper that did it, or still does it. The Voice just very often did it well, in part because it famously provided as much space as necessary to spell it all out.
The Voice also held a high regard for writers, not surprising in a paper cofounded in 1955 by the late Norman Mailer.
Yes, The Voice sometimes let its contributors keep writing long after their copy screamed for an editor. Yes, Voice columnists could argue with other Voice columnists until readers begged for mercy. If you think Twitter wars can get tedious, dig up some of those exchanges.
There were articles, reviews and columns that seemed directed at a tiny group of inside persons, leaving the civilian reader peering in through the window.
That said, The Voice at its best covered not only major socio-economic issues, but a wide-ranging corner of arts and culture at a depth no other city publication could match. If it wasn’t always the first to spot a future trend, like rap, it gave artists in music, dance, theater, film, art and other creative areas the respectful and thoughtful discussion they deserved, whether or not they were hot commercial properties.
While The Voice tended to be more earnest than droll, it gave space to a dark visual humorist like Jules Feiffer.
What’s often missed is that it also had two, or maybe three, critical practical values for New Yorkers.
People would line up at newsstands to get the first deliveries of each week’s Voice so they could check out apartment listings. They would comb The Voice’s events calendar and entertainment ads to find the most complete listing of everything happening, certainly in lower Manhattan. And yeah, there were the personal ads, which were groundbreaking in their own way.
Those nuts-and-bolts things, which might seem incidental, all helped solidify The Voice’s place in the city. Like the Amsterdam News uptown, though with a very different approach and tone, it was part of the urban fabric. It talked with its readers. Its readers talked about it.
The Village Voice began in that relatively short window between Greenwich Village becoming a modern-day cool spot and morphing into a tourist brand. The Village had always attracted writers and artists, and in the 1950s many fell into a loosely emerging counterculture whose points of agreement included this: Winning World War II didn’t mean America should get comfortable. It meant America should address and fix some serious flaws.
The Voice offered a platform for that discussion, among others, on the accurate premise that New York contained the material to sustain it indefinitely. To become a meaningful part of the discussion, it invited good writers with the promise they would be free to write.
These days, when too much journalism has devolved into counting the clicks for vacuous recounting of celebrity tweets, we need publications willing to plunge into nuances, context, grey areas, history, subtleties and stories that require attention and patience.
Happily, again, The Voice hasn’t been the only source for journalism like that. The Voice just brought credibility to the enterprise, and at a time when anyone with a phone has 10,000 options for information, the loss of any established and trusted outlet makes getting legitimate news a little harder.
The Voice could be smug and elitist. It was often accused of having an agenda and probably sometimes did. But its disappearance takes away another connective thread in an increasingly fragmented culture, and it means some shady people can breathe a little easier.
Neither part of that sentence is good news.