The new ‘alt’ media looks a lot like the old media
Of course, it’s far from the Voice‘s only high-profile departure of a woman or a non-white dude this year: Jen Doll left in January (making her one of 16 people that left or were ousted that year to date — including long-time editor Ward Harkavy and columnist Harry Siegel last October); Rosie Gray decamped for BuzzFeed; and the paper cut loose staff writers Camille Dodero, Steven Thrasher and Victoria Bekiempis and bumped editor Araceli Cruz to part time less than a month ago.
So who’s left? Well, LA Weekly‘s much-maligned music editor Ben Westoff was reportedly put in charge of the entire Village Voice Media’s music coverage just after Labor Day. And “ironic racism” aficionado (who once accused the paper’s sole African-American (and gay) staff writer of being the real racist and penned this so-pathetic-it-doesn’t-qualify-for-parody Hunter S. Thompson homage yesterday) James King remains atop the “Runnin’ Scared” blog and is Ortega’s rumored replacement. From the masthead alone, that leaves one person of color (a food critic), one woman copy editor, one woman associate editor, one part-time woman associate editor, a couple woman (read: freelance) contributors.
So much for reflecting a different world view than their mainstream competitors.
Village Voice Media, once known as the New Times, is no stranger to controversy: from the 2007 arrests of executive editor Mike Lacey and CEO Jim Larkin, to Lacey’s casual use of a racial slur while cameras were rolling, to Lacey’s promotion of an ex-flame to an editor-in-chiefship, to the sheer hatred of some people for associated editor-in-chief Andy Van De Voorde, to the $21 million dollar judgment against the company for predatory pricing, to its (reportedly former) partial ownership by Goldman Sachs, to the campaign to get Backpage.com to stop selling ads to sex workers, the company’s been almost better at attracting controversy than new eyeballs (see: here and here).
The clear solution they’ve charted here in New York City? Not a redesign of their impossible-to-navigate properties, or more extensive cooperation among existing editors and properties, not a deeper commitment to long-form journalism that matters in the communities they supposedly serve, nor even a program to expand the diversity of their editorial and writing teams to help them be more in tune with what the whole of those communities are facing or interesting in reading.
Nope. Instead, HQ apparently decided to bro-down and chase the ephemeral unicorn of “viral content” based on what they think Internet readers like them already want to read (or what they can be trolled into reading).
I don’t agree with everything in Rosie Gray’s controversial piece “How Management Killed The Voice”, though it’s a solid read. But it is hard to resist wondering why, when looking at a changing media landscape and a whole host of potential writers and editors with bright, unique voices that could’ve brought new readers and new vitality to its properties, the Arizona overlords looked at New York City’s diverse population and readership and then, in the last year, canned or ran off almost everyone who wasn’t a white dude.
*Johnston is a old friend and my current roommate. She did not, however, contribute to this piece.
[“Flatmates Enjoying A Beer Together” on Shutterstock]