When the Village Voice lost its juice

Village Voice headquarters. Photo: Eden, Janine and Jim, via flickr
By Jon Friedman

Sadly, but predictably, the Village Voice last week ended its 63-year run. I mourn the loss of our town’s weekly bible of pop-culture happenings, political investigations and all-round blasphemy as much as anyone. But upon examining the facts, we must recognize the Voice’s demise as a sign of these Darwinian times.

The Voice’s loss of juice reflected the status of both modern journalism and the place it was synonymous with, Greenwich Village itself.

Part of the Voice’s problem was the state of the media industry today. Bean-counters — armed with their algorithms and lists of “most-read” stories – rule the media ecosystem. Page-view counts mean more than a beloved byline of a niche journalist. Advertisers determine a publication’s success more than the Voice’s ability to rake muck on a sleazy politician.

Village Voice owner Peter Barbey said: “Due to, basically, business realities, we’re going to stop publishing Village Voice new material. I bought the Voice to save it. This isn’t exactly how I thought it was going to end up.”

Barbey acquired the Voice from Voice Media Group in 2015, proclaiming at that time that the alt-weekly should “survive and prosper.” The Voice stopped its print publications last year and laid off employees and continued to maintain an online presence.

The Voice’s charm used to be its identity as a freewheeling magazine. But advertisers like publications that can reach the coveted 18-25 demographic (and yes, hitting the 18-to-34 market is almost as helpful, too). The Voice’s core audience skewed older. Plus, the hyperlocal trend in online journalism helped produce the Voice’s death by a thousand cuts. Neighborhood operations could serve up the sort of irreverence that the Voice was famous for.

Likewise, New York magazine has for years now served as the city’s great media tastemaker, not the Voice.

Then there was the reality of what part of town has the juice these days. Not Greenwich Village. Sad but unavoidably true, the area below 14th Street in Manhattan — the Voice’s hub — has gradually declined in cultural and societal importance in recent years. The action has shifted to Brooklyn. This is crucial.

To me, this phenomenon can be explained by a brief but telling conversation I recently had with one of my Hunter College undergraduates just last week. Call her “Linda,” who described herself as a member of Gen Z. She talks about living in Brooklyn’s fabled Bushwick, a 2018 mecca for artists, actors, musicians, writers and activists, as if she had just won the lottery.

Once upon a time, people talked in such a smug way about living in the Voice’s sweet spot, the East Village or the West Village. But times change. Linda, who comes from somewhere out west, could not have cared less that in 1963, the cover of the second album release by Bob Dylan, arguably the patron saint of Greenwich Village and the figure who graced the cover of last September’s final Voice newsstand issue, showed the folk singer walking arm in arm with his then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo at the corner of Jones Street and West 4th Street. Linda would no doubt look politely disinterested if I had the audacity to play Bruce Springsteen jubilantly shouting, “Bleeeeeecker Streeeeet” in his terrific song “Kitty’s Back,” from his second album a decade later.

When I asked Linda if she hung out much in the Village, she frowned and shot back: “Professor, I live in Brooklyn. I don’t need to go to the Village.”

RIP, Village Voice. We’ll miss you.