Now that Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey claim to have cut their ties to Village Voice Media, the question lingers: what becomes of the Voice?
Actually, the better quesion is: “who cares?”
There’s not much left of the Voice. Once an iconic name in alternative journalism, the Voice is left with little more than a logo. Even its long-time Greenwich Village headquarters building is about to go, with the Voice’s headquarters being relocated to Denver.
I guess where the Voice is concerned it no longer takes a village.
It’s difficult to see how the Voice can survive in any recognizable form. Its once-fabled staff of writers is gone, either resigned or fired for cost-cutting reasons. Its business model is shot. Advertising, which provided the bulk of its revenues for many years, and all of its revenues for the past five years, has largely migrated to other venues, mostly online. And its credibility has been shredded after five years of increasingly shabby and shrill content supervised by its recently-elbowed editor, Tony Ortega.
Ortega was tapped for the editorship after a two-year revolving door series of four previous editors installed by Larkin and Lacey when they bought the Voice in 2005. Ortega’s chief qualifications for the job were:
1. A distinguished history of journalistic hoaxes involving phony Confederate burial grounds and fictitious stories about real kidnapping victims.
2. A useful gullibility, required for someone willing to accept Larkin and Lacey’s bizarre assertions about the nature of their kiddie pimp business and then defend them in the face of overwhelming evidence of criminal pandering. Also imperative for someone whose chief journalistic coup was the publication of a story alleging that a billionaire philanthropist had married his won daughter (in Westminster Abbey!).
3. Very low expectations, as the job paid little and had less of a future.
4. A callous disregard for quality and loyalty, required of someone whose first job as editor was the wholesale slaughter of the Voice’s masthead.
5. A kind of semi-moronic stubborness, combined with a surprisingly steady inability to see the nose in front of his face. Perhaps Ortega’s greatest weakness was his complete lack of insight into himself, what he was, had become, or where he was headed. Did he really not understand that Larkin and Lacey would toss him aside like a soiled tissue whenever it suited their purpose?
In his five years at the Voice, Ortega’s most noteworthy moments were his reactions to his failures. When he found himself under attack, he almost invariably responded with a series of statements that beggared credulity — his best, perhaps, being his comment when James Dolan withdrew millions of ad dollars from the Voice (pleasing Larkin and Lacey to no end, I’m sure) after Ortega made a series of smutty lowlife sniggering comments about Dolan in print, including “I don’t know Dolan well enough to understand why he’s so sensitive about his penis.”
After Dolan pulled his ads, Ortega howled in protest that Dolan was “trying to hurt the Voice.” It’s a strange world Mr. Ortega inhabits, where his victims are required not only to submit to his slanders, but to subsidize them as well. But that’s Tony.
Now Tony is heading down a new path, having announced that he is writing a book exposing the evils of Scientology. It is a book that publishers around the globe are lining up to bid on. Ortega has published dozens, if not hundreds, of posts on the Voice detailing the various misbehaviors of this group, sect, cult, church or whatever you may wish to call them, making him by far the world’s leading authority on the topic as well as its most feared and frightening critic. Yet a Google search of “Scientology” turns up not one of these articles, at least up until the tenth page, where we lost interest. This disappointing showing is all the more puzzling given Ortega’s well-known skill at sock-puppet manipulation of Google rankings. If there is one good thing that has come out of the events of the past few weeks at the Voice, it is this: we have most likely heard the last of Ortega.
Which leads us back to the Voice itself. Larkin and Lacey promised that a new management and a new direction would breathe life into the zombie, but no one can see how this may happen, unless it is by mimicking the practices of its now divorced mate, backpage.com. This is not unthinkable, but why the Voice should survive even with this strategy is a hard question to answer.
After all, what can the Voice now offer? Deconstructed film criticism? A fresh viewpoint on eating local? Penetrating analyses of our political class? Exposes of Ivy League social clubs?
Probably not. There was a time for the Voice, and that time has come and gone, probably quite awhile ago. Larkin and Lacey knew it. Ortega found out the hard way. Mr. Tobias and Ms. Brennan, the new guiding lamps at the Voice, will learn it in due course. But this whole sorry charade of “reorganizing” Village Voice Media is nothing more than the snake shedding the skin it has outgrown.