“This employee, who hit rock bottom some time ago, is now proceeding to auger in,” read an oft-quoted performance review from a bewildered supervisor. It’s also a pretty good description of the “new” Village Voice, whose zombie inexplicably continues to stagger and stumble across the media landscape.
The latest blow — and, with any luck, a fatal one — came a few days ago. According to Keith Kelly, media analyst for the New York Post:
Turmoil has gripped the Village Voice once again after its top two editors walked off the job.
Editor-in-Chief William Bourne, who took the helm in November, quit yesterday along with Deputy Editor Jessica Lustig rather than make more staff cuts demanded by the new owners.
As Kelly points out, this is just the latest in a series of top-of-the-masthead missteps for the Voice. The previous editor, Tony Ortega, was pushed out after lurching into an endless series of rambling screeds against Scientology, apparently as a penance for his tawdry editorial attempts to justify the Voice’s ownership of the nation’s largest online ad vehicle for child prostitution.
Unlike the most recently-departed editor-in-chief, however, Ortega came to the Voice carrying considerable baggage already. Kelly notes:
[Ortega] caught the eye of the previous owners with a highly charged piece that claimed hedge-fund millionaire Bruce McMahan had seduced and married his long-lost biological daughter in a secret ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
More recently, questions about the veracity of that story have surfaced, including the fact that only the royals and members of the immediate parish around Westminster Abbey can be married there.
The Westminster Abbey silliness was in fact the least of this story’s missteps, which included misidentified photographs, forged documents and an interview with McMahan’s ex-wife which she denied under oath ever took place. Ortega’s subsequent efforts at the Voice included a feud with Cablevision’s James Dolan which generated considerable sympathy and support for Dolan, a development hitherto thought highly unlikely, if not completely impossible, in New York City. Ortega’s tenure saw the departure of almost all the remaining notable bylines at the Voice, including Pultizer Prize winner Jules Fieffer, long considered the dean of the nation’s political cartoonists. While most of these names resigned, Fieffer was ignominiously and abruptly fired by Ortega as a “cost-saving measure.” Fieffer’s salary at the time was $75,000 per year.
Now the two top editors have resigned, this time in protest of further cost-saving personnel cuts. A new interim editor has been appointed, while management conducts a search for a permanent replacement. Permanent, here, is loosely defined, and begs the question of who will succumb first — the latest editor, or, finally and mercifully, the Voice itself? Many of those who choose to remember the Voice as it once was — a leading light in American alt journalism — wait to echo Hamlet’s last words to his father’s ghost: “Rest, perturbed spirit.”