Staffers at the Village Voice may go on strike in just a few days and take their smart, irreverent analysis and criticism to a Tumblr blog instead.
The world’s most well-known alternate newsweekly has struggled both financially and with its reputation since a buyout by New Times Media in 2005.
Once known by the cheeky advertising slogan it used in the 1980s — “Some people swear by us...other people swear AT us,” — the publication has increasingly transitioned from iconoclastic to mainstream. Since the buyout, the paper has also seen five editors leave, the staff get cut by 60 percent, employee health care benefits decline, and annual salaries drop. They even stopped paying their cartoonists.
The current three-year contract between Village Voice Media and the Voice’s union expires at midnight June 30, and the union has unanimously decided to strike when it expires. The staff will move content to the blogging platform Tumblr, using the name TheRealVoice.org, instead.
The new site will have contributions by every type of staff member: writers, bloggers, photographers, editors, designers, sales representatives, and even some help from former Voice writers (I hope Nat Hentoff is among them).
Staffers will also host a benefit to raise money for the Village Voice Strike Fund this Wednesday. The Facebook page for the benefit comes with a healthy dose of Voice-like expletives.
The Voice has dealt with financial issues before, losing nearly $60,000 in the years after it started, between 1955 and 1962 . But the present situation goes beyond money.
One Tumblr user reacted to the news by refiling it on his Tumblr under the category “Sticking it to the Man,” indicating just how differently the current publishers of the Voice are perceived than the original founders of Norman Mailer, Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf.
I have to agree that this is the first breath of the original Village Voice seen in years. The paper once known for its investigations of city politics, wacky cartoonists, and pulse on the city’s underground music scene has become increasingly diluted since the buyout. In some ways, TheRealVoice.org seems like a natural progression for the Voice if it wants to stay true to roots.
In a piece in the New Yorker two years ago on how the Voice changed journalism, writer Louis Menand speculates about the newsweekly’s fate:
Of course, the paper will share the fate of every other print medium in the digital age, whatever fate that is. Still, more than other magazines and newspapers, the Voice was doing what the Internet does now long before there was an Internet. The Voice was the blogosphere — whose motto might be “Every man his own Norman Mailer” — and Craigslist fifty years before their time. The Voice also helped to create the romance of the journalistic vocation by making journalism seem a calling, a means of self-expression, a creative medium. It opened up an insecure and defensively self-important profession. Until its own success made it irresistible to buyers who imagined that they could do better with a business plan than its founders had done from desperation and instinct, it had the courage to live by its wits.
RealVoice.org may be the Voice’s attempt to live by its wits once more.