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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 03:46 PM ET, 01/05/2012

J. Hoberman departs the Village Voice

Nothing about the sacking of Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman has veered from the script that these events always seem to follow.

No. 1: Company won’t discuss details, follows PR line.

In response to my inquiry, Voice Editor in Chief Tony Ortega whipped out the Personnel-Matters-Comment-Exemption but did say this regarding the future: “The Voice is committed to providing comprehensive film coverage, and will continue to publish our many fine film writers, both in print and online.”Very helpful.

No. 2: Veteran journalist says classy things.

Hoberman posted to his website the text from an e-mail he’d passed along to his colleagues. A little taste:

I grew up reading the Voice–in addition to spending most of my working life in its employ. But, nothing lasts forever, and I’ve had a pretty good run in what, for me, was the greatest job imaginable. I learned nearly everything I know about writing and a good chunk of what I know about life at the Voice; the paper gave me space to invent myself (that is, develop my own particular interests and means of expression), as well as the opportunity to work with some of the smartest, most interesting and most creative people I’ve been fortunate to meet—and I’m not talking about on-screen or in interviews.

No. 3: Readers and journos go into outrage mode.

Some lessons here:

Lesson No. 1: Yes, this is a shame.

Hoberman leaves in the Voice’s archives a voluminous record of insight and fine writing. I overdosed on it when I was looking to join the Voice’s staff as editor in chief, a gig that didn’t work out (that’s a full disclosure). On Time.com, Jessica Winter does a fine job of plucking the critic’s greatest moments.

And this, from his legendary pan of Schindler’s List: “The movie achieves its nadir when a group of Schindler Jews, as they are known, find themselves in Auschwitz, heading for the showers…Spielberg unbelievably plays the scene for thriller suspense and last-minute rescue. Will an Allied bomb fall on the gas chamber? Does the Red Army arrive? The U.S. cavalry? Is there a telegram from Mr. Zanuck? Perhaps you have dreamed yourself into an Auschwitz gas chamber; Steven Spielberg wants to own that nightmare too.”

Great stuff throughout, though I’d quibble with Hoberman’s excessive reliance on adverbs.

Lesson No. 2: Hoberman screwed up.

No, he didn’t let the quality of his writing drop. Nor did he make some embarrassing mistake — journalistic, ethical or otherwise.

Hoberman’s mistake was to allow himself to grow old in a newsroom. He should have looked at trends in his industry and realized that he shouldn’t have followed this course. Publishers have a thing about senior staffers. They make too much money, and so they often end up walking out the door, via buyout, layoff, or whatever personnel finesse can be arranged.

The epidemic of great older journalists getting pushed out of their jobs is such that younger journos should take note. Pay raises, for example, are generally something to celebrate. In this business, they should cause your palms to sweat, for all they do is make you a more inviting target for downsizing; accept them at your own risk. Same goes for promotions.

Hoberman says he wasn’t surprised to be terminated. Well then, he should have taken steps to stave off this moment. Bold ones, like implementing a voluntary salary-reduction program.

Lesson No. 3: No, the Voice won’t become irrelevant.

Journos love to convulse when one of their vaunted peers heads out the door. This publication won’t ever be the same again, they say. Gonna be irrelevant! So-and-so was the only reason I picked the thing up.

It’s always empty hysteria. The notion that Voice now flirts with irrelevance rests on nothing more than blind nostalgia. Please name all the 50-year-old-plus publications that are more relevant now than prior to the arrival of Internet publishing. The Voice will be fine, or as fine as any legacy alt-weekly that’s trying to sweat out what’s become of its business model.

If you want to romanticize the Voice’s past, do so with your eyes open. That would require clicking onto Google’s phenomenal Village Voice archive. Last time I dropped in there, I quickly happened upon this story, from the Jan. 2, 1969 issue. Here’s the lede, if you can call it that:

A Stockingful of Love, but No Re-admission
by Lucian Truscott IV
“Wow!” I thought. A free thing on Christmas at the Electric Circus. How East Villageness and community closeness and everybody will be together and the whole love-peace-free beautiful scene will predominate. Quite a prospect — a very pleasant one indeed — when all one has to face on Christmas morn is his Lower East Side pad styled in the inimitable Lower East Side style of interior decoration, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Lower East Side street.
And so ... up and out into the 20 degree cold and over to St. Mark’s Place — the very first time I have been the only one on the street, no kidding — where I found the Hog Farm buses parked somewhat illegally one behind the other in front of the Electric Circus.

Is that relevance?

By  |  03:46 PM ET, 01/05/2012

 
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