Native New Yorkers Reflect on the Death of the 'Village Voice'

America's most famous alt-weekly is officially shutting down.

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Aug 31 2018, 7:37pm

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Friday, the owner of the Village Voice told his staff that the iconic New York City alt-weekly, which shuttered its print edition after 62 years last August, will no longer publish new stories on its website. "Today is kind of a sucky day," owner Peter Barbey said in a private phone call to staff, according to Gothamist. "In recent years, the Voice has been subject to the increasingly harsh economic realities facing those creating journalism and written media," Barbey added in a statement.

To New Yorkers like myself, the news felt like learning a chronically ill friend had died. The Voice was an integral part of the landscape of the city—Manhattan was crowded with those gnarled, graffiti-covered plastic boxes full of free copies of the city's rowdier, weirder alternative to the Daily News, New York Post, and New York Times. As an East Village native, I began reading the paper early on, mostly because my parents adored it so much. In a sense, the paper died when it went out of print, but as long as the website was running, something called the Village Voice existed. Now it doesn't.

As a tween and beyond, I remember excitedly picking up a copy each Wednesday, the distinct smell and texture of a freshly printed copy that had yet to be leafed through. I'd quizzically examine the pornographic classifieds in the back of the paper, heed the movie reviews and local theater listings, devour the Tom Tomorrow comic strips. "The print pages of The Village Voice... was where many New Yorkers learned to be New Yorkers," the Times wrote last year after the print edition ended.

It's a sad day for media, and a sad day for New York. I asked six writers who are from New York to reflect on the death of the Village Voice:

Evan Narcisse (from Borough Park, Brooklyn, and Hempstead, Long Island):

I went to New York University in the early 1990s and stacks of the Village Voice were everywhere. College was an exercise in defying the wishes of my Haitian immigrant mom. NYU was supposed to be the first step on my road to becoming a lawyer, someone with a “good job” that she could brag about. But my first constitutional law course disabused me of any notion that I wanted to do that. After I took “Minorities in the Media” for credit requirements, Professor David Dent (a VICE contributor) told me I should consider journalism as a career. He told me I had talent, but I wondered if I actually could do it.

The Village Voice, goddamn them, made me think I could. The alt-weekly was one of the first places I saw black cultural traditions talked about with both familial love and critical rigor. The conversations I’d have with other black students and some of my journalism professors often swung between two poles: How They Talk About Us and How We Talk about Ourselves. A grown-up version of that same energy was in the articles by Nelson George, Thulani Davis, Lisa Jones and Greg Tate. The Voice was a place where I realized we could push back against the lazy zombie narratives foisted on black folks by non-blacks. A place where we could celebrate, reclaim, and deconstruct the black contributions that helped make New York the greatest city in the world. We’re still having conversations on that Them/Us continuum today, in ways that feel more fraught and explosive than ever. The Village Voice was a place that showed me that, if you want people to give a damn about black creativity, sometimes you gotta blow shit up, both literally and figuratively.

Evan Narcisse is a journalist, critic, and the writer of Rise of the Black Panther for Marvel Comics.

Jaya Saxena (from the East Village and the Upper East Side):

My dad never bought the New York Times or the Post or the Daily News. Instead, every morning when he'd pick up Entenmann's cakes and coffee at the deli downstairs, he'd come back up with the Village Voice and the New York Press, rivals at the time. Those papers were where I first learned about my city, whether it was politics or weird local news or shows I'd beg my parents to let me go to. We even cut out the weekly comic strips and use them to plaster our bathroom walls. The Press died years ago, but something about the Voice seemed eternal, even with the recent years of change and strife. Maybe it's just because I'd walk by their building off Astor Place all the time growing up. They felt permanent. I got to write for them for the first time last year, and while it felt cool, it's hitting me now how amazing it was that I got to contribute to a place that educated me so much. I don't know if I'll ever know my city as well as they did.

Jaya Saxena is the co-author of Basic Witches, and contributes to GQ and the Establishment.

John Surico (from the Queens/Nassau County border):

As a kid growing up in the city-suburban borderlands of New York, the Voice was everything to me. It was this remarkable window into the fucked up world that the city was—and still very much is—down to its goddamn core, from the crooked politics that gave us Donald Trump, to the totally offbeat film, music, and culture that could really only live here, here in New York City. And I loved it so much for being just that. So getting to work and write there as a college student, and even after, was a batshit dream come true. I had relatively no clips to my name, but my peers there let me have goo-goo-eyed fun in a city that was relatively new to me at the time—an opportunity not many 20-year-olds get, and one that I am greatly indebted to years later. And I had a ball.

But in its waning days, the Voice was never not in turmoil. You'd pass hallways hung with stories by legends like Wayne Barrett, Tom Robbins, or Michael Musto, to attend staff meetings where you'd learn that your colleagues and friends were being laid off because of a bunch of Barbarians at the Gates–like corporate raiders who said so. They ripped this institution apart, and will forever be guilty for that. But so it goes, I guess, in New York: Dreams come here to live, and all too often die. We obsess over finding The Next Best Thing here a lot. But nothing will replace the Voice. And nothing ever should.

John Surico is a journalist who writes often for VICE, as well as the New York Times and others. He worked at the Voice from 2011 to 2013.

Rebecca Fishbein (from the Upper West Side):

To my parents, the New York Times was the local gold standard in journalism, but to me, it was the Village Voice. The Voice was sharp, cool, smart, and mean, which was what you aspired to be as a rebellious-but-not-too-rebellious teen in Manhattan. I fangirled every time I walked by the Voice office in Cooper Square, dreaming of the day I too got to curse in print. I'm still bummed I didn't write anything for them, and more bummed for everyone else who never will.

Rebecca Fishbein is a freelance writer who's contributed to VICE as well as Jezebel, the Cut, Gothamist, and others.

Rupa Bhattacharya (from the New York suburbs):

I grew up commuting to the city for school from a suburb my immigrant family wasn’t welcome in, and was always overwhelmed by the sheer amount of cultural capital the kids around me had. One of the few things that helped was the Village Voice, which was usually brought to school by some other kid and discarded in the corner of the student lounge for me to find. I read every page every week, including (and especially) the once-incredibly-dense and then eventually waning back pages, which advertised everything I could possibly dream would be part of my world as an adult and also several things that had never occurred to me that human bodies could do. The V illage Voice made me realize what existed outside the boundaries of my rule-bound, achievement-driven home life, and I could not be more grateful.

Rupa Bhattacharya is the editor-in-chief of MUNCHIES.

Harry Siegel (from Flatbush, Brooklyn):

Growing up here, the Village Voice was the secret map to the city I KNEW was there but had only seen glimpses of. The thing you picked up to find a job and ended up reading about corruption and art and all the other things that matter. Someone was always lamenting about how it wasn’t it was, kinda like New York City.

As a grown-up, I got to edit its main competitor at the time, New York Press, and then to work briefly at the Voice. By the time I got to both those places, they truly weren’t what they were. It’s a grand feeling though to have been part of these un-pedigreed, angry, whip-smart outlets full of journalists, too often men but also many brilliant women, who were cocksure about their obsessions—and to have been some small part of some 17-year-old’s semi-golden age. To have been around a ton of brilliant, driven, and tormented journalists—many of em who could have been making more money somewhere else and some of em who couldn’t possibly have functioned anywhere else—who were going to keep doing this until the alt-weekly business model completely collapsed.

Instead of lamenting what was and ain’t no more, we need to respect the people who were reporting and writing stories and capturing scenes that matter than and continue doing that work now.

"p.s. Fuck Peter Barbey."

Harry Siegel is a senior editor at the Daily Beast.

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