Topic: media criticism
Over the last few weeks, a local story with strong national implications has been playing out in the surprisingly small world of New York City media.
The once radical Village Voice, now an institution with the predictable baggage of one, dropped the axe on a pair of America’s best veteran journalists, Sydney Schanberg and James Ridgeway.
Schanberg, famed for his reportage from Cambodia during the genocide of the 1970s, was essentially pushed to the extreme; he resigned in protest over changes wrought by the VV’s new owner, the New Times corporation, a Phoenix-based “alternative” media chain that’s metastasizing throughout the country. Ridgeway lasted a bit longer at his post. But the dogged investigative journalist, who spent more than 30 years at the Voice and practically defined its news coverage, was fired by the new head honcho, the otherwise negligible Michael Lacey.
Recently Doug Ireland (check out this wonderful journalist at direland.typepad.com) commented: “That these two superb journalists -- Schanberg and Ridgeway -- have now vanished from the Voice is a symbol of what is happening to that paper, and of what will most likely happen to all the other alternative weekly papers in the Voice chain…” And Ireland ought to know. He did a superb job writing the Voice’s “Press Clips” column, one of the pillars of alternative journalism in its golden age.
Some of you will recall other summary executions at the Voice. The great Alexander Cockburn, now co-editor of CounterPunch (go to www.counterpunch.org) vanished from the Voice’s pages before Ireland came on board. And in 2004, Voice management, as if sharpening the blade for future atrocities, fired iconic gay journalist Richard Goldstein along with Sylvia Plachy and four others. (Longtimer Cynthia Cotts, another “Press Clips” writer, resigned in protest, as well.)
The Voice has steadily gone downhill in the past few years – which is what happens inexorably to those who take the low road.
But what’s going on in New York, Phoenix, and other big “markets” should concern us all. As the troglodytes press on with the devolution, the alternative weekly newspapers as we’ve known them have been selling out. Consequently, the energy that once powered the alt weeklies now belongs to various online independent media – everything from indymedia and lefty blogs to alt hybrids like the Columbus Free Press, which offers a true alternative to the demi-alt Columbus Alive. It’s in such venues, online and in print, that you’ll find the really interesting writers and activists – the likes of Cockburn, Harvey Wasserman, Norman Finkelstein, Ali Abunimah, Michael Albert, Lydia Sargent, Vandana Shiva… the list goes on.
If you’re looking for the main reasons the “alternatives” are cutting off their nose to spite their increasingly featureless face, consider these: (1) they’re essentially cash cows for their owners, whatever the page-one posturings; (2) they’ve bought into a new readership-building philosophy and format that emphasize lifestyle (read: selling lots of crap), trendiness (ditto) and misdirected rebelliousness and de-emphasize or expunge critical analysis and commentary, particularly that of the genuine left. This is not to say that the alt weeklies are devoid of good writers; I know a few of them myself, with the accent on “few.”
But all things considered – excuse the Freudian slip, but today’s alt weeklies demand comparison with NPR news shows and similar fluff - is it any wonder more and more serious people are recycling these rags unread?