Who Knew? The Village Voice Is Relevant Again

Village Voice

Over the past few years, it became easy to ignore the Village Voice. No longer.

Recently, the buzz is coming back.

To name a few memorable pieces of late, there was…

  • Last week’s compelling cover story that took readers inside the annual Gathering of the Juggalos festival
  • The previous week’s scholarly appraisal of the New York gossip pages
  • The innocent punking of three “Jersey Shore” studs back in June
  • The infamous too-hot banker story
  • And the paper’s investigative NYPD Tapes series

GQ recently noted that the Voice is looking “pretty-damned-excellent-these-days.” And on Twitter last week:

  • “First VV story I’ve read in ages,” remarked Fast Company writer Greg Lindsay of the Juggalo piece.
  • “The VV is making [an] awkward comeback,” AdAge media reporter Edmund Lee chimed in.
  • “Best the Voice has been since the mid-90s,” said The New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones.

That’s some high praise.

So why has it taken editor-in-chief Tony Ortega three years to make the Voice relevant again? (He took the reins in March 2007.)

“The place definitely had to get past some difficult times,” Ortega told us. “2008 was the worst year any of us had ever seen in the business.”

Indeed, the Voice laid off six editorial staffers that year, including veteran writers Deborah Jowitt, Nathan Lee, Lynn Yaeger and Nat Hentoff. (Hentoff and Jowitt now write on a monthly freelance basis.)

But since then, the Voice has added three editorial positions and ramped up its efforts on the web while cutting circulation costs. Meanwhile, Ortega said advertising has been “gradually coming back” – even though the paper took a $1 million hit back in May when three major advertisers pulled out following a controversial blog post about Cablevision owner James Dolan.

“I think we may be the only print newspaper in New York City that makes money,” said Ortega. “I dont think many of the dailies, if any, can say that.”

Like the dailies, however, the Voice’s print readership is declining.

Parent company Village Voice Media, formerly New Times Media, which bought the Voice in 2005, reduced the paper’s circulation to 190,900 in June of this year from 197,098 in June of 2009, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Prior to that, circulation was above 200,000. (The Voice, unlike most dailies, is free, and when a free newspaper sees a circulation drop, it usually means the publisher wants to save money, not that fewer people want to read the product.)

But the paper’s web traffic is on the rise.

In August, VillageVoice.com had 728,000 unique visitors, up from 394,000 uniques in August of 2007, according to comScore. (There were about 1.4 million uniques in August according to the paper’s internal metrics.) And in June, VillageVoice.com broke its all-time record for total monthly pageviews thanks to its viral cover story about a former Citibank employee who claimed she was fired for her good lucks

Traffic like that is a drop in the bucket compared to sites like Gawker or The Huffington Post. But it’s not bad for an alternative newsweekly, and it’s got the top dogs smiling.

We hear that two of them, Phoenix/Denver-based Village Voice Media executives Bill Jensen and Andy VanDeVoorde, are pushing for more local content on VillageVoice.com that will bring in more local online advertising, and that they paid a visit to the Village Voice offices two weeks ago to rally the troops.

Meanwhile, Ortega said the Voice has no intentions of slowing down, regardless of whether or not the recent buzz subsides.

“Whether people are talking about your stories or not, I feel like if you can consistently do good work, people will notice it,” he said.

Editor-in-Chief Tony Ortega took the reins of The Village Voice in March 2007 following a period of turnover and tumult.

Michael Musto is the longtime gossip columnist of The Village Voice.

Wayne Barrett is a veteran investigative reporter at the paper who writes often about NYC politics and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Graham Rayman is a former Newsday reporter and Pulitzer finalist who joined the VV staff in 2007. He wrote the NYPD Tapes series.

Rob Harvilla is the paper's music editor.

Zach Baron is an editor who, along with Harvilla, is credited with making the VV's online music coverage a must-read in New York.

Foster Kamer is a former Gawker and BlackBook editor who the Voice recruited earlier this year to ramp up its blogging efforts.

The Voice hired former Radar managing editor Jen Doll to blog alongside Kamer.

Steven Thrasher is another recent hire. He reports on education.

Elizabeth Dwoskin has been a reporter at The Voice since the spring of 2008. She broke the too-hot banker story.

Camille Dodero is the paper's web editor. She wrote the wildly popular Juggalos piece.

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