The Playgoer: Voice shake-up

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Voice shake-up

According to Gawker, there's bad news at the Village Voice arts sections. Big layoffs--including their fine theatre editor, Jorge Morales. And, most surprisingly, even rock-crit god Robert Christgau.

Such hemoraging, sadly, has been frequent since the big corporate takeover a while ago (by the New Times chain). The paper has been without a permanent editor for months, and the new appointment is set to take over September 12. Why this house cleaning? The official statement says something about emphasizing writers over editors. What's going on?

UPDATE (10:00am): Gawker was all there was last night, but today's print papers have more--here's the Times & Post, for starters. Haven't read them yet myself, but let's see what the story is.


Anonymous said...

What's going on, PG? Simple answer: corporate greed.Management has been "streamlining" the staff for three years, and getting rid of one good arts & culture writer after another -- C. Carr, Gary Giddins, Leighton Kerner, Alisa Solomon, Thulani Davis, Greg Tate, Richard Goldstein (and driving Charles McNulty away because it became such a morgue and miserable place to work.) . . . (Don't be confused by once in a while seeing some of those bylines in the paper. All of them were laid off from staff positions -- which provides health insurance, a modest stipend on top of payment for articles, and a home to write from -- and then invited to write as freelancers from time to time for reduced article fees.

The Voice's statement about "expanded arts coverage" is a lie at least as far as the theater section goes. They are calling LISTINGS coverage. Listings are an important service, but they ain't arts coverage. They say the section has "more reviews". What that means is a whole page for Michael Feingold to write about whatever he wants and then a page of tiny capsule reviews that seem designed to emphasize the writer's witty barbs over considered criticism -- something hard to write in 250 words in any case.

For just one possible vision of what a lively, engaged, argumentative, multiple-viewpoint theater section could look like, go to the library and pull out some issues from the 1980/early 90s, for example, when you had a stable of real theater critics each writing with regularity and at the length a particular show required. Imagine opening the Voice today to see, for instance, SEVERAL takes on the current Mother Courage by the likes of: Feingold, Solomon, Carr, Erika Munk, Gordon Rogoff, Eileen Blumenthal, Margo Jefferson, Jonathan Kalb, Charles McNulty (a bit later). That's the kind of thing the section would do. And there would be "industry coverage" as well (where issues like many of those debated now on blogs -- e.g. recent discussion on "free" tix policy for Shakepeare in the Park -- would be reported on).

The NewTimes publishers aren't interested a range of people with passion and expertise writing with real intelligence and grace about theater. They want one single identifiable star reviewer (Feingold, at least for the moment) and then some interns or whoever to fill in "expanded coverage" with short, hip-sounding little reviews. (Feingold is excellent, the problem is the structure. Why should his be the ONLY major theater voice in the Voice?) The publishers don't really care about ideas or commitment to theater (or to anything else).

Just maybe this new editor, Blum, who has a background writing about arts himself, will care enough to develop the theater pages into something more worth reading on a number of levels. But the publishers sure don't seem encouraging. We shall see . . .

Let's start a betting pool: Will the Obies continue?

PeonInChief said...

Uh, huh. New Times takes over paper. Then wrecks it. Distressing, but not news.

My local rag was taken over by NT a few years ago. Now no one reads it. It doesn't even do good entertainment LISTINGS anymore.

Anonymous said...

This is so depressing!