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What "The Village Voice" Taught Us About Speaking Truth to Power

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From The Nation

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As the venerable weekly newspaper ceases print publication, let us hope that its brilliantly belligerent journalistic legacy lives on.


(Image by YouTube, Channel: Wochit News)   Details   DMCA

For decades, The Village Voice was a Manhattan-based weekly newspaper with national reach and an outsized influence on American journalism. Tuesday's announcement that it would cease print publication inspired "End of an Era" headlines across the country.

As a longtime reader I am, of course, sad that the Voice will no longer be a part of the still-vibrant print culture of New York City. I know that the paper retains at least some potential to shape the politics and the culture of its hometown, if sufficient resources are committed to maintaining an ongoing digital Voice. But there are no guarantees in these transitions, so the sense of loss, even mourning, in many of the reports on this change for the Voice is understandable.

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Whatever comes next, however, the Voice's place in the history of modern journalism is secure.

Long before anyone used the term "alt-right" or "alt-left," there was the "alt-weekly." Alternative weekly newspapers were -- and in many cases still are -- essential journalistic voices in communities across the country. And The Village Voice defined the genre as one that reconnected journalism to the fights that mattered in the great cities of the country.

Established daily newspapers became increasingly obsessed with wealthy suburbs in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, as advertisers began catering to the demands of wealthy suburbanites. As this happened, once-great daily papers disengaged from the gritty political battles that still played out in urban neighborhoods. A new breed of "alternative" weeklies filled the void.

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They modeled themselves on the Voice because the New York paper had shown what was possible -- politically, culturally, and journalistically.

By treating local electoral fights as epic conflicts between good and evil, and by writing about them with an enthusiasm that made those fights as interesting and significant as statewide and national contests, the Voice refocused the politics of New York City in the late 1950s and early '60s. It broke open avenues for reformers and made possible a new urban politics that was fresher, bolder, more diverse, and more adventurous. It is fair to say that this remarkable weekly newspaper, which was ready to pick fights rather than merely cover them, cleared the way for the breakthrough elections of mayors as distinct as John Lindsay and Bill de Blasio, and for local contenders -- Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Elizabeth Holtzman, Carol Bellamy, Mark Green, Ted Weiss, Jerry Nadler -- who became national and international figures.

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