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The Village gains a Voice

Posted by: | November 24, 2011 | No Comment |

Have you heard of The Village Voice? It began as a neighborhood paper in Greenwich Village but ultimately changed journalism. As Louis Menand explains in “It Took A Village: How the Voice changed journalism,” The Village Voice changed what it meant to be a journalist.

The Village Voice was founded by Norman Mailer, Dan Wolf and Edwin Fancher in 1955. Although it was not the first local paper in Greenwich Village, it was the most successful. It survived the deaths of four other New York City newspapers (and most of its imitators) and had a longer life-span than the weekly Life, according to Menand.

The history of the Voice’s journey to success is a long one; so to make matters easy, here is a simple chronology of the papers milestones Menand discusses.

  • 1956 — The Village Voice ran a weekly comic strip by Jules Feiffer. Also, that year Mailer began writing his column, “QUICKLY: A Column for Slow Readers.” Feiffer’s strip ran for forty-one years. But Mailer managed merely seventeen columns.
  • 1958 Jonas Mekas began reviewing movies for the Voice.
  • December 7, 1962 —¬† The New York Typographical Union Local 6 went on strike for 114 days, changing the state of journalism and allowing the Voice to gain success. The¬†paper’s increased ascendancy was a result of its non-affiliation with the unions, consequently making it the “only game in town,” according to Menand. It set the standard in the nineteen-sixties.
  • Also, in 1962, Wolf wrote in the introduction to “The Village Voice Reader”:

    The Village Voice was originally conceived as a living, breathing attempt to demolish the notion that one needs to be a professional to accomplish something in a field as purportedly technical as journalism. It was a philosophical position. We wanted to jam the gears of creeping automatism.”
  • 1964 — After reading a single issue of the Voice, Arthur Kunkin was inspired to establish an alternative, underground paper called the Free Press (aka Freep) in Los Angeles. He said he “liked the investigative articles, their length, the mixture of culture and community,” according to Menand. (By 1965, there were about half a dozen underground papers.)
  • 1965 — A second strike further established the Village Voice’s predominance and it became a Manhattan weekly. Its circulation exceed that of Time, Newsweek and The New Yorker.

    According to Menand, “in the mid-nineteen-sixties, the typical reader was thirty years old and had a median family income of $18,771 (about a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars today). Almost ninety per cent of Voice readers had gone to college, forty per cent had done postgraudate work. Most had charge accounts at major department stores… Most owned stock… The Voice was the medium through which a mainstream middle-class readership stayed in touch with its inner bohemian.”
  • 1967 — The Village Voice was a best-selling weekly newspaper in the United States.
  • 1968 — The Voice ran 1.7 million lines of display ads and 460,000 lines of classifieds. (1,200 advertisements per w eek.)Typical issues were 80 pages and two-thirds of the book were advertisements.
  • 1969 — Gay activists picketed the paper after it rejected an ad for a gay dating service, according to Menand.
  • 1969 — There were five hundred underground papers, with a readership ranging from two million to four and a half million.
  • 1970 The alternative press died out. This was partially due to the emergence of mainstream publications covering “youth culture.”
  • 1970 Wolf and Fancher sold most of their stake in the Voice to Carter Burden for 3 million dollars.
  • 1974 — New York magazine, founded by Clay Felker in 1968, took over the Village Voice. That year Felker fired Wolf and Fancher as editor and publisher.
  • 1977 — After Felker’s expensive effort to make the Voice into a national newspaper failed, he lost control of the property to Rupert Murdoch, according to Menand.
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