We focus on the shakeup at the Village Voice, where one of the paper’s top investigative reporters was fired and two of its prize-winning writers resigned following a merger with the New Times Media–a chain of weekly newspapers based in Phoenix. In this week’s issues, about 20 staffers wrote an open letter protesting the dismissal of James Ridgeway–the paper’s Washington correspondent and one of its chief investigative reporters covering national news. Ridgeway had written for the paper for over 30 years. We speak with Ridgeway as well as Village Voice reporters Nat Hentoff, Tom Robbins, Sydney Schanberg–who recently resigned from the paper–and two reporters who have been following the story closely, Mark Jacobson and Tim Redmond. [includes rush transcript]
We turn now to the situation at the Village Voice were one of the paper’s top investigative reporters has been fired and two of its prize-winning writers have resigned.
The shake-up is taking place just months after the Voice merged with the New Times Media–a chain of weekly newspapers based in Phoenix.
In this week’s issues, about 20 staffers wrote an open letter protesting the dismissal of James Ridgeway–the paper’s Washington correspondent and one of its chief investigative reporters covering national news. Ridgeway had written for the paper for over 30 years.
Major changes have already been seen at the paper since February 1 when the new owner and executive editor of the paper Michael Lacey first traveled to New York to meet with Voice staffers. After that initial meeting the Voice’s prize winning press critic Sydney Schanberg quit.
According to one account of the meeting, the new owner criticized the news section of the Voice because it was full of commentary and criticism of the Bush administration. That same week the new owners cancelled the Voices" online blog called "The Bush Beat." Then last week Jennifer Gonnerman resigned.
On Wednesday, we reached longtime Voice reporter Tom Robbins who is leading the effort to get management to re-hire Ridgeway.
- Tom Robbins, reading letter signed by 20 Village Voice reporters calling on management to "reverse discharge" of James Ridgeway.
We also reached Nat Hentoff at his home in New York. He has been writing for the Village Voice since 1957. We asked him about his thoughts on the firing of Ridgeway and about the new management.
- Nat Hentoff, longtime Village Voice columnist.
For more on the Village Voice, we are joined by three guests:
- James Ridgeway, in addition to being the paper’s former Washington correspondent he is the author of several books. His latest is titled: "The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11." He also runs a website on video journalism at Ridgewayng.com
- Sydney Schanberg, former press critic at the Village Voice. He resigned in February following the sale of the paper. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Cambodia during the 1970s and his story inspired the film "The Killing Fields."
- Mark Jacobson, a reporter with New York Magazine. In November he wrote a major piece on the Voice-New Times merger titled, "The Voice From Beyond the Grave." He is a former writer at the Village Voice.
- Tim Redmond, executive editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, we reached longtime Voice reporter, Tom Robbins, who is leading the effort to get management to rehire Ridgeway.
TOM ROBBINS: This is a letter that we sent to Village Voice management that was printed in this week’s Voice.
“For 30 years, James Ridgeway has, in his person, his politics and his writings, defined what makes the Voice a special publication.
“From Three Mile Island to 9/11, Ridgeway has provided some of the nation’s most incisive and insightful coverage of government misfeasance and malfeasance. He was one of the first journalists in America to spotlight the threat posed by a resurgent racist and neo-Nazi movement, an issue he hammered away at in the pages of the Voice years before anyone ever heard of Ruby Ridge or Timothy McVeigh. His reports on escalating environmental abuses exposed corporate law-breakers and bureaucratic indifference.
“Ridgeway’s writings on conflicts from Bosnia to Baghdad to Haiti have always provided the otherwise unreported flipside of the world according to the mainstream media, in short reporting that jibes precisely with the exact mission of the Voice. Over the past few years, Ridgeway expanded onto the web, filing regular nuggets of breaking news and even posting video reports on the 2004 elections.
"In light of this distinguished track record, the decision last week by the _Voice_’s new ownership to terminate Ridgeway is shameful. It also sends a terrible message as to the sort of coverage that the new ownership portends. We call on Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and Chairman and CEO Jim Larkin to reverse his discharge." And it’s signed by 20 staff members of the Village Voice.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Robbins, a union steward at the Village Voice, reading the letter that appears in this week’s Village Voice. We also yesterday reached Nat Hentoff, who has been writing for the Village Voice since 1957. He would join us today, but he’s on a train to Yale. This is what he had to say.
NAT HENTOFF: You know, it’s very hard for me to understand what management anywhere does in most instances, but this to me is inconceivable. I don’t know another reporter we’ve had at the Voice who is so widely knowledgeable about so many areas of government and all kinds of important areas and who does such consistent, comprehensive research. And for him to get fired is inexplicable. It makes no sense at all.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is happening? And do you see this as a part of media consolidation in the country, crackdown on criticism of the Bush administration?
NAT HENTOFF: One thing I have learned over the years, I don’t make generalizations. I try to be an empiricist. So I’m waiting to see what else is going to happen at the paper. Meanwhile, I keep doing what I do, and nobody has told me otherwise. And, for example, I’m doing a series now on the surprising, it seems, change in the Supreme Court maybe with John Roberts joining a concurring opinion that indicates, although they didn’t take the Padilla case, that the next time the government tries to put him back as an enemy combatant, it’s not going to work and it may be the end of that classification of people as enemy combatants. So I’m proceeding, as I always do, and I’ve been through all kinds of changes of management. But I do believe that whatever the future holds, to lose Jim Ridgeway is an enormous loss for the paper.
AMY GOODMAN: Nat Hentoff is still writing for the Village Voice, at this moment, at least. Jim Ridgeway now joins us in the studio in Washington, D.C. In addition to being the paper’s former Washington correspondent, he is the author of many books. His latest is called The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jim Ridgeway.
JAMES RIDGEWAY: Hi, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about why you’re no longer at the Village Voice? How long had you written for them?
JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, first, before I start that, I mean, I want to thank my colleagues at the Voice. I didn’t expect this kind of support. It’s very moving. And I don’t know. I have written there, I guess, off and on — I started writing there, I guess, in the middle '70s, and then, of course, I wrote with Alex Cockburn for many years and then carried on by myself. But the only thing that's saving me is the union. If I didn’t have union protection, I would be nowhere. So, what happened there, you want to know what happened at the Village Voice?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
JAMES RIDGEWAY: Does that mean is that what you want to know?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, I’ll tell you what happened to me. I don’t want to get into speculation, and my lawyer has advised me, as they say, to be circumspect. But I can say that there was an editorial meeting in the very beginning, in which Mr. Lacey appeared, and he said that — either there or he told Mark Jacobson that the Voice was a basket case and I think specifically referred to the front end of the Voice. And I asked for a meeting with him to tell him that I would, you know, support him in any way I could, support the new management. I was a team player, blah, blah, blah.
He killed my column, and he asked me to submit ideas for articles to him one by one, which I did, and which he either ignored or turned down, except in one case involving the coal mine situation in West Virginia. So, I mean, I just concluded he didn’t like what I do. I don’t know what else to say, except that, you know, they won’t say that I’m fired. I’m supposedly laid off. So, I don’t know what that means. I’m in some technical situation, I guess.
But Lacey has talked, I think, not to me, but to everybody else, about how he wants to do investigative reporting, more local reporting. I think he doesn’t want to do, you know, like — he doesn’t want to retrace things that have been done by the other papers, the bigger papers. I proposed stories on abortion. He ignored that. I proposed stories on the Minutemen on Long Island, who want to protect the Canadian border. And he said that was old story. Everybody’s done that. So, I mean, I don’t know. I mean, it seems to me that the paper, at least from my experience, is kind of shutting down all its national coverage, but maybe not. Maybe this is my bizarre take on it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Jim Ridgeway, could you talk to us about what it has meant for you over the years to be able to cover these national stories in the Village Voice in a way perhaps that other mainstream or corporate media have not been able to do?
JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, yeah. I mean, I started writing about, you know, the Ku Klux Klan and the far right racist sort of resistance, both the over-ground and the underground, in the early 1980s. Wayne King of New York Times did a lot of work on that, but then he left, and there really hadn’t been much of anybody on the East Coast that writes about this stuff in any great detail. There are people in the West in the L.A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Rocky Mountain and the Kansas City Star, Trudy Thomas. But, no, I don’t think other people have written much about that.
I wrote about Haiti from the early moments here when Aristide was coming back. And one of the things I really, really tried to do was to write about the conservative movement in Washington, I mean the new right in the early 1980s. And I didn’t do it by attacking people and claiming they were all kooks and screwballs and stuff, but by trying to understand it and write articles that basically explain where this conservative movement was coming from and what it stood for.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Village Voice, or I should say former Village Voice reporter, Jim Ridgeway. We’re going to break. When we come back, he will be joined by our guest in the New York studio, Mark Jacobson, who has written a piece about what has happened to the Village Voice, and Sydney Schanberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to former Village Voice reporter Jim Ridgeway in our Washington studio. And here in New York we’re joined by Sydney Schanberg, the former press critic at the Village Voice, Pulitzer Prize winner. He resigned in February, following the sale of the paper. He won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in Cambodia during the 1970s. His story inspired the film The Killing Fields. We’re also joined by Mark Jacobson. He’s a reporter with New York Magazine. In November, he wrote a major piece on the Voice-New Times merger, entitled "The Voice from Beyond the Grave." He’s a former writer at the Village Voice.
And I also want to say, we did try to reach Michael Lacey, who is the new Executive Editor of the Village Voice and co-founder of New Times Media, as well as Christine Brennan, the Executive Managing Editor of the Village Voice, but they did not return our calls. And New Times Media is now called Village Voice Media.
Sydney Schanberg, you attended a meeting in early February with Michael Lacey and the whole Village Voice staff. What happened?
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: What happened was very sad. Mr. Lacey came in and very quickly told the staff that he was disappointed and appalled by the fact that the front of the book was all commentary and that he wanted hard news. He said if he wanted to read a daily or regular critiques of the Bush administration, he would read the New York Times, and that’s not what he wanted in the Village Voice. He was insulting to the staff. He figuratively or in effect called them stenographers. He said they had to stop being stenographers. When I objected to that, because that was so insulting, and I said that you can criticize any news staff in some ways, but the one thing that you couldn’t call the Village Voice staff was a staff of stenographers, taking notes from public figures and just passing them on.
And I said it was unfair, and he said, "So, I’m unfair." And then he added, he said, "Look, I don’t care what rouses you, even if it’s getting pissed off at me." And I said, "I’m not pissed off at you. I don’t even know you." And he really had this huge one-ton or two-ton chip on his shoulder. And I think he walked into the room thinking that the people in the room didn’t welcome him and didn’t like him and, you know, and hated him. And he was totally insecure. And he gave the impression that he didn’t understand the Voice and he didn’t understand New York, and he didn’t want to. He didn’t like it, even though he was born here, I understand. I mean, he was born in Brooklyn.
And he said a lot of other things. He told the staff that they better prepare themselves to say goodbye to some of their friends. He picked a fight with Nat Hentoff, which was disgusting.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the mentioning of other media in the Village Voice?
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Oh, he said, when he picked that fight with Nat, he was referring specifically to a story in which Nat had led off one of his pieces praising an ABC television investigative report. And Lacey said that was unforgivable and that wasn’t good journalism, and that he in the future never wanted to see ever again a story in the Voice that referred to work done by another publication or media organization, which is kind of astounding. I don’t know how you can do it, if you don’t recognition the media as a power center in America.
My assumption was he didn’t want to cover the press. His other papers, other New Times paper, don’t have a press column. He’s not interested in that. And he really made me think that he really didn’t want to have the Voice talking about national issues and have a national focus. He didn’t understand that people in New York pay attention to those things, huge percentage of people in New York. And he didn’t want a press column.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sydney, in terms — this whole idea of a weekly concentrating on covering news, when we’re basically dealing now with cable news, 24-hour cable news, channels in addition to the daily newspapers, there’s no way that the Village Voice or any weekly could compete in terms of news coverage. In fact, the Village Voice’s trademark has always been the interpretive commentary behind-the-news kinds of stories that require more of an involvement or the identity of the writer coming out in the writing, so it seems to be totally contradictory to the entire history of the Voice.
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: It’s contradictory to my religion, which I think is journalism. And the mainstream press and television, certainly, do a very soft job of covering the press, either as corporate entities or as news organizations. Absolutely soft coverage. And that includes the New York Times. They have always — and they’ve admitted it privately to me and others that they don’t want to do this, and not making a clear explanation why. And so, the Voice has always, as an alternative paper, has always understood that that was part of their role, and I think it should be of any alternative paper.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Jacobson, we were not able to reach Michael Lacey, but you did. You interviewed him in your piece. Can you talk first about why the Village Voice and what happens to it is a national story?
MARK JACOBSON: Well, the Village Voice is for people, especially in New York, sort of a religion of sorts. In other words, if you grew up in New York City, you were reading the Village Voice, if you were of a certain kind of liberal mentality. If you grew up in sort of a place like Queens, like I did, the Village Voice was a little bit of a life raft for you that could be extended in the sea of the New York Times and all of this kind of stuff like that, which was like your parents’, and you didn’t want that. So, therefore, you had the Village Voice and you’d read people like Jack Newfield and Lucian Truscott, all of these kind of hallowed names, and they would give you this other view of things. And that’s what the Village Voice was.
Now, I would say the most functional word here is "was," because, you know, when I talked to Lacey, who was going to be obviously — I don’t want to appear here to be the apologist for Michael Lacey, who is like, you know, I personally enjoyed hanging around with him, because he’s a good-time guy of a sort. He enjoys drinking and carousing, which is kind of a change of pace from the former management. But the paper, as itself, the Village Voice, has been on fallow times for many years. It’s not just since this guy arrived two months ago. This paper has been in eclipse now for 20 years or something like that.
So I don’t want — and I’m sure Mr. Ridgeway, who is a very good friend of mine, and the idea that I wrote a — like not uncomplimentary piece about Mr. Lacey, the idea that he comes and fires my good buddy Ridgeway is like appalling to me, because Ridgeway is not the kind of guy you would want to fire. The Village Voice doesn’t need deletion. It needs addition, because there’s nothing in there really. You need more stuff, not less stuff. And so the idea that this is a kind of glorious, kind of like fantastic journalistic enterprise, which is now being wrecked by these barbarians from Phoenix is just not the case.
AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined on the telephone by Tim Redmond. He is the executive editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Tim, why is this a story that you feel is a national story? We’re talking to you from New York.
TIM REDMOND: I’ll tell you why it’s a national story. It’s a national story, because the alternative press has always been kind of feisty, independent, challenging the status quo, and the alternative press has always been about independent media, has been about independent voices. And, you know, it sounds kind of hokey, but I got into this business 25 years ago, because, you know, I thought I could help change the world. And I’m not saying the alternative press has changed the world, but I think the Village Voice has made a huge difference in New York, and the Bay Guardian, where I work, has made a huge difference in San Francisco, and that’s something.
And what the folks from New Times, now known as Village Voice Media, want to do, they want to buy up alternative papers all around the country and make them all the same. You know, I don’t think anyone should own 17 alternative papers. And I particularly don’t think a company run by people who despise activism, who are not activists and don’t think of themselves journalistically as activists, who don’t endorse candidates, who don’t take stands on issues, who haven’t even come out against the war, should be taking over the Village Voice. It’s really sad. I mean, the Voice was always part of the activist tradition of the alternative press. And, you know, in the same way that a few big chains like Gannett have bought up and control most of the daily newspapers in the United States and a few big corporations like Clear Channel control an awful lot of the radio, a few big corporations control most of the TV, if we go that way in the alternative press, it’s going to be very sad, particularly, as I say, when it is an operation that doesn’t believe in activist politics. That’s not what the alternative press has been about.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Tim, a question. New Times has a reputation, supposedly, for hard-hitting local investigative stories in many of their other chains. How do you reconcile that "reputation" with their current moves, in terms of the Village Voice?
TIM REDMOND: New Times has some good journalists, and they have done some good stories. I’ve never doubted that. But they don’t believe in providing progressive community leadership on issues. They’ll do some investigative reporting, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to the role the alternative press has always taken, which is to provide activist leadership, they don’t believe in it.
Besides, you know, I don’t care if Mike Lacey wants to run a kind of neo-libertarian paper down in Phoenix and say whatever he wants to say and do whatever he wants to do. But once he tries to take papers all over the country and make them all the same, you know, it’s kind of like the Borg. They sweep into town, they take over a paper, and they remold it in their own image so it’s exactly like all of the other New Times papers. If you go from city to city to city, you know, Denver, Phoenix, you go around, Houston and Miami, they all look the same. They all have the same voice. They all have the same tone. And that’s not good for the alternative press, and I would say that’s not good for the United States. It’s not good for progressive politics. This is not what the alternative press is about.
AMY GOODMAN: Sydney Schanberg, what did Michael Lacey — and again, we wanted to have him on, were not able to reach him or Christine Brennan, another executive, management in the Village Voice — what did they say about covering President Bush?
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Well, as I said before, he said, "If I want to read regular criticism or bashing of the Bush administration, I’ll read the New York Times. I don’t want it in this paper." And I agree with Redmond about them doing a cookie-cutter job. This was a wrecking crew. And I just don’t believe that you have to come in when you want to change things and tell people — insult them. I just don’t — I mean, if you believe in journalism, you don’t come in and insult good journalists. And there’s something inside Lacey that led him to think this was an adversary group, this was a group that was adversarial to him, before he actually ever had a serious conversation with members of the staff.
And I asked him afterward. I said I had one question, and how could you have — how could we have a press column if we can’t write about other work done in the press? And he said, "Did you hear what I said in there?" And I said, "Yeah, you were quite clear. But that doesn’t answer my question." "Just listen. Just remember what I said." And I shook his hand, and I walked away and I walked out of the place.
The fact is that there is something wrong with people who come into a newspaper and insult journalism. And I’ll disagree with Mark Jacobson. It’s very easy to say that something is a shadow of itself, and it may be true in some senses. There may be people who once were there that, you know, critics and others, but most of the people he’s talking about were writing commentary, as well as news. And the fact of the matter is the Voice still provides the majority of investigative coverage of New York City and New York state. And if Mr. Jacobson can tell me anybody else who is doing a serious job on this, I’d be glad to listen.
I should mention, by the way, so that people can say I was motivated, he called it the once lively press column. But I don’t judge myself by what someone says in another piece.
MARK JACOBSON: That’s okay. I did notice in your response to my column you did manage to spell my name wrong the entire time.
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Right. That’s very important.
MARK JACOBSON: Well, it was important to me.
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Yes, okay.
MARK JACOBSON: You wouldn’t like it if I misspelled your name, even though it was right in front of you how to spell it.
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Right.
MARK JACOBSON: So, you know, regardless.
AMY GOODMAN: Actually, what —
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: This isn’t — you know, you want to be in a little debate society. That’s high school stuff.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something.
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Let’s talk about substance.
MARK JACOBSON: Well, let’s talk about substance.
AMY GOODMAN: What about fact checkers at the Village Voice, speaking of which?
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: As I understand it, Lacey has dismissed all of the fact checkers.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Ridgeway is still with us in Washington, D.C. Jim Ridgeway, former Washington correspondent for the Village Voice. There are a lot of issues you think are worth covering. Your latest book is The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11: What the 9/11 Commission Report Failed to Tell Us. What do you think needs to be covered, if you were still writing in the Village Voice?
JIM RIDGEWAY: Well, I suggested to Lacey that, you know — he said he was very into this, what he calls, magazine writing, which means you find some guy and trace his life, I guess, until something happens to him. But I suggested investigation of like the New York ports and the security in the New York port system by a team of reporters and, you know, in terms of terrorism. And I have suggested over and over again ways — and written about ways of looking at this hurricane situation, in terms of the way the government has responded to the hurricane stuff. And I was told by the acting editor at time, under Lacey, he called me up, and I wrote an article in which I attributed something to a document that the Washington Post printed. And he called me up and he said, that article you wrote, that is exactly what he doesn’t want.
You know, I mean, and Izzy Stone said, "There’s good journalism and bad journalism." It has nothing to do with some formulaic crap about, you know, some prototype about magazine writing or whatever, you know? So there’s that.
There’s the whole 9/11 thing about the responsibility of the airlines in 9/11. I mean, yesterday, there was a great deal of — you know, everyone is terribly upset about this 93, Flight 93. But, I mean, why did Flight 93 ever get off the ground? I mean, you know, it got off the ground after two other planes hit. Why didn’t somebody call all these pilots and tell them to stop or close their doors? Why didn’t these things happen? What is the responsibility of the airline industry? So, I mean, there are issues like that that seem to me that people in New York City would like to know about. I mean, maybe the reporting will be wrong, but, I mean, they would like to know about it. I can’t imagine anybody doing journalism in New York City and not talking about politics. What, are they crazy or something?
AMY GOODMAN: What about Zacarias Moussaoui and the latest news?
JIM RIDGEWAY: Well, I mean, to me, Zacarias Moussaoui is, you know, a horrible guy, and he’s a nut probably. But, I mean, he serves a very interesting political purpose here, because he covers up stuff that — the activities of the F.B.I., and the F.B.I., you know, ran this absolutely incredible, ridiculous operation before 9/11, in which they, you know, overlooked hijackers living in California — living openly in California, renting apartments from their own, you know, informant. I mean, all this stuff is fortuitously thrown down the hole, because everybody concentrates on what a bastard Moussaoui is. I mean, I don’t doubt he’s a bastard, but I just think that the business of having an inquiry into 9/11 is a really big deal, having an open, decent inquiry that will answer questions that all Americans have. I don’t think it’s some conspiracy theory deal or anything like that. But I don’t understand why the Village Voice wouldn’t be in the forefront of doing something like that. I mean, what’s going to happen? Is there going to be another 9/11 type thing in New York, some suicide bomber or something, and the Village Voice editorial is going to turn around and say, 'Oh, let the New York Times do it. They do a better job'? I can’t believe that.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Sydney Schanberg, the Voice, of course, has been through many owners since Norman Mailer and his fellow co-conspirators started it. Even under Murdoch, it maintained some degree of political independence. And your sense, especially when I hear that, for instance, a young reporter like Jennifer Gonnerman who has done fantastic coverage of the prison-industrial complex has left, as well, your sense of its future?
SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Well, Jennifer Gonnerman is a very good example of Lacey saying one thing and meaning another. He said he wanted narrative journalism. And in that meeting, he praised her. He said you seem you know what you’re doing. She wanted to know exactly what kind of pieces. And he said, "I don’t think I have to tell you, because you’re already doing it." And yet, he refused to put her on the staff. She obviously — I’m guessing now from what she said when she left. She said she hoped that they would use the staff to better advantage. And my guess is she wanted to be a full-time staffer, and they said no. They wanted to keep her on this, you know, penurious freelance basis.
So, I don’t necessarily believe Lacey. I think when he talks about investigative journalism, he talks about isolated cases without connecting the dots. I believe in connecting-the-dots journalism. That’s how we’re finding out about what’s happening in Iraq and how this war was conceived. And people like Jim Ridgeway and Nat Hentoff and others, and I’d like to think myself, did that kind of thing and have enough experience and have seen enough of things happening in the world that we can connect those things for any audience, especially the New York audience that has an interest in national affairs.
I just think it’s a sin to do certain things in journalism. I think, for example, that firing Jim Ridgeway is a journalistic sin, just as when the New York Times let Russell Baker go. You don’t do things like that, just because somebody is older or whatever, you personally don’t like their stuff, because the idea of a newspaper is to let all voices ring, let them all be heard. And that’s not what he’s saying. So I don’t have any — you know, I don’t have any — I don’t know this man, Mike Lacey. But I don’t have any respect for how he’s behaved or how he’s conducted himself at the Voice.
AMY GOODMAN: Sydney Schanberg, I wanted to go back to Tim Redmond, executive editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The Bay Guardian filed suit against the San Francisco Weekly, the East Bay Express and the New Times newspapers, charging that the nation’s largest alternative news weekly chain had illegally sold advertising below cost in an effort to put the family-owned Bay Guardian out of business. Can you talk about this suit and how it relates to the discussion we’re having now?
TIM REDMOND: Sure, it relates to the discussion, because it demonstrates that Mike Lacey and the folks from Phoenix don’t believe in a diversity of voices. They don’t believe in newspaper competition. They don’t believe in independent press. What they did in San Francisco is they came into our market, they bought a locally owned competitor, the S.F. Weekly, which at that time was owned by a local guy. They bought it, and they immediately started selling ads at less than the cost of producing them, basically losing money, and they have been losing money every year in San Francisco, a lot of money, but it doesn’t matter because they’re a big chain and they can draw on their profits from other markets. Their goal is to put us out of business, because they want the market to themselves. That’s how these guys operate. These are monopolist anti-competitive people, the same way all of the big national news chains and the mainstream press that we’re also critical of operate. They came into San Francisco. As I say, their goal is to have the market to themselves.
Now, San Francisco, like New York, is a very political market, and we have always been a newspaper that is a part of that. We’re a part of the San Francisco community. We try to make the city a better place. They’re not interested in that. Their politics are very cynical. Nothing is ever good enough for New Times, which is now Village Voice Media, sad to say. And their modus operandi is to dominate and control markets. That, again, goes against the whole grain of what the alternative press has been about. If these guys have their way, they would like to buy up every alternative newspaper in the country and make them all exactly the same. And that’s a problem in San Francisco. It’s a problem in New York. It’s a problem nationwide, where there are alternative newspapers serving their community. And that’s what these guys are about.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with Jim Ridgeway in Washington, D.C. We’re talking about the print paper, the Village Voice, but it also has a web component that you have been very successfully writing in. Can you describe that, as we wrap up?
JAMES RIDGEWAY: Yeah, I mean, I think the web is the future of the alternative press, to tell you the truth. And I spent a lot of time and really worked as hard as I could — I’m not very technologically gifted, but, I mean, I worked as hard as I could to put stuff on the Voice web, from spot news to investigative, whatever. And I wanted to introduce videos, you know, verite video, which I was able to do for a certain period of time. And then, you know, the support wasn’t there.
But Lacey said he didn’t care about the web. I said, "Look, I’m filing maybe three or four stories a week on the web, on a daily basis almost." He said, well, you know, he didn’t care about that. He said cut it back. You know, and I just don’t know what to say about this, except that the future of this alternative — there’s no point in saying that alternative journalism is dead or anything like that, because it’s going to survive and it’s going to survive very, very well on the web. That’s the future of this thing. And if guys like Lacey and Larkin and others, I’m sure, want to turn these things into like, you know, like shoppers, they want to turn these newspapers into shoppers that don’t have anything in them and just use them to sell advertising, I mean, you know, they can do it, because the journalism will just plain move on. That’s all.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Ridgeway, I want to thank you for very much for being with us, Washington correspondent — former Washington correspondent for the Village Voice. His latest book is called The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11: What the 9/11 Commission Report Failed to Tell Us. We have also been joined by Sydney Schanberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, resigned from the Village Voice after Jim was forced out. Mark Jacobson, who writes for New York Magazine and wrote a piece on what’s happening to the Village Voice called "The Voice from Beyond the Grave." And in California, thanks to Tim Redmond, who has joined us, executive editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. We will continue to follow this and hope that Village Voice Media, which is the new name for New Times Media, will also agree to join us at a future point.
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