New Times/Village Voice Media: the problem with a "SunBelt-baked chain" in San Francisco and the East Bay

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By Bruce B. Brugmann

I have often referred to the New Times/Village Voice Media chain as Desert Libertarianism-on-the-rocks, with large stalks of neocon politics. Adam Reilly, writing in the current Boston Phoenix alternative, has a better line:

"It's no surprise that the ex-New Times brass who now lead VVM, including CEO Jim Larkin and, as executive editor, the famously irascible MIke Lacey--want the Voice and its fellow papers to conform to their standardized, apolitical, SunBelt-baked vision of what alternative journalism should be. What is striking, though, is how quickly and decisively defenders of the old left-leaning, decentralized VVM ethos has been routed. The battle just began--and its already over."

Reilly has done some good reporting and good analyzing and come up with the best piece so far on the dreadful impact that the l7-paper chain is having on journalism and the cities where it has papers.

But let me add a key point: the NT/VVM formula, successful as it might be without competition in the deserts and the foothills, simply doesn't work in cities where they have real competition with community based newspapers, such as in San Francisco with the Guardian and in the East Bay with the Guardian, Berkeley Daily Planet, the Berkeley Monthly, and the Daily Cal. And in Seattle with the Stranger. And in Cleveland with the Free Times.

For example, the SF Weekly/VVM and East Bay Express/VVM papers lose millions each year. In Cleveland, the NT/VVM paper has lost millions over the past few years. And, given the strength and competition of the Guardian and others, there is little prospect the NT/VVM can turn their papers around. And so the tantalizing question is: what are they going to do?

STOP THE PRESSES: The Village Voice/New Times has fired its editor after six months, according to a Saturday March 3 report in the New York Times. This would be the fourth editor in little more than a year since the New Times took over the Voice in the fall of 2005.
The firing only underscores my point: the formula that worked in Phoenix doesn't work and won't work in sophisticated/liberal/competition rich cities like New York. B3

See also Gawker's coverage of this.