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The Village Voice Union Walkout and an Alt-Weekly Obituary

On Monday at noon, the employees of the Village Voice who belong to the union UAW Local 2110 staged a walkout and demonstration to protest the management’s new contract proposal. The new proposal would halve family leave time and increase health insurance premiums by $200 a month, among other objectionable aspects.

“Our demands this time around are very, very simple: better pay, better working conditions, particularly for our overburdened sales staff, and to keep our healthcare coverage,” read a press release from Voice staffers. “We also want better coffee. Our coffee is shit.”

Things have been pretty bleak, and getting bleaker, especially since the conglomeration and “stream-lining” of the Voice and other alt-weeklies under New Times Media (later Voice Media Group) began in 2005. “The Voice has weathered heavy downsizing and layoffs over the past several years,” writes Joe Pompeo in Capital New York in the Understatement of the Day.

Here are some pictures of the demonstration, from Ezra Wine and Eden Shulz; updates to the staffers’ fight can be found on the Voice union’s blog. In the meantime, we thought this would be a good day to resurrect a piece from the old Baffler archives that illustrates the long arc of American alt-weeklies’ journey into the toilet—from bastions of substantial cultural coverage and criticism, to the understaffed and hasty-listicle factories some of them are today. 

For Issue 21 in 2012, Baffler contributing editor Eugenia Williamson wrote an obituary of sorts, “The Alternative Press In Retrospect.” Here’s an excerpt:

Where today’s alt-weeklies rely on happy hour listings, they used to thrive on enmity. Norman Mailer’s Voice took up arms against the city’s Democratic establishment on a routine basis—indeed, Mailer himself mounted a doomed insurgent candidacy for mayor in the 1969 Democratic primaries. Over time, the Voice carried its crusade into the target-rich environment of the great city, with exposés on local slumlords and industry barons running alongside critical essays and spirited music, literature, and theater reviews. (Impossible as it may be to fathom for readers who know the paper only in its present listicle-besotted form, the Voice published its own Literary Supplement during the eighties and early nineties, seeking to turn it into a downtown version of the New York Review of Books.) In the “Press Clips” column, which debuted in the seventies, the Voice all but invented the modern profession of left-leaning press criticism.

But the heyday of alt-weekly ambition didn’t last. Alt-weeklies found themselves confronted with the same economic forces that were homogenizing the major dailies they were founded to compete with—conglomeratized owners in distant cities, the standardization of content across chain-owned properties, and a single-minded focus on the bottom line. These days, the Voice Media Group would rather take on Death Cab for Cutie than lose a “like” on Facebook.

Read the rest of Williamson’s alt-press obituary here.