Friday, January 7, 2011

Wayne Barrett and Tom Robbins Leave Village Voice by Jeremy W. Peters -

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Wayne Barrett, 65, who had written for The Village Voice since 1973, said he was laid off from The Voice because his six-figure salary was too expensive for the paper. His last day was Dec. 31.
What becomes of New York’s most formidable muckraking paper when two of its greatest muckrakers are gone?

The Village Voice, the granddaddy of alternative weeklies, which enlivened political and investigative journalism in New York through its scrappy, hold-nothing-sacred approach, has lost Wayne Barrett and Tom Robbins, two journalists who helped define the paper’s modern era.
Mr. Barrett’s departure was a sign of the financial strain facing The Voice and print media: he said he was let go because he was too expensive to keep on staff. Mr. Robbins’s exit showed how unpalatable the professional choices facing journalists today can be: he said he would quit the paper at the end of January in a show of solidarity with Mr. Barrett, despite having no other job lined up.
The Voice without either man, some prominent New Yorkers said, is difficult to imagine. And their leaving raises questions about what kind of future the paper has in the city whose politics it fermented and culture it shaped.
“With the loss of Wayne and Tom, they lost Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle,” said Don Forst, who was editor of The Voice from 1996 to 2005 and edited the work of both men
Mr. Forst said their departures left the paper, which had already been downsized considerably in the last decade, greatly diminished. “It was a great institution for what it was,” he said. “It was not The Times. It wasn’t The Post. It was The Village Voice. And I think it was the role model for all folk alternative papers. I don’t know what they have left.”
Mr. Barrett has written for The Voice since 1973, was earning a six-figure salary and had minimal expenses and an unpaid staff of interns. He announced his departure in a column published on the paper’s Web site on Tuesday morning. His last day was Dec. 31.
“I have written, by my own inexact calculation, more column inches than anyone in the history of The Voice. These will be my last,” he wrote. “I am 65 and a half now, and it is time for something new.” He will become a fellow at The Nation Institute, a liberal nonprofit media group.
Mr. Robbins, in an interview, said he could not bear the thought of staying on at The Voice without Mr. Barrett. “I think he’s a big loss for the paper, which is why I decided I thought I would move on as well,” Mr. Robbins said. “And I wish the paper well.”
Tom Robbins, who, like Mr. Barrett, was known for his energetic exposes of corruption, said he would quit The Voice at the end of January in a show of solidarity with Mr. Barrett.
Tony Ortega, the editor of The Voice, said it was painful to see both reporters leave. But he insisted there was no lingering animosity on anyone’s part.
“It is what it is,” a subdued Mr. Ortega said in an interview, adding that the financial pressures on the paper had forced him into a difficult position. “By now I think we expected the economy to be doing a little better. So I’m a little disappointed we haven’t grown. But we’re holding our own.”
The paper was in trouble before New Times Media, a national chain of alternative weeklies, merged with it in 2006, and it has been reduced considerably since then. Mr. Ortega said he had to cut about a half-dozen positions when the economy collapsed in 2008 — a small number but one that made a significant dent in a newsroom that now has only about 25 people.
Tumult in the editor’s chair has been just as disruptive. When Mr. Ortega, the former editor of The Broward-Palm Beach New Times, took over in 2007, he became The Voice’s fifth editor in little more than a year.
But through it all, Mr. Barrett and Mr. Robbins were fixtures — not only of their storied newspaper but also of the New York City press corps. Mr. Robbins, who first worked at The Voice in the mid-1980s, then departed for The Daily News and returned in 2000, is known for an encyclopedic knowledge of city politics and a big heart (he donated one of his kidneys to a friend). He earned a reputation as an equal opportunity exposer of corruption, regardless of political affiliation.
Mr. Barrett was also known for his digging. He was the first to uncover that Rudolph W. Giuliani’s father had gone to prison for robbing a milkman at gunpoint, and was once barred from interviewing former Mayor Edward I. Koch, the subject of a book Mr. Barrett co-wrote with Jack Newfield. It was titled — unflatteringly for Mr. Koch — “City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York.”
Mr. Koch, asked to reflect on Mr. Barrett’s work on Tuesday, said, “In terms of the quality of his reportage: superb.”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was characteristically less effusive. “I can’t say we’ve always agreed, but Wayne’s voice will be missed,” the mayor said.
Despite losing both men, Mr. Ortega said his staff was highly capable and well equipped to carry on the paper’s proud tradition. Mr. Robbins will eventually be replaced, but Mr. Barrett will not. “People are just going to soldier on and do their stuff,” Mr. Ortega said.