Michael Musto: Enough With the Crocodile Tears. The Village Voice Can Still Thrive
The print edition of the Village Voice will cease. But one of its most famous writers says the Voice still has a mission if it takes ‘fresh looks at emerging culture and politics.’
When the Village Voice announced yesterday that it was ending its print edition, I uncharacteristically assumed the demeanor of a glass-half-full kind of guy and chirped, “Well, they’re keeping the website! They’re still in the game!”
No one is really shocked anymore about the diminishment of print on the journalistic landscape. As soon as the Internet rose up to provide the masses with instant information, the idea that people should wait till next week to read about a hot topic felt as futile as choosing to pen your memoirs on a typewriter.
Furthermore, with seemingly everyone on earth having a website, the competition became Mad Max-level fierce, especially since some ads that used to be special to the Voice long ago went to other places where they don’t have to pay for the visibility.
On top of that, liberal politics and drag queen culture of the type that I seemed to be in an underground worship of became mainstream and omnipresent, thanks to a plethora of sites and channels aimed at niche markets.
Amidst all those challenges, it’s a miracle that my beloved alternative newspaper lasted so long as a newspaper. I was doing my Chicken Little act way back in the ‘90s!
When I started my entertainment and nightlife column, “La Dolce Musto,” in the Voice in 1984, I felt extremely special—one of a handful of openly gay journalists on the scene, as well as one of the few scribes going to clubs and after-hours parties, not to mention movie premieres and Broadway shows, on a nightly basis.
What’s more, the Voice—thanks to my then-editor, Karen Durbin--gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted about all of that, encouraging me to explore, titillate, and go against the big guns, all while celebrating the fringe characters and underdogs of the city. I was excited and ennobled by the weekly assignment.
With time, I became more political about LGBT issues, mixing in screeds against corporate homophobia, along with my reports on the latest gay dance club or hot designing duo.
As I got even gayer and louder, I got to break stories and celebrities, making a reputation as someone openly trashy, mouthy, and unafraid.
I still have the print copies of my 1987 cover story, “The Death of Downtown,” about how the Fellini-esque club scene had imploded from too much hype and interference, and also my April ‘96 blind item about the buzz on the grizzly details surrounding the infamous Michael Alig/Angel Melendez 'club kid' murder. (I also have the Page Six lead item that picked up on it. I keep everything, fire hazard or not.)
But early on, the Voice had helped lead the parade in recognizing the importance of a digital presence.
That kept mounting, and by 2008, then editor-in-chief Tony Ortega made me a staff writer, the understanding being that in exchange for some extra money and vacation time, I would write daily blogs in addition to my weekly column, in order to suit the growing hunger for immediate access.
I did so, and became so neurotic about it that there were some days I cranked out seven or eight blogs, anxious to chime in on every developing gossip story in creation.
By the time my weekly column deadline approached, I often wondered, “What the hell do I write about now? I’m completely depleted!” I always managed to come up with something, usually dredging some high-concept idea out of my desperation. (My 2011 listicle called “Why I Hate NYC! 41 Angry Reasons!” was a hit amongst haters.)
Still, my “La Dolce Musto” persona was starting to become an afterthought to my blogging alter ego, “La Daily Musto”, as attention spans waned and I kept trying to drum up more traffic with bold ideas and spicy headlines.
Alas, I started feeling that even if I wrote 100 blogs a day, I was as doomed as the marquee names before me who’d been summarily shown the exit. I already had survivor’s guilt about just being alive, but now I was one of the handful of oldies left at the Voice, so it made me extra self-conscious.
That situation started to feel like a real-life reality show where you prayed you weren’t the next one voted off the cell block, no matter how lovely the severance and Cobra benefits.
Sure enough, in 2013, I was laid off by a lady from New Times Media, who canned me with a Kevorkian-like precision. She axed some others too, and then New Times unloaded the paper from their chain, having pared it down to what at the time seemed like bare bones. (If only!)
Then, last year I got a proverbial call from the governor. The new owner, Pete Barbey, brought back Will Bourne, the editor who had quit in ’13 rather than lay off me and the others.
Will gave me three cover stories last year, including a reminiscence of Madonna’s heyday, the cover image being me wearing glasses made out of her notorious cone bra. (I’d graced the cover many other times, including as Sarah Palin, Angelina Jolie, and an Occupy Wall Street protestor. The Voice let me be a big ham, but it also allowed me to discover some heart as I sprinkled social issues in with the dish.)
The editor that followed Bourne has barely used me, but I did write a heart-tugging piece about my first year at Columbia thanks to the Calendar editor, Danny King—and it made it into last week’s issue. I’m hoping it’ll become a collectible.
But enough with the crocodile tears. Print won’t survive, but the Village Voice might, despite all the terrifying obstacles in the way of trying to be alternative these days.
There are plenty of web-only publications that serve a purpose, and the Voice can do so by continuing to take fresh looks at emerging culture and politics. Yes, everyone’s trashing Trump, but it’s how you do so that determines if people notice you.
I’m keeping all my old issues and remembering a time when people made a personal connection to the printed page, back when the alternative press was making big waves and constantly surprising.
Buying the paper and having it around the house was a mark of iconoclasm that proved you were savvy enough to think outside what the dailies were serving, and also were big enough to pass the paper around to family and friends, like a bowl of really good grass. But I actually wasn’t that much of a fan of reaching into urine-stained boxes. Simply clicking on a link is far more hygienic.