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Village Voice Watch: Who is New Voice Chief Erik Wemple?

by Anthony Kaufman
June 1, 2006 2:40 AM
2 Comments
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The Village Voice finally has a new editor-in-chief, Erik Wemple, formerly the editor of Washington City Paper, it was announced on Wednesday. The New York Times was the first to carry the story, and it's still hard to say whether Wemple will toe the Michael Lacey/New Times line, or strike out on his own with the type of strong progressive advocacy journalism The Voice was known for before Lacey got a hold of it.

But it doesn't look good. According to the Times story, Mr. Wemple "will probably represent a break from The Voice's generally left-wing coverage." "My ideology and the whole New Times ideology preaches loyalty to the great story," he said. "I really don't care if a story begins with leftist sympathies, and I really don't care if a story begins from a more conservative set of sympathies. If it's a great story, we're going to report it out."

In an interview in the Columbia Journalism Review, Wemple lamented the "very predictable" nature of alt-weeklies, i.e. "slamming Bush," being "snide to right-to-lifers" and calling "the landlord evil." But, ahem, shouldn't alt-weeklies be doing all the above? According to Wemple, the answer is no, because that would be "predictable."

Still, Wemple has excoriated a number of publications for going along with the Bushies' war. "Last winter, as the Bush administration rushed the country toward an invasion of Iraq, the editorial departments of some leading U.S. publications sounded a lot like Vice President Dick Cheney," he wrote for the Washington City Paper.

And in a "leftwing" cover story, he and co-writer John Metcalfe criticized the Washingtonian magazine for being predominately white. "The Washingtonian’s editorial division has been majority-white-owned and -operated for a good long time," they wrote. "One can only wonder how the Washingtonian has weathered nearly four decades of Census fluctuations to remain among the whitest magazines not regularly publishing features on the Confederate flag."

Wemple's biggest beef seems to be the media, in fact -- one of his main targets while at the Washington City Paper was big local rival the Washington Post). It looks like media coverage may get a revival at the Voice, after Sydney Schanberg left awhile ago and the Press Clips column was abandoned. According to the Times story, Wemple is going to hire a media writer and an arts business reporter.

Also in the Times story, Michael Lacey said he wanted to expand the paper's theater section. He also said there "were no plans to use a centralized staff of arts reviewers who would work for the various Voice Media papers"--which is odd, because that's exactly what he's done, cycling film reviews like everyone's favorite L.A. critic Luke Y. Thompson in papers all across the country.

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2 Comments

  • Scott T. | June 1, 2006 11:40 AMReply

    I think the dye has been cast as far as film criticism for the VV/New Times groups goes, hasn't it? From what I understand, reviews are drawn largely from a "syndication pool" and run in every paper, with little-to-no local perspective. This obviously is a huge blow, and not just because of LYT and the New Times gang. A few other problems come to mind: 1. Having the same review run in all cities doesn't do much of a service to movies and moviegoers, since it doesn't account for the full spectrum of opinions that greet a given film. 2. Critics in smaller cities like The Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley or City Page's Rob Nelson have worked hard to nurture a film culture in their local markets, championing films and venues and festivals that are unique to their city. Readers who pick up their alt-weekly expecting to hear their distinctive voices week after week will not have their guidance. 3. The existence of a "syndication pool" axes freelancers in every city, which means that many young writers trying to cut their teeth in the business will not get an opportunity to do so.

    In any case, I see this whole thing going the way of Gannett: The streamlining and slashing of payroll will reap huge profits at first. Then these emasciated McPapers will lose their individual distinction and readership, and those profits will plateau. Then they'll start losing money again.

    Does this seem too cynical to you? Maybe I'm just overcompensating because so many of my friends and respected colleagues are involved. I worry for them, to say nothing of the state of published criticism.

  • Sujewa Ekanayake | June 1, 2006 4:53 AMReply

    Give Wemple a chance. DC City Paper is pretty decent, and I think mostly left-leaning, has been for as long as I recall. Dude's gotta keep his job - gotta appear to reflect the concerns of his bosses, but he probably will remain the same person he was when working for the DC City Paper. We shall see.

    - Sujewa

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