We Deathwatchers have waited a long time for the definitive
Another point cited in Fefer’s favor, though, is that he's more sophisticated than managing editor Mike Seely, who joined the paper after the merger and ran it between Berger's departure and Fefer’s arrival. Seely, this former staffer complained, is "kind of a backwards-hat guy." Dawdy, too, is a vocal Seely critic, and references an e-mail exchange he had with Seely last October to bolster his case. The conversation began with Seely citing a story from the East Bay Express, the company's paper in Oakland, as an example of the kind of stuff he'd like from Dawdy, who specializes in mental-health issues. The article in question, by Lauren Gard, was on the link between the Internet and sex addiction. "One thing the writer hints at here are the tendency for massage parlors to double as hand-job factories or more," Seely wrote. "I’d love for someone to gauge whether this sort of thing is going on in Seattle.
Dawdy then mentioned knowing a therapist whose business consists largely of Internet-porn addicts working at Microsoft. Seely asked if the therapist would go on the record. Dawdy said it was doubtful, but that details could probably be gleaned from online chat rooms. To which Seely responded:
"yep. think it might be futile to start from there and simply replicate this story. frankly, if you were up to visiting some massage parlors to see if certain practitioners would finish you off, that’s the sort of street-level expose i'd be up for running. but i'd never force you to do that."
Dawdy took a pass. A week later, he quit.
Less well-known, but equally telling, is the hostility Lacey and his lieutenants reportedly have for what they term "victim stories." Broadly speaking, these seem to be stories in which a member of some marginal group — the physically disabled, the mentally ill, the poor — is ill-used by a particular system or society at large. According to several current and former staffers, Lacey and his editors generally balk at these pieces unless something sets them apart, like a counterintuitive twist (victim as victimizer!) or plenty of lurid detail. So defined, "victim stories" were the specialty of Gonnerman, arguably the Voice's best young reporter before her resignation last year. They were also the stock in trade of Jarrett Murphy, who wrote extensively on poor neighborhoods for the Voice and recently left the paper. And they were the kind of pieces Dawdy frequently wrote for Seattle Weekly.
But that's just part of the story. Robson also left because he became convinced the New Times mindset would guide the new VVM, and that City Pages would suffer as a result. When Andy Van De Voorde, VVM's executive associate editor, introduced Hoffman to his new employees, Robson recalls, "he did it by saying, 'This guy was kicking our ass for the competition, so we figured it was a good idea to hire him to go kick other people's asses.' That’s emblematic of how they do things. It’s this kind of cheapskate-tough-guy swagger."*
But the keenest insight into the
New Times Village Voice Media ethos comes at the end, in a series of embarrassing responses posted beneath the story from a claque of VVM toadies. The most measured of the bunch also happens to be the most hopelessly deluded. Here's Pete Kotz of the Cleveland Scene (whence hails lesbian marriage pioneer and new City Pages editor Kevin Hoffman):
Hey Adam: I have no beef with your story. Looks like you got to a lot of people and did your best to distill a he-said/she-said culture clash. The only thing I thought was off was the "victim" element. I've been with New Times for six years and I run these stories by the pound. (The latest: http://news.clevescene.com/2007-02-21/news/black-on-black-crime/) I think the difference is we don't try to write essay No. 765,982 on Why Bush Sucks, or Corporations are Bad, or that kind of generic screaming into the wind that's been done so many times before. It's not a political decision. In a way, it's just an aversion to writerly self-importance. The cool thing about the New Times ethic, at least to me, is that it's more respectful of the reader. The whole game is built to engage people -- meaning you have to report, ammo up with a fresh story and a fresh take -- because their time is precious and their allegiance doesn't come easy. You gotta make yourself worthy. I think the old Village Voice method too often put politics above engagement. The stories often seemed to assume that the reader naturally agreed with your viewpoint, naturally agreed that this was an Important Subject, instead of working to convince them of both. It lead to a lot of stuff that should have simply been headlined, "Holy Christ, Look at How Smart I Am." Having sadly spent much of my early career practicing this same kind of journalism, I found that it was great for getting back-slaps from my buddies at the bar, but made virtually no impact on the larger audience. Obviously, there are a lot of personality collisions taking place here. But at the end of the day, it's really just an argument over the best way to keep alt weeklies thriving in the future.
(One day, we swear, we will wade through the jottings of
New Times Village Voice Media editors and pluck every macho metaphor we can find. Ammo up, motherfuckers.)
Kotz's missive is, to our minds, a perfect distillation of the
New Times Village Voice Media paradox. Yes, in theory, it all sounds so very wonderful -- precisely what made us sit up at the job fair. In practice, well, we get nippling and retards fucking and Mike Lacey on politics and Silke Tudor on whatever it is Silke Tudor writes about, and we get whales, lots and lots of whales. None of which stories betrays any aversion whatsoever to writerly self-importance.