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Village Voice: “Inhumane and dishonest”?

vilvoice.gifWhat’s up wiht the Village Voice? Last we checked in with the venerable alt-weekly it was still subject to the same ever-percolating rumors that it was on the verge of being sold tothe New Times chain. A double super-secret FishbowlNY source at a New Times paper says that it’s “the elephant in the room”; another double super-secret source tried to do a story on it himself and said “it was ‘no comments’ across the board” (NB the VilVoix party line is “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation“).

But now someone is commenting – loudly. It’s Robert Christgau (aka “Xgau“), venerable Village Voice music critc, going very much on the record in Romenesko letters about the Voice’s attempt to slash compensation for writing by 20 to 45 percent, which will undermine the freelancing budget but will really cut to the quick for senior editors. EIC Don Forst, who we’ve heard from a number of (also double-super-secret) sources is not the most popular pen in the newsroom, announced the cuts, which are substantial – and which come on the heels of the contentious collective bargaining renewal on June 30th which very nearly resulted in a walkout.

Christgau is hopping mad, and wants other Voice staffers to be, too, even going so far as to catalogue a few of the casualties:

I get off relatively easy, at about a grand a year in Choices and reviews and features outside of my two columns. Just Eddytor’s Dozen will cost Chuck Eddy about three grand a year, and other arts editors will lose even more. I would suggest that Francis Davis, who I suspect will count as a columnist and hence lose only his five bucks a Choice, Tom Hull, whose position is murkier, and Kyle Gann, whose pay situation I’m not privy to at all, email Doug Simmons … and get a clarification. Let me know what you find out.

How does this all come back to the elephant at the New Times? Darkly, Christgau says that “many believe this is an attempt by management to render the paper more salable and/or to prove to bigger bosses present and future that they are ready to compete in today’s hardnosed business environment hack hack ptooey ptooey.” Rumors of a walkout are already flying:

The whole office is infuriated — it’s a rather underhanded move, and possibly a breach of contract… So there is going to be another walkout on Tuesday, and the plans are its going to be quite angry. I heard that they plan to take copies of the contract and burn them on the street — no joke. There are also plans for a byline strike, starting next issue. (per The Reeler)

Next issue is, uh, real soon. Anyone who has more info, feel free to drop us a line. We’ll keep you posted.

Christgau’s memo after the jump; a little bit o’ background for you below.

Village Voice on the block? [FishbowlNY]
Village Voice union set for apocalypse [Gawker]
That was the weekly that was [Guardian UK]
Rumors of big alt-weekly merger raise media consolidation issues [SF Bay Guardian]


Dear Voice Writer:

At the senior editors’ meeting yesterday, Voice editor-in-chief Don Forst announced, unilaterally and without warning, that payments for a substantial proportion of the writing in the newspaper would be cut by 20 to 45 percent. Specifically exempted were payments for bargaining-unit freelancers, which are specified in the contract, and column rates, which to the best of my knowledge are not.

We have none of this in writing — supposedly, that will come Monday or Tuesday — and different editors came away with different recollections of specifics. But everyone seems to agree about a few things. The cuts will begin Issue 35, which appears August 31. Payment for Choices will be reduced from $20 to $15, $25 to $20 for Short Lists. And the gray boxes that used to pay $130 for those with 10 or more bylines in the paper and $110 for everyone else will be reduced to $75. Half page and full page rates will definitely be cut, but no one remembers by how much. Quarter page rates — that’s a Sound of the City piece, for instance — weren’t mentioned but will presumably be included.

This hurts you as freelancers. It also makes it harder for editors to work with quality freelancers. But you should understand that there’s no one it hurts more economically than senior editors and other salaried employees, many of whom work at substandard wages on the explicit understanding that they will make it up writing. I get off relatively easy, at about a grand a year in Choices and reviews and features outside of my two columns. Just Eddytor’s Dozen will cost Chuck Eddy about three grand a year, and other arts editors will lose even more. I would suggest that Francis Davis, who I suspect will count as a columnist and hence lose only his five bucks a Choice, Tom Hull, whose position is murkier, and Kyle Gann, whose pay situation I’m not privy to at all, email Doug Simmons … and get a clarification. Let me know what you find out.

We at the Voice are not taking this lying down. There will almost certainly be a union grievance, and in the future you will almost certainly be asked to participate in various actions yet to be finalized. Many believe this is an attempt by management to render the paper more salable and/or to prove to bigger bosses present and future that they are ready to compete in today’s hardnosed business environment hack hack ptooey ptooey. Who knows? For certain it’s inhumane and dishonest, especially given the new contract we signed six weeks ago. As someone who’s devoted his life to quality journalism, I’m outraged, disgusted, and sick at heart. I’ve told you what I know and will keep you informed. I’m sorry.

Best,

Bob Christgau

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