Village Voice Media Hates, Creates Victim Stories

This week's Boston Phoenix has a must-read piece on the fallout from the New Times-Village Voice merger. We've seen some of the effects locally, but the Phoenix's Adam Reilly takes the pulse throughout the country and, guess what? The news is not so good. Again, you should really read the whole thing, but here are a couple of highlights.

The absolute best bit concerns the Seattle Weekly:

Another point cited in [new editor] 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.

In an e-mail, Seely confirmed this exchange, but noted that Dawdy wrote a story on a Star Wars-loving, gay-porn-producing, suicide-committing Seattle-ite that ran that same month.

Another interesting part:
Less well-known, but equally telling, is the hostility [Village Voice Media executive editor Mike] 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.

"Anything where there is an identifiable victim, or a little-guy hero, for lack of a better term — any story that has that kind of narrative arc — they hate on sight, without even reading it," argues Dawdy. "They consider it veritable socialism to get any little person's back. I'm not that ideological as a journalist, but sometimes you do end up in those places, and you end up writing those stories." "Nobody is willing to do these stories," adds a current VVM staffer.

Lacey, of course, denies that, but should he? Who wants the kind of "victim story" churned out by, say, Pulitzer Prize winner Kate Boo , or (former Phoenix reporter) Pulitzer nominee Ellen Barry ? Or, you know, Mara Altman . Oh wait.

In a weird way, this piece is kind of the ultimate "victim story": Who's more marginalized than alt-weekly journalists? Also? "Star Wars-loving, gay-porn-producing, suicide-committing Seattle-ite " should so be a T-shirt.

Culture war [Boston Phoenix]