By George Capsis
Newspapers are quite naturally interested in other newspapers so, when one of them makes news, they all report it. That was the case with the demise of the print version of the Village Voice. On August 22nd, the new (only two-year) publisher, Peter Barbey, announced that they would stop printing on paper and only offer an online version. That was, for me, a WOW moment.
While the Voice is the Village Voice, WestView News positions itself as ‘The New Voice of the West Village.’ So, for us, this is news. It demands that we look at our own publication to see if we have evolved a newspaper worth (with a bad back) bending down to pick up.
And we have another connection. About two years ago, I got a call from famed Village Voice writer, Nat Hentoff. First, he destroyed any self-defense by flattering me on the quality of WestView and then asked if he could write for it for money. I explained that we did not pay for editorial content but finally broke down and paid him for several articles (the first and only writer for which we have done this).
Nat also muttered some complaints about the new owners of the Village Voice. I am not sure who he was complaining about but I read that, in 1977, it was purchased by Rupert Murdoch, followed by one rich guy after another who thought it would be fun to own a paper (I could do a half-hour bit on that topic).
The other thing that shocked me is how old the Village Voice is (or was)—61 years old. (Norman Mailer was one of its founders.) They call it the very first ‘alternative weekly newspaper’ but I’ve got to think about this word ‘alternative.’ I mean, I remember back in the 1930s when the newspaper PM was launched with color on the front page and people called it ‘Pro-Marx’ because it was liberal. I am not sure what ‘alternative’ refers to. My theory is that you start with hard facts and let them drive to a conclusion.
Okay, so why did the Village Voice stop printing? Easy, they stopped getting ads. That is also what is draining the Times, which had to sell its new building and then rent it back.
If you sit on the bench in front of the Village Apothecary on Bleecker Street, you will see tourists holding their cell phones, seeking a restaurant which displays a Times review on the restaurant’s site. The Times will NEVER get an ad from the restaurant but the restaurant will get a hell of a lot of business from the positive review (on paper).
So what should WestView do?
Should we just go exclusively online—no more expensive 30-pound bright stock paper, which forms 85% of our printing cost? I hope some of you are as old as I am and are saying, “No, no, I like a newspaper. I like the feel of it. I like to scan it and decide which article I want to read first. I don’t know how to find news online.”
I remember when the Times was 3¢, the NY Daily News 2¢, and the Sunday Times a whole dime. I, at 12, became the Times sales agent at P.S. 192 collecting 15¢ a week from the kids and giving them a current events study guide for free. Years later, a press release on atomic accelerators I wrote for IBM appeared in the Times under the name of their Pulitzer Prize-winning science editor (I got a raise).
I have a feeling (but I don’t know for sure) that we have a few people out there who like the paper. I was delighted when we got $100 gifts offering subscriptions to those who spend $12 on groceries. We even received $1,000 for the West Village Fund to bring back a hospital.
I will not stop the paper edition of WestView but I ask that, if you do have a computer, you go online to westviewnews.org and sign up for our EXTRA – THE BREAKING NEWS feature. (Enter your email address and click ‘Subscribe now.’) This will do two things: (1) It will let you get news as it happens, and (2) It will speed up mail delivery to just three days. (The post office will only give us three-day delivery if half of our readers confirm that they want the paper by entering their email addresses online or paying for subscriptions!)
Oh, it might also make some of our younger advertisers advertise online, where they feel at home. In my intermediate school, I learned in printing class how to set lead type. At IBM, I went out to Silicon Valley to introduce the sensational new ‘electric typewriter.’ When I asked the scientists at Watson Laboratories if we would ever have a ‘personal computer,’ they scowled and answered, “Never.”
The Last Newspaper
By George Capsis