By Arthur Schwartz
Late last year, as The Villager passed from one chain of community newspapers to another, Schneps Publications, one had to wonder about its future and that of its sister papers, Downtown Express, Manhattan Express, and Chelsea Now. All four papers started to look alike other than their mastheads. They carried the same stories, written by the same writers, and shared an Editor-In-Chief, Lincoln Anderson. Lincoln had been with The Villager for 20 years and was the guy the Schneps family was entrusting The Villager and the other downtown papers to.
Lincoln did an admirable job. He knew every community activist, every politician, every relevant government bureaucrat. And he had a talent for producing material for The Villager’s website—up-to-the-minute, hot-off-the-street stories about local events: rallies, meetings, community board votes, and cultural happenings.
And then, a month ago, Lincoln got fired as the 30-some-odd-year-old Josh Schneps cringed when the two disagreed about the newsworthiness of a story Lincoln declined to cover. Actually, even before this disagreement, Lincoln had been demoted and his access to The Villager Facebook site had been cut off; Schneps was clearly planning to let him go or force him to quit. Schneps had gotten rid of many of the older (over 40) staff at most of his recently acquired papers, and Lincoln was next. And his firing predated by less than a week Schneps’ takeover of AM New York, a free daily, which immediately laid off half its staff.
So where is The Villager now?
Circulation: In the October 26, 2019 issue, the Postal Statement says that paid distribution was 1,811—1,540 by mail and 271 bought at newsstands. You read that number right: 1,811 copies sold. What was once The Village’s go-to newspaper has a total circulation, including free copies, of 1,990. (WestView News distributes over 12,000 copies.)
Content: A look at The Villager is disappointing. Several articles republished from AM New York about transit issues. Four short articles about news items in Lower Manhattan (including Chelsea, Downtown, and the Lower East Side). Not a word about Village or Downtown music, theater, or culture. And things promise to get worse. Even its 14th Street article quotes only government spokespeople and not a single community leader. Clearly it will no longer be a voice of the community.
The Outlook: Bad. Bad for the spread of news about local issues. Bad for community newspapers and the voices of our downtown community, as the Schneps octopus swallows over 40 community newspapers across New York City.