New ‘Voice’ editor Will Bourne earns early high marks from Michael Musto, but he’s got a steep climb

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Will Bourne doesn't begin his new job as editor-in-chief of The Village Voice until Nov. 26. But he's already getting high marks from some staffers.

"He's very cool," said Michael Musto, who's pretty much the only old-timer left at the alt-weekly, when Capital reached him by phone for a brief comment.

The long-time Voice gossip columnist said he met his new boss when Bourne paid a visit to the paper's downtown offices on Wednesday.

"It's great to have this new development," said Musto.

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Then again, for the diminished group of journalists who remain on the Voice's masthead, anything must seem better than the types of developments they've grown accustomed to.

The Voice has been decimated by cutbacks since it was acquired in 2005 by the Phoenix-based New Times Media, which changed its name to Village Voice Media for several years before spinning off its chain of 13 free weekly papers into a new company called Voice Media Group this past September.

Most of the old guard, including legends like Wayne Barrett and J. Hoberman, were laid off as the paper's parent company got battered by the same print-advertising declines that have become endemic throughout the industry. And the company's affiliation with the classified website backpage.com hasn't helped matters.

As public outrage over backpage.com's alleged ties to child sex-trafficking boiled over this past year, advertisers began to pull out in droves. In fact it was the Backpage controversy that ultimately prompted Village Voice Media's decision to break the site off from its sister newspapers, which are now run by erstwhile Village Voice Media brass under the newly formed company. Village Voice Media founders Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey still own and operate Backpage and insist, despite skepticism, that they have no business relationship with Voice Media Group.

Nevertheless, the ill-will heaped on the Voice as a result of the Backpage brouhaha hasn't entirely faded. And internally, there's always been a certain amount of tension between the Voice newsroom and its overlords out West. The actual print edition, meanwhile, is a shell of its former self. All in all: gloom, doom, etc.

This is the Village Voice that Bourne is set to inherit from his predecessor, Tony Ortega, who after six years at the helm resigned in September to work on a book about Scientology.

Bourne, for his part, seems determined to recast the Voice as the vaunted chronicler of progressive New York counterculture that it once was.

“The Voice is an amazing — and resilient!! — institution and, as the recent election showed, so is liberalism,” he emailed FishbowlNY, which broke the news of his hiring. “I plan to reinforce the paper’s position as a showcase for progressive — but balanced, disciplined — journalism, and to make it an even more forceful presence on the culture front."

A message to an email address listed on a bio page for Bourne was not returned and other attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

But his resume betrays a well-traveled international reporting pedigree of the kind that has earned prestigious awards for publications including Fortune, Details and Fast Company, where he was executive editor until May of 2010.

"If anyone's up to turning the Voice around and stopping the bloodshed, its him," said a person who worked with Bourne at the magazine.

Ortega declined to speculate on the challenges that Bourne will come up against in doing so. But he wished him luck all the same.

"Don't know the guy, but I like what he has to say," said Ortega. "I hope he kicks ass."