‘Village Voice’ brings in a company man, Tom Finkel, as editor

Some Village Voices of yore. ()
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"Tom understands our media business at a high level."

That's Christine Brennan, executive editor of the relatively newly formed Voice Media Group, the Phoenix-based company that owns The Village Voice. She's quoted in a press release about Tom Finkel, who the company announced this morning will become editor of the venerable flagship title of the national alt-weekly publisher.

Really, nobody has recently doubted that the Voice, which has fired just about every well known veteran staff member with a tether of a connection to the paper's legacy in New York City, is being run with high-level corporate concerns in mind. The question is whether it can recapture its storied connection to the scores of downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn residents who have long found the Times too stodgy, the Observer too snobby, the tabloids too low-brow and the local New York web-publishing scene too dorky. It's a sweet spot the Voice continued to occupy through much of the 1990s at least, if not well into the 2000s.

Finkel, who will take the helm of the weekly later this summer, was therefore eager to establish his local credibility.

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"The Village Voice is the quintessential reflection of New York culture,” he said in a statement. “My parents had deep roots there — my father grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, my mother on Riverside Drive — and I’m thrilled at the prospect of my family putting down roots of our own.”

In appointing Finkel, Voice Media Group—formerly Village Voice Media, and before that New Times Media—has stuck to a familiar M.O. Finkel is a company man, having served as editor of Voice Media Group's Riverfront Times in St. Louis for the past 10 years. He's also done stints at Miami News Times and City Pages of Minneapolis, which became sister papers to the Voice when it was acquired by New Times Media in 2005.

Since then, the company hasn't had much luck with appointing outsiders—even when they were actual New Yorkers—to edit the Voice. The six-month tenure of David Blum in 2006 and 2007 was by all accounts a disaster. More recently, Will Bourne lasted just five months in the post, having resigned in May after refusing to fire Michael Musto, Michael Feingold and Robert Sietsema, the latest high-profile layoffs in a torturous series that over the past seven years has also claimed the jobs of Voice legends like Robert Christgau, Wayne Barrett, Nat Hentoff and Jim Hoberman, among many others.

On the other hand, Tony Ortega, whom Village Voice Media imported to Manhattan from one of its Florida titles, lasted six years in the job and even engineered what some considered a brief comeback for the Voice.

He, too, was forced to implement several rounds of staff cuts, during which time he became more focused on his own reportage on the Church of Scientology, ultimately stepping down from the demoralized paper last September.

The ongoing newsroom downsizing and persistent budget cuts, combined with declines in circulation and advertising revenue and a national controversy over the sex ads on Village Voice Media's classified website, Backpage.com (which led to the creation of the new and supposedly unaffiliated Voice Media Group last fall), have conspired to make the Voice a shell of its former self and a less than desirable place to work.

But Voice Media Group is already managing to recruit fresh talent to have a go at it. In addition to Finkel, the company announced three new staff writers today, two of whom are alumni both of Voice Media Group papers and the Columbia Journalism School, which has been a reliable source of reporters for the Voice in recent years.