New Village Voice owner hires an old hand as his plans start to take shape

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Newspaper racks for the Village Voice. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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Three months after a little-known Pennsylvania newspaper mogul named Peter Barbey bought the Village Voice for an undisclosed sum, the billionaire's budding ownership is starting to take shape.

On Friday, the Voice announced that 70-year-old theater critic and former longtime Voice writer Michael Feingold will return to the paper's pages with a twice-monthly arts column starting Jan. 13. Feingold, who was laid off by the paper's previous owners in a May 2013 downsizing, was one of many legendary Voice journalists who exited the 60-year-old struggling free weekly in recent years, most of them with pink slips in hand.

"His institutional knowledge of the local cultural scene is something the Voice has missed," editor in chief Tom Finkel told POLITICO.

The Voice also formalized the appointment of a senior film critic, former Time Out New York film editor Melissa Anderson, who was hired in November.

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Other developments have played out behind the scenes.

For one thing, Barbey, the 58-year-old president and CEO of Pennsylvania's Reading Eagle, has jacked up the Voice's circulation to 90,000; as of June 2015 circ was at about 70,000.

In 2005, when the Voice was acquired by New Times (later renamed Village Voice Media), circulation was around 250,000, according to the Alliance for Audited Media; the vast majority of those papers circulated as free copies distributed around the New York metropolitan area in the Voice's signature red newsboxes.

Under Barbey, whose family's $6.1 billion fortune puts them at No. 48 on Forbes' 2015 list of America's richest families, the Voice also has created a quarterly style supplement called Seen, a move that publications employ to attract high-end advertisers.

Reached by phone Friday, Barbey said the inaugural edition of Seen had made money and that he believes the Voice's circulation can get back into the six figures before long. He said he's in the process of firming up the 2016 budget, which will inform future staffing decisions.

Barbey has said he plans to invest significantly in the paper, which has been diminished to a shell of its former self over the past decade through aggressive cost-cutting. He's also interested in eventually moving the Voice back to its spiritual home in Manhattan's Village from its current headquarters in the Financial District; Barbey himself just closed on a $26 million pied-à-terre in the Village.

Next week, the Voice will release its annual Pazz & Jop music poll, celebrating the yearly feature with a party for the first time. The event will be held at the Downtown New York concert venue Webster Hall.