The company that owns the venerable and iconic Village Voice — now in its 50th year — will merge with the nation’s largest alternative weekly chain, New Times Media, to form an alternative media company with 17 papers and a combined weekly circulation of 1.8 million, about 25% of the national alt weekly total.
The new company will be called Village Voice Media with an estimated combined value of $400 million and annual revenues of $180 million (both companies are privately held and don’t report financial results).
Though called a “merger,” the action, which must receive approval from antitrust regulators, is in essence an acquisition by New Times, whose current shareholders will own 62 percent of the new company and hold five of nine board seats. New Times chief executive officer Jim Larkin will be CEO of the new company, and New Times executive editor Michael Lacey will be executive editor of the combined operation. Village Voice CEO David Schneiderman will be President of Village Voice Digital, the new Internet portal the combined company would develop.
The Village Voice, which now owns five papers in addition to its New York City flagship, was founded in 1955 by Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher and Norman Mailer and quickly established a reputation for no-holds-barred reporting, criticism, and left-leaning politics. The New York paper has received three Pulitzer Prizes and the George Polk Award, as well as Front Page Awards and Deadline Club Awards, and its website has twice been recognized as one of the nation’s premier online sites, receiving the National Press Foundation’s Online Journalism Award and the Editor and Publisher Eppy Award for best U.S. weekly newspaper online.
New Times, the nation’s largest publisher of alternative weeklies with eleven newspapers, was founded in 1970 by Lacey and others at Arizona State University.
There is some potential for culture clash as New Times, known for its investigative reporting, has always remained officially apolitical in contrast to the Voice’s unapologetic liberalism. Schneiderman told his own employees that “nothing” will change, except that the papers will have “more resources.”
Jane Levine, a former publisher of The Chicago Reader who is now on the paper’s board, told the NY Times, “There may well be changes to the content of the papers being bought, and there will be people who think that they will be negative, in part because New Times doesn’t endorse political candidates. If you think the loss of the endorsements is a big negative change, you won’t be happy with this deal.”
Levine had earlier told the Boston Phoenix, “I think [New Times is] committed to uncovering wrongdoing … I think it’s pretty clear that they’re bulldogs about uncovering corporate or governmental malfeasance.”
The new company says it will continue to “challenge mainstream sensibilities and provide active readers with in-depth local news coverage, irreverent humor, spirited criticism, magazine-style feature writing and the most comprehensive local music, dining, arts and events listings.”
In the deal is approved by regulators, Village Voice Media would have papers and websites in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Seattle, St. Louis, Orange County, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Kansas City, Nashville, the East Bay including Oakland and Berkeley, and the Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area.
The approval process will not be a rubber stamp as the U.S. Department of Justice, the California and Ohio Attorney General’s Offices, and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office charged that in October 2002, New Times Media and Village Voice Media cut an illegal deal under which New Times would close its Los Angeles paper if VVM would shutter its weekly in Cleveland. This left New Times with a monopoly in Cleveland and VVM with a monopoly in Los Angeles.
The U.S. Justice Department alleged 12 specific violations, including “allocat[ing] territories and customers among themselves for the readership of, and advertising in, alternative newsweeklies” in L.A. and Cleveland. The complaint also alleged that the two chains sought to block future competition in the markets.
New Times and VVM signed a consent decree ending the case, which required both companies to help “create new competitors” to their Los Angeles and Cleveland papers by selling assets, including the right to use the names of the two closed papers, the Cleveland Free Times and New Times L.A.