Paper Route

Buying and selling and buying the Voice

That was, of course, because Rupert could see the green. "He's a bottom-line guy, and he knows if he tried to turn it into some weekly version of the New York Post, he would kill this golden property that was a great source of revenue," recalls Wayne Barrett, "so he basically left the paper alone." And then he sold it, freeing cash that helped Rupert launch Fox.

1985–2000: Leonard Stern
[Sale price: $55 million]

The first Voice office, 22 Greenwich Avenue, 1960
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
The first Voice office, 22 Greenwich Avenue, 1960

Leonard Stern, one of the Forbes 400 richest people, saw the Voice "as a really interesting business challenge," recalls Schneiderman, "but he did understand how important it was for the editor and the staff to be able to write what they want to write." Voicers say Stern never interfered in the running of the paper. He also took the bold move of making the Voice free.

It was a risky gambit for Stern to forgo newsstand revenue. But it was necessary, Schneiderman says, because circulation was falling due to a shrinking number of newsstand sale sites. And it paid off.

However, going free might have been risky for the paper in another way. It's widely acknowledged that nowadays, the Voice isn't as influential as it once was. Perhaps that's because a free paper isn't taken as seriously in the rest of the media world. Or perhaps it's because the country has moved away from the liberal politics the paper has usually espoused, or that the media landscape is too crowded for any outlet to have the same clout as in the good old days.

2000–present: Weiss, Peck & Greer
[Sale price: $170 million]

Nowadays, when people ask, "Who owns the Voice?" you have to set aside time to answer. Stern sold out for a neat profit to a group of investors, including the investment firm Weiss, Peck & Greer, Trimaran Fund II (a private equity firm linked to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Com-merce), and several others. Weiss, Peck & Greer is itself owned by Robeco Group, a European-based entity worth $100 billion that, among other things, holds a chain of community newspapers and a set of radio stations.

Just over 24 hours before this anniversary issue went to press, Village Voice Media (which includes the Voice and papers in L.A., Minneapolis, Nashville, Orange County, and Seattle) announced its plans to merge with New Times, which has 11 papers and is the country's biggest alternative-newspaper chain. The deal is subject to Department of Justice approval, a process that could take up to six months because the DOJ is expected to request additional information from the companies.

Wolf, Burden, and many of the other characters in the Voice's story are dead. Many of the current staffers were born years after the founders sold out. And among readers and former readers, one often hears a lament for days gone by. The newspaper where people used to write all in lowercase and smoke reefer in the office now has cubicles and a dental plan.

There are pluses and minuses in getting older, for papers and readers alike. One of them is selective memory. Ross Wetzsteon once said of the paper where he wrote and edited for many years, "No matter what anybody says about how great the Voice was in the old days, we published a lot of garbage back then."

Folks only remember the great stuff. Lucky us.

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