Fifty years ago tonight, The Village Voice did not exist. Then on October 26, 1955, it did—just like that. And if all goes according to the plans announced late Sunday, in a few months the Voice will be part of a new national alternative newspaper giant. Just like that.
After months of buzz and rumor, Village Voice Media with its six weeklies is seeking to merge with New Times, the other big daddy in the world of alternative papers, executives of the two firms revealed. If the Justice Department approves the deal, the combined chain would encompass publications in 17 of the nation’s biggest markets. The DOJ is likely to take more than a cursory glance at the merger, since its last encounter with the chains was the consent decree it demanded after the two firms swore a sort-of noncompetition pact in the Los Angeles and Cleveland markets. Village Voice Media CEO David Schneiderman says the merger will probably take two to six months to gain a federal green light.
At issue in the review will be whether the new company would crowd smaller alternative weeklies out of the advertising market. The New York Times reports that the chain’s publications “would represent roughly 25 percent of the 7.6 million in weekly circulation” for members of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. According to The New York Times:
“The merged company, which will continue to use the name Village Voice Media, is effectively 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 CEO Jim Larkin and executive editor Mike Lacey would be in the drivers’ seats of the combined operation. Combined revenue would be about $180 million annually. “It just makes us a much stronger company,” says Schneiderman, noting the competition Voice papers are facing these days for local advertising.
Since 2000, the Voice and its sister papers (LA Weekly, OC Weekly, Seattle Weekly, Minneapolis City Pages, and Nashville Scene) have been owned by a consortium that includes Goldman Sachs, investment bankers Weiss, Peck & Greer, and the Trimaran Fund. They were the latest in a chain of bosses running from the founders to city councilman Carter Burden, New York magazine impresario Clay Felker, right-wing media baron Rupert Murdoch, and pet product and real estate magnate Leonard Stern.
Now another owner (er, merger partner) looms. Will things change for Voice readers? There’ve been two schools of thought among employees during these months of rumor and counter-rumor. One is that New Times might not like the Voice’s inherent lefty bent, and might try to change it. The other is that business is business and no one’s going to mess with a product that sells (see Murdoch, Rupert). And the Voice sells, or at least its free copies get picked up, to the tune of around 250,000 a week. Schneiderman says “nothing” will change, except that the papers will have “more resources.”
As for the workers who sells ads, layout pages, take pictures, edit copy, and write the stuff that goes into the papers, those who work at two of the papers involved—the Voice and LA Weekly—have union contracts, and Schneiderman says those will be honored.