Louis Menand’s account of the early history of the Village Voice in this week’s New Yorker concludes with the following observation:
More than other magazines and newspapers, the Voice was doing what the Internet does now long before there was an Internet. The Voice was the blogosphere — whose motto might be “Every man his own Norman Mailer” — and Craigslist fifty years before their time. The Voice also helped to create the romance of the journalistic vocation by making journalism seem a calling, a means of self-expression, a creative medium.
Menand has it about half-right, I’d say. What was blogospheric about the Voice? For one thing, the way its writers were free to speak their minds, and to squabble with each other in public, in the pages of their own publication. These spats were part of the theater of the thing, and other publications looked down their noses at them. Also, decades before the term “MSM” had been coined, the Voice (in its Press Clips column) pioneered the sort of aggressive take-down of conventional journalism’s missteps that’s a blogging staple today.
But the Voice plainly wasn’t the blogosphere. It was too small, for one thing, too parochial. It did only a tiny bit of “what the Internet does” today, in terms of both quantity and variety. It was a newspaper: Its writers got paid, and there were editors, and you had to send them clips and a resume if you wanted your stuff published.
That’s what I did. As a young freelance journalist fresh out of college, I got my first break, my first pro byline, from M. Mark at the Voice’s book review section. She liked a piece I submitted — not well enough to run it, but enough to toss me a book to review. It was an experience I remain thankful for. But it had absolutely no similarity to what I’d do if I were 22 today, with the opportunity to publish open in my browser.
Menand is right, though, about the romance part. The belief that the form of journalism could stretch to contain a far wider spectrum of creative self-expression than the newsroom oldtimers were attempting incubated at the Voice. I inherited it from my college-newspaper mentors and carried it through my career. In the 1970s and ’80s this approach still had a renegade quality; today it is pretty much the norm, from blogs to the New York Times.
- January 6, 2009 @ 13:30:49 [Current Revision] by Scott Rosenberg
- January 6, 2009 @ 13:26:36 by Scott Rosenberg