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LOSING A VOICE: “To say I was blindsided is to understate it,” said Wayne Barrett, the former Village Voice columnist who said Tuesday that he was laid off from the alternative weekly. “I thought in terms of the work product [Village Voice editor Tony Ortega] was extremely pleased.”
Barrett wrote a cover story on Albany lobbyists in mid-November, and Ortega sent him e-mails saying how much he loved the story. Barrett was hard at work on another cover article — and then, on a late December day, he was called into the Voice’s office and told he was being laid off.
“I don’t know any reason other than I’m an expensive ticket item,” said Barrett.
Tom Robbins, the Voice’s metro columnist for the last 10 years, wasn’t happy about the decision and quit in response. Robbins told WWD that he didn’t want to work at a place that would give Barrett the heave-ho.
“If Wayne hadn’t been let go, I doubt very much I would be leaving as well,” said Robbins.
Both got severance packages.
The Barrett and Robbins departures are the first bit of bad news for a paper that has gone through a relatively tranquil few years. For a period before that, the Voice seemed like one of the unhappiest places to work in New York media: A rotating cast of editors, a rotating cast of sex columnists, layoffs, big-name departures.
But after the news of the Barrett and Robbins departures surfaced Tuesday, familiar cries resurfaced: No reason to read the Village Voice now.
“The Voice has always had that internal drama,” said Ortega. “I’m glad the focus has been more on the stories, but it’s always going to happen. It’s part of the DNA of this place.”
Last week, Ortega posted a list on the Village Voice’s Web site of the 20 most-read stories of 2010. None of Barrett’s nor Robbins’ articles made the cut. For instance, Robbins wrote several stories about the development of a mosque near Ground Zero, which didn’t make the top 20, yet a story by ex-staffer Foster Kamer, with the search-engine-optimization-friendly headline of “Dear Rest-of-America: Why You’re Wrong About the Ground Zero Mosque” landed at No. 17.
Robbins said he doesn’t have a job lined up. Barrett said he was becoming a fellow at The Nation Institute and would try out freelancing for a while before he decides if it’s time to go on the job hunt. — John Koblin