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The Voice from Beyond the Grave

Actually, Lacey, who described himself as “this year’s Visigoth, the new asshole in charge,” his longtime partner, Jim Larkin, and their New Times Media corporation weren’t exactly taking over completely. They were merging with Village Voice Media, which includes the Voice and five other “alternative” newspapers, most notably the L.A. Weekly. New Times was getting 62 percent of what was being called the “business combination,” leaving VVM with the other 38 percent. Subject to Justice Department approval (more on this below), the merger will create a seventeen-entity mini-empire reputedly valued at $400 million. Together, the NT-VVM papers will reach as many as 4 million readers, dispensing “alt” staples like club listings, movie reviews, and reams of smudgy sex ads, along with local and a smattering of national reporting.

This was a long way away from 22 Greenwich Avenue and a dime at Union newsstand. Still, as Village Voice management changes go, Lacey’s visit to the paper’s offices at 36 Cooper Square was far from classic. Nothing iconic happened as with the 1974 Felker takeover, when star writer Ron Rosenbaum ripped up his (meager) paycheck in the New York editor’s face, saying there was “no amount of money” that could make him work for “the piece of shit” the Voice was certain to become. Rosenbaum then stormed out, a dramatic gesture, topped only by Felker’s puzzled reaction: “Who was that?”

Later, in the great rebellion of 1977–78 that greeted the Murdoch regime, the Voice staff commandeered the office in support of editor Marianne Partridge. Partridge had been hired only two years before by the previously despised Felker, but in Voice Land, dread of the future usurper always exceeds the virulent hatreds directed at the current one. Murdoch’s choice for editor, David Schneiderman, was barred from the newsroom, forced to cool his muted jets for six months in an office on Fifth Avenue.

The great takeover of 2005 inspired no rampart-mounting. No one at the Voice seemed to know much about the impending merger, and when the announcement did come, staffers had to read about it in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the Voice’s once lively “Press Clips” column apparently not deemed worthy of a scoop. Few were even aware Lacey was in the building.

This was too bad, since Michael Lacey, Jim Larkin, and their New Times papers offer much potential fodder for traditionalist Voice fear and loathing. First off, there was the old Clear Channel saw, how the New Times–VVM merger would further inhibit the already highly constrained alt-media world, all but stamping out the woolly idiosyncrasy prized by what back in the Stone Age used to be called “the underground press.” This owed to the troubling “cookie- cutter” nature of the New Times model, the fact that NT publications in such disparate locales as Broward County and Dallas tended to bear a strong resemblance to each other. Critics charge this is all part of NT’s lean, mean anti-local bias orchestrated in no small part by its national-advertising arm, the Ruxton Media Group. Politically, the NT approach also raised hackles. Lacey detractor Bruce Brugmann, editor of the independent San Francisco Bay Guardian, summed up NT’s stance to the current political landscape as “frat-boy libertarian, leering neoconism. They don’t endorse political candidates. To them it is one big, cynical joke.”

Beyond this, despite a consensus that New Times often published excellent local investigative stories, there was the sense that Lacey and Larkin’s papers were vicious corporate sharks. “These guys don’t want to compete, they want to annihilate you, put you out of business,” Brugmann said. This recklessness sometimes spilled over into the copy itself, such as in the recent Arthur Teele Jr. tragedy in Miami. The Miami New Times ran a story saying that Teele, a city commissioner indicted on corruption charges, had had numerous meetings with male prostitutes. The piece, called “Tales of Teele: Sleaze Stories,” was based primarily on specious, unproven police reports. Many considered the story unnecessarily scurrilous, especially after Teele committed suicide the day it appeared.

Lacey acknowledges the Teele story as a disaster. “You can’t publish unsubstantiated police reports. We were irresponsible.” A month later, the Miami New Times editor of eighteen years, Jim Mullin, resigned.

But you rarely find Mike Lacey on the defensive. Born in Binghamton, New York, son of a construction worker, attendee of Essex County Catholic schools in Newark, which makes him by far the bluest-collared owner in Voice history, Lacey likes to mix it up. Verbally, physically, emotionally, it is all good to him. In response to Bruce Brugmann’s attacks, Lacey published a many-thousand-word rejoinder in his Oakland-based East Bay Express titled “Brugmann’s Brain Vomit.” Warming up by comparing Brugmann to “a needy ferret blogging,” Lacey called his fellow editor “a bull-goose loony” and wondered why he was even wasting his precious time “engaging a homeless paranoid in conversation about the contents of his shopping cart.” For good measure, Lacey fingered one of Brugmann’s backers as the late Donald Werby, who in 1989 was “indicted on 22 counts of having sex with underage prostitutes and paying for it with cocaine,” the same Donald Werby who was “a friend and patron of Anton LaVey,” who “underwrote LaVey’s efforts in the Church of Satan (no, really).”