Yesterday was a sad day for the once-illustrious Village Voice, which lost two of its legendary muckraking reporters, Wayne Barrett and Tom Robbins. Barrett, who has been with the paper since the Koch administration, says he was let go for budgetary reasons; he'll move on to become a fellow at The Nation Institute, a liberal nonprofit media group. And this morning Robbins, a dogged and indispensable political reporter who first started at the Voice in '80s, tells us why he resigned.
It was initially reported you quit in protest, that the case? I don't know why everyone's hung up on this thing. Look: If Wayne Barrett was still at the Voice I would be too. I never would have thought of heading out the door if he was there. I wish the paper well, I hope it succeeds, but the decision that they could do without the greatest digger of investigative journalism says a lot about the direction they want to go in.
Barrett reportedly made six figures. Is it realistic for journalists to expect that much given the harsh realities of today's print media landscape? Abso-fucking-lutely. Don't you value your work? The biggest hole reporters are digging themselves into this day and age is working for nothing or close to nothing. TV guys make a lot more money that that. It's crazy that people are willing to work for nothing or next to nothing. It's almost back the way it was before Heywood Broun founded the newspaper guild in the 1930s during Depression. That was a great union; now it's just a shell of itself.
What's next for you? I don't know! I'm a New Yorker. I'll keep writing about New York.
Were you happy with [Village Voice Editor-in-Chief Tony] Ortega's stewardship? I'm a Yankee fan who always hated Steinbrenner. I consider it a point of pride to be mad at the boss. I have had fights with all of them over the years, Tony included.
Barrett seemed to hint at the deleterious impact of blogs on print media and journalism. What do you think of the increasing number of blogs that assimilate other publications' reportage? I don't know who's to blame. We are turning into an echo chamber in which stories of small value get bounced around over and over, as opposed to a story with meat on its bones. I found it startling that the web version of some snarky item about the Ground Zero mosque could be so popular. I wrote about the mosque too; it was the only column I wrote that praised Mike Bloomberg. But if you look at the 20 most-read stories of the year, one of them was just a map of where the mosque is, with a bunch of fuck yous. I just don't see that as journalism. I'm not blaming the writers, but the matrix of advertising seems to be shifting toward that, and snark is winning the day. Don't get me wrong; there's lots of good stuff on the blogs. But a lot of it is not journalism.
With the loss of investigative reporters like you and Barrett, do you think other publications will fill the void to cover stories you two may have broken, or will the public simply be less informed? One of the things that's happening in the dailies is that the news hole in the newspapers is so small that they ignore each others' big stories. If they can't make the story their own, they don't pick it up. The CityTime scandal is a perfect example. Juan Gonazalez started beating the drum on this a year ago and it was ignored. I know from experience when I've had exclusives that the dailies just don't pick up on it. They say, that's Robbins's story, that's Gonzalez's story. They don't do anything with it until there are arrests. We used to write the stories that got the arrests. But now everyone is turning their back on the big stories and talking about the trivial ones and what goes on in media and this and that. Case in point: Look how many people are writing about two old-timers leaving the Voice, compared to how many were actually writing about the muck that we were raking!