Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The `Village Voice' Alternative Media Monopoly's Hidden History--Part 8

(Most of the following article originally appeared in the October 9, 1996 issue of Downtown/Aquarian Weekly. See below for parts 1-7.)

As early as January 1970, the Voice was already controlled by the husband of the CBS media conglomerate board chairman’s stepdaughter--who was also the nephew of a Columbia University trustee and CBS, Lockheed and Pentagon weapons research think-tank director—and by a Wall Street lawyer. And during the Carter Burden Era of the early 1970s, the Voice moved its then-corporate headquarters to University Place and 11th Street in Manhattan and began to operate in a much more corporate-oriented way. As The Great American Newspaper recalled:

“In March of 1970, the paper raised its price to 20 cents an issue. That was only the start of a new profit drive ordered by its absentee owner…The drive continued—the price went up to 25 cents in May 1973…The rates for ads increased…and…so did the number of them…The audience they had was capable of being milked far more than it already was in support of the Voice, overhead was low…and profits actually reached a high of 14 cents on the dollar in 1973…”

Although Burden paid one of the Voice’s founding owners, Dan Wolf, a $72,000 (in early 1970s money) salary to continue to be the newspaper’s editor, Voice writers were initially not paid much more under Burden’s ownership than they had been under the Voice’s original owners. Voice columnists, for instance, were paid less than $95 a week at a time when the Voice’s market value already exceeded $3 million in early 1970s money. This caused some Voice staff people to start grumbling and Voice staff salaries were finally increased somewhat near the end of the Carter Burden Era. Yet as late as March 20, 1974, Voice staff photographer Fred McDarrah made the following complaint in a letter to a Voice manager:

“First of all it is clear to me that the Voice can afford to give me more money because it is the largest paid weekly in the country and there is no two ways about it, it is profitable to somebody…The paper grows in circulation, advertising, income and future profits but I as an individual employee do not benefit by this…It is a poor excuse and a deception to say the Voice can’t pay more…”

The “somebody” to whom the Voice was extremely profitable during the Carter Burden Era was, of course, its then-owner: Carter Burden. By early 1974 it was discovered that he “was dipping into the paper’s cash reserves to liquidate his bank obligations,” according to The Great American Newspaper. The same book also described the reason the super-rich Voice owner suddenly needed to use the Voice’s surplus cash to pay off his personal debts, instead of to finance more investigative reporting:

“His level of annual income was more than handsome enough to suit all but a handful of people in the United States of America for the rest of their lives, but Carter Burden considered himself to be in financial trouble…To the existing credit crunch of his bank loans had been added, in recent months, the extra burden of heavy alimony for his now-divorced wife Amanda, and the decline of his stock portfolio…”

(Downtown/Aquarian Weekly 10/9/96)

Next: The Village Voice Alternative Media Monopoly’s Hidden History—Part 9