The Women's Voice p. 9

By: Tony Case New York City's Village Voice is an anomaly among newspapers
when it comes to hiring females for management positions sp.

IN AN INDUSTRY that's firmly the domain of men, the Village Voice is that unique newspaper where women constitute over half the work force and female executives outnumber their male counterparts three to one.
As the history of New York City's legendary leftist weekly, which turns 40 this year, is inextricably linked with the feminist movement and other social crusades of the 1960s and 1970s, women have long had a presence there. Only in recent times, though, has the paper made significant strides in putting them in positions of real power.
It's true the Voice's top decision makers, at least on the business end ? owner Leonard Stern, president and publisher David Schneiderman and executive vice president William Dwyer ? are men.
But the general manager, circulation director, editor in chief, art director, head of new media and technology, vice president of advertising sales and marketing, display and classified directors, head of target marketing and co-op advertising, and personnel director are women.
Despite much-touted efforts at newspapers to promote women and recruit minorities, the typical masthead still reads like the membership roster of an all-male, and exclusively white, club.
The industry's record of hiring women managers is as indisputably sorry as the Voice's history is remarkable, or so research indicates.
The most recent survey by the National Federation of Press Women, which tracks the standing of women in the field, found that they hold just 19.4% of the directing editorships of U.S. dailies, and that a mere 8.7% of the nation's newspaper publishers are female.
One might think the strident liberalism of the alternative press and the relative newness of the genre would open doors for women at the Voice and papers like it.
As Wendy Eickmeyer, vice president of the professional association Women in Communications, observed, "Alternative newspapers tend to be cutting-edge, leading trends . . . and they're a lot more modern. They haven't been around as long as the conservative dailies, where you're looking at an entrenched history ? and it's extremely difficult to overcome what's been there for so long."
But the Voice is an anomaly among its peers, as well as the daily press.
Of the 94 papers that belong to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies ? of which the Voice is not a member ? only 15 have chief editors who are female, and 21 have women publishers or co-publishers.
Why is the Voice so seemingly hospitable to women?
Some, including New York magazine managing editor Sarah Jewler, who used to hold the same post at the Voice, theorize it's a question of logistics, that Manhattan offers more opportunities than other parts of the country due to the fact there are a greater number of publications and larger pool of women in publishing there.
But Voice managers credit publisher Schneiderman, who they say is sex-blind when it comes to hiring.
"David Schneiderman doesn't see a difference in having a woman work for him or a man work for him," contends general manager Ava Seave. "And, because he is indifferent, he hires whoever is the best person."
Seave also acknowledged the paper's "conscientious" ? and powerful ? union for encouraging "hiring according to merit, not cultural preference."
Kathryn V. Thornton, the Voice's vice president of advertising sales and marketing, who has held management posts at two New Jersey dailies and at a company that develops computer software for newspapers, called Schneiderman "somewhat different from other publishers I've worked for in that he and the paper are very cognizant of differing lifestyles ? all the strange and beautiful mix that makes up everybody who's in the world."
The result is an atmosphere far less testosterone-driven than what Thornton has experienced in other jobs.
"There were some old-school people early on who said to me, 'What do you want? Why is it never enough for you? You should be home, making sauce,'" the executive recalled. "I was also told that I could be paid a salary to do a job ? and I was always paid very well in this industry ? but that I may not necessarily get the title because deals were made over urinals."
These swaggering attitudes simply aren't tolerated in the feminist climate Schneiderman has fostered.
"One of the things I love about working here is you just don't sit in meetings, even if it happens to be all men, and have remarks made about women privately, or off-color jokes," Schneiderman related in an interview at the Voice's offices in downtown Manhattan. "There's not this male locker-room atmosphere."
Schneiderman's progressivism is hardly anachronistic in this day and age. As Seave remarked, "He's the real '90s guy."
But his philosophy was shaped as far back as the 1970s, at the height of women's liberation, when, fresh out of Johns Hopkins, he was brought in as deputy to famed New York Times op-ed editor Charlotte Curtis.
Schneiderman remembered Curtis, now deceased, as being the only woman with any real authority at the paper at the time, and the sole female on the masthead. Curtis was actually the first woman ever on the Times masthead. (Despite the Times' emphasis on diversity in recent years, only two of its top-ranking news managers today are women, and all but one is white.)
Schneiderman's first boss had a palpable influence, not only on the young newspaperman, but on the Times and other dailies. Before overseeing the op-ed page, Curtis was a widely celebrated society editor, whose delicious, witty style was emulated by newspaper writers everywhere.
In her book, The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men and The New York Times, former Times reporter Nan Robertson described Curtis as the paper's first distaff media celebrity.
The Times sang her praises in house ads, and profiles about her appeared in Time, Newsweek and Cosmopolitan and on the TV networks.
"Her work was her life. The newspaper was her life. She was never off duty," Robertson said of Curtis, whom she christened "the bride of the New York Times."
Schneiderman insists he didn't set out to put women in high posts ? it's just that some of the more interesting management candidates he has seen over the years happened to be female. And, naturally, he adds, bringing in women and nurturing their careers creates a milieu attractive to other talented, qualified women.
Schneiderman notes that when he and other Voice managers travel to newspaper conventions, they invariably find themselves in rooms full of men. The publisher claims this is one reason he goes to the meetings ? to remind himself what the rest of the industry is like.
"We tend to take this environment for granted around here," he said.
But the Voice isn't so much a deviation as a foreteller, according to newspaper consultant and former Gannett editor Nancy Woodhull.
"You have this critical mass of well-educated women in journalism, whether on the business or editorial side, and you can expect this sort of thing at more newspapers," Woodhull predicted. "You're really seeing the future when you look at the Village Voice."
Schneiderman says those who really want to have women in leadership roles should take a cue from Nike and "Just Do It."
He advised his fellow publishers to "forget all the studies, all the meetings and task forces, and just hire women. Sitting there, coming up with study after study, is worthless."
The way Schneiderman sees it, putting females in key jobs is just plain good business.
"In my very biased opinion, I think this is a well-functioning place, with talented, capable people in business and editorial, and we've shown that this can happen seamlessly," he said. "This is not something that's controversial around here. I just don't think it's a big deal."
It would be terribly sexist ? not to mention downright wrong ? to paint the Voice as some kind of utopia just because women are running things.
After all, this is the Voice, whose colorful past is as much about staff uprisings, fistfights and union squabbles as left-wing ideals, co-founding father Norman Mailer and Pulitzer Prizes (it's won two) ? and those who have toiled there take great pride in the paper's cantankerous, chaotic reputation.
To Seave, the paper isn't better or worse because it's top-heavy with women, "just more egalitarian."
The management structure may be the result of Schneiderman's forward thinking, but women have always been a viable force at the Voice.
Karen Durbin, who worked there for 15 years and returned as editor in chief just over a year ago after serving as arts and entertainment editor at Mirabella magazine, says the Voice editorial staff was one-third female when she first came aboard in 1974 ? "and it felt then like the women were taking over."
She recalled that when it came time to hire an additional staff editor in 1975, several people in the newsroom, including Durbin herself, suggested that a woman be considered for the post.
One writer rolled her eyes. "Oh, no, not another woman," she moaned.
"We're overrun with them."
Durbin was stunned. There were only three female editors, including Durbin, on staff at the time.
"I looked at the masthead and thought, We are?" the editor said. "Then why do I feel like I'm carrying the sex on my shoulders?"
Durbin ? only the second woman to ever hold the top editor's job; Marianne Partridge, now editor of the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Independent, was the first ? points out that the Voice, with its "sort of self-consciously Bohemian sensibility" and "unconventional, nonsexist history," has always given women journalists a platform.
"This was when newspapers still had a women's page," the editor remembers. "But we had Barbara Long writing about bullfighting."
In his book, The Great American Newspaper: The Rise and Fall of The Village Voice, Kevin Michael McAuliffe called "ridiculous" the assertion that the paper's original editor, Dan Wolf, was sexist. "In fact," the author wrote, "if any generalization were to be made about his track record . . . it would have been that [Wolf] preferred to hire women for positions of power and responsibility."
There was some grousing under Wolf that none of the Voice's women writers were on staff. But, McAuliffe reported, of the paper's many contributors, there were only four men who enjoyed that distinction. Furthermore, the paper had a female associate editor and city editor, and many women working on the business side.
"Whatever else he did," McAuliffe said, "Dan Wolf exploited men and women without regard to sex."
TV and print journalist Joanna Wolper, who covered politics and crime for the Voice during the 1970s, said she had trouble relating to the feminist movement that helped define the decade because she was on equal footing with newsmen at the paper.
"Here I was, this 20-year-old college student, and I was covering Mario Cuomo and Rikers Island, and other women were going off to report on Central America," she noted. "I didn't feel any discrimination. I was encouraged to be a journalist and cover stories that were considered male territory."
Durbin made waves 20 years ago as an outspoken feminist voice. But assuming the editor's post was more like a splash of cold water in the face.
Editor Tina Brown was castigated for jazzing up the staid New Yorker after moving there from Vanity Fair in 1992.
In the spring of 1994, it was Durbin's turn.
Despite her well-known past contributions to the Voice, there was much hand-wringing among New York media watchers, who expressed concern that Durbin ? coming from a women's magazine, of all things ? would somehow soften the paper.
Durbin would assuredly spike foreign reportage, observers feared, to make way for glossy-magazine features. There were rumors she was going to dumb down the literary supplement, VLS. One male news staffer reportedly worried that he'd end up on the mascara beat.
Many of the Durbin detractors felt vindicated after an airbrushed and blow-dried Robert Redford was featured in full color on the front cover ? making it difficult to distinguish that week's Voice from People and other celebrity-oriented mags crowding the newsstands.
Then, last January, the New York Post ran a piece alleging that the Voice had become increasingly preoccupied with skin under Durbin's tutelage, pointing out that the paper had run pictures of naked or scantily clad people on several covers.
Durbin says she resented much of the chatter implying she was "some sort of frivolous, dumb broad."
She charged that "there was an enormous amount of sexism in the reaction to my becoming editor. I just thought . . . rude thoughts. I thought, Fuck you ? eat my dust. The proof is going to be in the paper."
The editor makes it clear that she's striving to build on the Voice's legacy, not tear it down. She expressed a desire to bring back the sense of "joie de vivre and impiousness" that existed at the Voice in its first quarter-century but that was lost in the 1980s.
During the Reagan-Bush era, the weekly "seemed to become sort of obsessed with death and destruction," in Durbin's view. "It seemed like the paper began wearing a hair shirt, waving a sign that said, 'Repent: The End is Near!'"
Voice media columnist James Ledbetter said, "I don't think Karen made any secret that she was going to try to lighten up the paper a little bit. She and others had a feeling the paper had become too dark, death-obsessed ? and profoundly cynical. She saw it as part of her mission to enliven it a bit with other elements."
In a long piece last year heralding Durbin's arrival, New York held that the Voice's "raison d'e?tre ? the struggle to redeem society, nothing less ? ended with Eugene McCarthy."
The paper, it charged, had been "slowly reduced, like much of progressive America, to scrimshaw-like detailing of modes of domination. That is, griping."
The magazine noted that mainstream publications such as the Times had begun to encroach on the Voice's territory, devoting more and more ink to popular culture and gay issues.
Durbin herself admits she had all but stopped reading the Voice in the 1990s. "It wasn't giving me what I needed, telling me what I needed to know," she said.
Ledbetter argues that readers still aren't getting all they need to know.
"The paper's coverage, where we once had strengths, has been diminished," he maintained.
Noting that the weekly has but one international correspondent, James Ridgeway, Ledbetter complained, "He can't cover the entire globe."
And while the weight women carry at the Voice is undeniable, debates about inadequate representation of women as well as of minority groups ? especially among the editorial ranks ? persist.
Even though Durbin is at the helm of the publication and scores of staff people and contributors are female, all the front-of-the-book political and media writers ? including Ledbetter ? are white men, which, the columnist says, doesn't sit well with a certain faction of the newsroom.
Features editor Lisa Kennedy feels that the Voice is not unlike daily newspapers in that "it tends to sort of predicate itself on a certain kind of masculinity: This is what journalism is. Journalism is the guy who gets the story. Journalism is Woodward and Bernstein. Journalism is hard stories, not soft stories."
Kennedy ? who is African-American and openly gay ? mentions the irony inherent in the ideals and actions of many who perceive themselves as socially conscious.
"You have this group of liberal people who think they can actually speak for everyone, so they don't think that they're not diverse because they're always thinking about diversity," she explained. "But they're not really noticing that there's no one here that represents diversity."
Kennedy said alternative papers such as the Voice are, at the moment, in much the same predicament as the Democratic Party.
"They want to do the right thing, but they want to run the show," she suggested, "and if the right thing is actually giving up the show, you're asking them, then, to do something they just can't quite figure out how to do."
This, Kennedy maintains, is why affirmative action ? nevermind efforts by conservative Republicans to outlaw the policy ? is imperative.
"With all the good will in the world," the editor said, "it's hard for someone to say, 'You know, I'll step down.'"
Schneiderman emphasized that "you can have alternative politics, this sort of left politics, and still have a place that's largely dominated by men. Here, there's a nice balance of diversified voices."
The publisher sees the Voice as a model, not just for newspapers, but for all businesses.
"I just think this is the way the world ought to be," he stated flatly. "This is the way companies should work. They should have a very good mix of men and women, and different races and ethnic groups ? because that's the world."
?(David Schneiderman, Publisher) [Photo & Caption]
?(Ava Seave, General Manager) [Photo & Caption]
?(Kathryn V. Thornton, Advertising exec) [Photo & Caption]
?(Karen Durbin, Editor in Chief)[Photo & Caption]
?(Lisa Kenney, Features editor) [Photo & Caption]


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