What’s changed, obviously, is that the Village Voice is now run by the people who used to run New Times. And that's exactly why Ortega's tenure promises to be a lengthy one. Village Voice Media executive editor Mike Lacey hailed Blum as “one of us” when he was hired last fall, but that cozy sentiment didn’t quite ring true: while Blum’s résumé included stints at Esquire, the New York magazine, and the New York Sun, he’d never worked at a New Times paper. Neither had Wemple. Consequently, neither was really suited to foisting the New Times ethos on New York.
Ortega, however, is wholly a creature of New Times. After leaving academia at the age of 32 (he’d been a college English instructor), Ortega started freelancing for Phoenix New Times and became a staffer in 1995. He subsequently wrote for the now-defunct New Times Los Angeles, returned to the Phoenix paper as associate editor, jumped to the Kansas City Pitch as managing editor, and then moved on to Florida.
You don’t advance in an organization like New Times without buying into its guiding principles, and Ortega is no exception. In 2005, for example, he posted a half-serious, half-satirical open letter in defense of New Times’ methods at the Association of Alternative Weeklies Web site. Here's a taste.
Yes, I'm a cardholding member of the Evil Empire, a New Times hack who’s been at it for ten years, the boogeyman every Birkenstock-wearing hippie burnout still clinging to a paycheck at alt-weeklies sees in his sleep, coming to take his job and turn his paper into a soulless corporate moneymaker.
But Kansas City was a tough case. . . . Extreme measures were the only solution. Sure, we may have gone a little blood simple on the place, the way we started paying writers actual living wages so they didn't have to run pizza-delivery routes while trying to report stories. And demanding that writers look for surprising and counterintuitive angles rather than pushing their personal political biases at readers? Like I said, we were hardasses.
With Ortega helming the Voice, Lacey and the other New Times alums who now run VVM can be assured their vision for the paper will be realized. Which means? Less unmitigated liberalism. More emphasis on narrative journalism for its own sake. And no festering belief that the Voice — because it’s the Voice, and because it’s in New York — should somehow be exempt from the New Times template. (Asked by the Phoenix to discuss his to-do list for the Voice, Ortega demurred. “I'm literally sitting here with this week’s Broward-Palm Beach proofs on my desk, trying to put the final touches on the issue,” he said Tuesday. “I'm just meeting the staff for the first time Friday. It would just be silly to try to do that.”)
Yes, Blum bucked Lacey & Co. by refusing to run that now-infamous Pazz & Jop intro earlier this year. And yes, his firing last Friday was probably planned well in advance. (The comments on race and hiring at the Voice that Blum reportedly made at a February 28 staff meeting seem to have been pretty innocuous; also, VVM new media honcho — and ex-Phoenix editor — Bill Jensen showed up in New York on Wednesday, two days before he announced Blum's firing to the staff.)