A Farewell to the New York Press

Until last week's sad announcement that the New York Press was printing its final issue, I could never have imagined NY as a one alt-weekly town. From the time that I was old enough to care and read about the city where I spent my adolescence, there were two competing street boxes on every major corner in Manhattan – both of which I ambushed as a first order of business every time the 7 train spit me up into Gotham. There was a thrill to the sex and language in the Village Voice and its scrappy rival – in the least they were better entertainment than the free Korean papers in my native Queens.

In high school I'd just skim the pages, check for record store deals, and jerk off to the escort ads. A progressive educator and all-around liberal soul, my mom was happy to see what she thought was a budding interest in good writing. Smart enough to realize that the Press and Voice were essentially porno mags that I could leave in the bathroom, I played along. Years later, when I began to actually read writers like Nat Hentoff, and ask questions about politics and school reform, my mom was pleased, and inspired me to dream about one day scoring bylines of my own.

So imagine my disappointment when, soon after moving to New York for grad school, then-Village Voice arts editor Chuck Eddy beat a pitch of mine into the pavement, blasting my idea as “the most common kind of cliché in music writing,” or something equally ironic. Whether he was right or wrong, Eddy's real message – that I was out of my league, a third-rate intellect with pseudo-subterranean rap tastes – ultimately registered. That's not how I digested the jab back then, but in my gut I realized there was no place for me among most of the writers I admired. And so I switched allegiances.

My Press preference came just after Jeff Koyen took over the NYP, and helped the paper grow brass balls that clanked when you turned the pages. Recruits like Matt Taibbi began knee-capping the establishment weeklies that set lame parameters, creating one of the great alt-to-the-alt platforms in modern media history. Best of all for me was that these guys were accessible, just an email away thanks to people I'd befriended in likeminded forums like The Black Table. And when I finally partied with some NYP guys, we even had one thing in common: we all thought Chuck Eddy was a dickhead.

The NYP instilled in me a sense of how to call bullshit on nonsense that's widely accepted as cool, or clever, or delicious – no matter how rare or indie it is, and regardless of consensus in the so-called alt media. As so many writers lost their senses amidst New York's post-9/11 “Fuck Bush” redundancy, the NYP asked uncomfortable questions – however humorously – and earned some respectable enemies. At the time, I was wasting money at the New School Graduate Faculty, where blasting the Press was akin to a fashion statement. I left that miserable bastion of bullshit after one semester, mainly to protest the same hypocritical knee-jerk liberalism that guys like Alex Zaitchik were throwing haymakers at.

Since last week's final issue, the paper's friends, fans, and veterans have no doubt produced countless testaments and status updates to mourn the loss, telling stories about what made the Press stand out in a city of 8 million people and twice that many publications. I have two vignettes of my own, the first of which dates to September 2003, around the time that Chuck Klosterman released his middlebrow opus, “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” I dug the populist prophet enough to attend a reading in Park Slope, but not everyone was on the bandwagon.

Earlier that week, the NYP had run a busted close-up of Klosterman under the headline “The Flip-Flop King.” On the inside, before the character assassination, hitman Mark Ames went so far as to describe the writer's face as a “literal ass,” “his tiny, red mouth . . . a sphincter twisting to a pained close 40 seconds after taking a brutal pounding from Peter North.” When someone at the reading asked about the insult, Klosterman dodged it, simply responding: “All I know is that if anybody cared about what that writer had to say, he wouldn't be writing for New York Press.”

Klosterman, who I'm still a fan of, may have looked cool to his bespectacled Brooklyn groupies that day. But thinking back, it's hard to deny that the piece triggered a stigma against the "literal ass" that elite hipsters still harbor til this day. As for Ames, the fearless author backed up his bark, becoming a top non-fiction writer in his own right. It all added up to the Press becoming something that people did care about, a phenomenon revealed in spades by the reaction to Taibbi's 2005 bombshell, "The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope.”

My other standout memory has to do with the first, last, and only time that I contributed to the NYP. I had already moved to Boston, and was working with my own underdog gang at the Weekly Dig. But an opportunity arose to review a badass show down in New York, so I reached out to editor Jerry Portwood, who was cool enough to give me a shot. It was a complete fail, as one of the artists, angry with my write-up, threatened to exact revenge. I smoothed things over, apologized to Portwood, and took the cue to never contact them again. But I didn't hold a grudge.

As a young writer who still has faith in the alternative media, and who can't imaging working in another lane, the death of any rogue institution is beyond disheartening. No doubt the Press was past its edgy prime, overdue for an editorial enema. But the paper still played an important role, if not always in news and polemics, then as a reliable vehicle for pop culture contrarians. None of that matters if the bills aren't paid; still if the ownership is truly determined to keep the fight alive online, as they've claimed, they should consider the wisdom that former editor-in-chief Koyen kicked in a Black Table interview back in 2004:


The alt-weekly model is dead or dying. Look through the country's other free weeklies, and you'll find the same unimaginative swill not just across the markets, but from within any given paper's own lifespan. They're recycling each other and themselves, which is just a heart-breaking waste of print . . . Their stance as the proud voices of straight-thinking liberal minds is laughably simplistic and completely out of touch with the younger folk who must be converted into readers if those papers want to survive.



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