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Posted by on Dec 31, 2008 in At TMV | 7 comments

Nat Hentoff Laid Off from Venerable Village Voice Newspaper

Perhaps the layoff of this one person, Nat Hentoff, more than most others does indeed signal the end of an era….that newspapers are, like the day the whales with confused sonar beached themselves and lay on the shores, not dead, but gasping for air, yet being unable to back up and return to their home places where they could thrive.

Look for more layoffs of prominent and long-enthroned writers, critics and journalists at other major media. The nut-cutter does not cut by kindness nor by fame, but by who costs the magazine/ newspaper the most in years accumulated, salaries, bennies, and pensions… and sometimes by who has been an unspeakable pain in the gluteals, as well.

Mr. Hentoff, the author of the book with the timeless phrase: Free Speech for Me, But Not For Thee, was let go from the Voice yesterday, along with two other employees, one a veteran there for 30 years, Miss Lynn Yaeger. Mr. Hentoff has been a major force at the Voice since 1958. That’s a heck of a lot of miles of rough road riding to cover stories in our ever-changing culture.

Mr. Hentoff stuck out as a weekly maverick event, even at a newspaper that was maverickesque in the extreme itself… Hentoff wrote many ‘right in your face pieces’ about how he saw the state of the union, New York and national politicos, and perhaps most of all be remembered a la Village Voice for his coverage of music made for deeper minds and souls: jazz, R&B, Soul, narrative American Folk, and more.

The New York Times, another paper that tanked in stock prices this past week, noted this today:

“Nat Hentoff wrote liner notes for every great musician that I’ve ever loved, from Billie Holiday to Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin, and that’s not even what he’s been writing about for the last 30 years,” said Tom Robbins, a Voice staff writer.

Mr. Hentoff, whom I once shared a stage with at a Public Television “town forum” on censorship at Book Expo USA, showed up there with his battered backpack slung over one shoulder, crushed cap that looked like it had been slept on, and in full craggy, outspoken and incredibly smart patois… he held forth.

Mr. Hentoff is, as he puts it, 83.5 years old, and will continue to write a weekly column for United Media syndicate and contribute pieces to The Wall Street Journal. His book At the Jazz Band Ball: 60 Years on the Jazz Scene, is forthcoming in 2009.

In the days when newspapers were strong, men met with men to tell them the news, face to face. Tellingly, Mr. Hentoff received the news of his layoff from the financially troubled Village Voice from his boss, Mr. Tony Ortega… by phone.

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  • Dave_Schuler

    Never thought I’d see the day—Nat Hentoff is practically synonymous with the Voice. Of course, I never thought I’d hear The Village Voice referred to as “venerable”, either.

  • At least he didn’t get fired via text message, which I have lately heard of happening.

  • Ghostdreams

    I cannot help but wonder if this has anything to do with Mr. Hentoff’s slow move to the right of radical in his politics.
    Not too long ago I read that after Nat came out as being “anti-abortion” (a few years ago) many people at Village Voice stopped speaking to him altogether.
    Then there’s his support of certain Bush policies ..
    Whether one disagree’s with another persons politics shouldn’t result in a person losing their job…
    (shaking head sadly)
    I’m really not sure about this “brave new world” … I don’t think I like what I’m seeing of it.
    As a matter of fact, I think it’s rather scary.

    My two cents worth,

    PS Regardless of all else, I wish yawl a HAPPY NEW YEARS, eh? 😀

  • archangel

    dear Dave… lol, you’re right… i think ‘venerable’ of most newspapers that have managed through recession after recession, vastly changing tax structures, mountains of paperwork, and the egos of many critters, for 50 or more years. At Village Voice, nearly my sole reading has been for its early insights into music, it’s in depth coverage of musicians who normally in payola times, as well as ‘the color line’ may not have ever been able to hold above the waterline. Same with Rolling Stone, I’d say ‘venerable’ now… their having survived the repeated swales… they are both ‘old’ institutions now, and served many who held similar viewpoints, I think. They may still, but in new configurations. I sense the days of going to a newstand or a B&N or a coffee shop india bookstore and seeing walls and walls of mags, may be a luxury of the past in the coming year. We’ll see. I hope for the best; there are some newspapers and mags that seem replicative, but there are some that seem as rootstock.


  • archangel

    dear Jilly, you’re right too. I read PW and Editor& Publisher, and Chron of Higher Ed updates most days to follow the industries I’m part of, and in some cases, the news media, including Gawker, have been leaked to before the ‘fire-ees” in book publishing, at university, and in newspapers… have been notified. No longer human. Somehow, cyborgian.


  • archangel

    dear Ghost dreams, and many blessings in the new year to you also.

    Your analyses of Mr. Hentoff’s values is interesting to me, in part because I believe we are on the verge of realizing there are very few thinkers in this world who have a ‘party line’ they follow without thought. I do know that attempting to ‘understand all sides’ rather than hop on one side or the other only, can be a dangerous position to take… but I think the former is often enough, a better way through… and many realize that right/wrong may not be an endpoint, but only a gateway to ‘what now?’ “what will be mose useful and effective now?” This is just my own way of thinking to keep me, for the most part, out of the doubleplusgood thinking we are all pressured to take up. lol

    As we, you and I and others, have noted many times in life, the fundamentalist viewpoint, the extreme-extreme viewpoint, whether in feminism, religion, politics, academia, law, etc… which may have been needed at one point for survival of life, over time can become thoughtless, rote, and institutional… too often leaving little room to include other viewpoints, but rather is quick and harsh in its condemnation and exclusion of non-conforming others.

    There’s a lot to recommend striving toward balanced views accompanied by non-mamby-pamby thought and action… all in one place. lol

    Centered. And fierce.

    As well as one can.


  • danofmass

    As a fellow alumnus (NU–’40E) I would like to know if Nat may be interested in writing about experiences in Japanese Prison Camps in the Philippines…or segments such as being rescued from behind the Japanese lines by our paratroopers, after three years of a wide variety of POW events from capture to living on starvation rations.

    Contact with Nat by email or phone will be appreciated.

    Daniel W. Miles, Brockton, MA, [email protected] or 508-583-3721

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