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.