News Briefs

The Village Voice ends 63-year run

The Village Voice, one of New York City’s most prestigious alternative newspapers, shut down on Aug. 31. As owner of the paper Peter D. Barbey announced, “Due to, basically, business realities, we’re going to stop publishing Village Voice new material” (Gothamist, “The Village Voice Is Officially Dead.” 08.31.2018).

The Village Voice was founded in 1955 by Dan Wolf, Edwin Fancher and Norman Mailer as a weekly news and cultural paper. It was the country’s first alternative newsweekly, meaning it published editorial- and magazine-style pieces highlighting city culture more than general news.

Since then, for 63 years, the paper has served not only as a valuable resource to its readers but also as a launching pad for budding contributors. An article in Vox states, “The Village Voice has been an institution—not just for the city but for several generations of writers and critics whose careers were launched or inspired by the groundbreaking writing on art and popular culture found in its pages” (Vox, “The Village Voice Has Been Shut Down.” 08.31.2018).

The Village Voice has featured the work of some of the most revered critics and writers in the American canon, including Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, Katherine Anne Porter, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, Jonas Mekas, Andrew Sarris, Nelson George and Jill Johnston. Theater critic Hilton Als and novelist Colson Whitehead—both Pulitzer Prize recipients— began their careers at The Village Voice. It was also a home for investigative reporters Jack Newfield and James Ridgeway and for music critics Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau and Nat Hentoff. In addition, The Village Voice served as one of the few surviving New York City newspapers to cover such an eclectic range of topics—from cultural events in cinema, art and music to political investigations and countless editorials and reviews.

Barbey, the president of Reading Engle Company—which also owns the Reading Eagle newspaper and the WEEU radio station—acquired The Village Voice in 2015. His first experience with the newspaper occurred when he was a boarding school student at Northfield Mount Hermon in Massachusetts; he was attracted to its coverage of the mid-1970s New York rock scene and the film criticism of Andrew Sarris. When Barbey committed to invest in The Village Voice, he said, “I’m honored I had an opportunity to purchase it and be part of its future. It’s one of the world’s great journalistic brands. It deserves to survive and prosper. It’s important to a lot of people” (Gothamist).

However, the future did not turn out to be as bright as Barbey had expected. After two years, on Aug. 22, 2017, The Village Voice decided to stop publishing its physical printed copy, which had been available for decades from its many trademark red boxes on New York’s street corners. The paper focused on digital coverage instead, but just one year later, it closed its doors.

Staff members said that they were not surprised at this outcome. Film critic Bilge Ebiri commented that staff members were “prepared for the worst” after the cessation of print publication. Moreover, the paper’s last editor-in-chief, Stephen Mooallem, left The Village Voice in May and the position was never again filled (The New York Times, “The Village Voice, a New York Icon, Closes,” 08.31.2018).

The shutdown of The Village Voice is symptomatic of the ongoing decline in print journalism in New York City and nationwide. According to Tom Robbins, a former investigative journalist at The Village Voice, “It’s astonishing that this is happening in New York, the biggest media town in America” (The New York Times). Neil DeMause, who has devoted more than 20 years to the paper as an editor, lamented, “I’m deeply saddened as a consumer of media and a little bit scared as a New Yorker and an American that we are losing all these journalism outlets at a time when we need them more than ever” (The New York Times).

Amazon reaches $1 trillion valuation

After Apple made history in early August by becoming the first company to reach the $1 trillion mark in market value,, Inc., as of Sept. 4, is now the second company to have reached this same lofty valuation. Amazon’s shares rose as high as $2,050.50, 23 cents above the amount needed to push the company over the $1 trillion threshold.

Founded by its current CEO Jeff Bezos as an online bookseller in 1994, Amazon had comparatively slow growth in its initial years. Since 2011, however, it has expanded significantly by opening its marketplace to numerous small businesses, retailers and manufacturers and by capturing sales from other retail chains. In 2017, Amazon’s online store sales topped $108 billion. Sales through Amazon account for nearly half of the country’s online spending, and over 100 million people pay for its Prime membership program. Moreover, Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the United States (The Washington Post, “Amazon becomes the country’s second $1 trillion company,” 09.04.2018).

As managing director of Aegis capital Vic- tor Anthony commented, “For decades, investors have questioned Amazon’s ability to grow its profit margins…Now that it has several high-margin revenue streams, we’re seeing those doubts subside” (The Washington Post).

Several distinctive characteristics of Amazon have contributed to its success. First, its cloud computing services have played a role as a primary profit driver. Daniel Morgan, a portfolio manager at Synovus Trust in Atlanta, described Amazon’s cloud services as its “crown jewel.” He explained, “Amazon’s a little bit more dynamic than Apple because the iPhone has become more mature. Amazon’s cloud business is an extra growth driver that Apple doesn’t have” (Reuters, “Amazon touches $1 trillion, on pace to overtake Apple,” 09.05.2018).

Another cash cow is Amazon’s web services. By creating original electronic devices, investing in award-winning films and shows and renting computer power on its servers to other companies, Amazon Web Services produced more than $17 billion in revenue in 2017. Furthermore, Amazon’s advertising business brought in $2.2 billion for the company in 2018, more than double what it did in 2017. Finally, Amazon is expanding into new retail spheres such as groceries, pharmaceuticals and home technology. In 2017, the company acquired grocery chain Whole Foods Market and announced plans to purchase online pharmacy PillPack in summer 2018. In doing so, Amazon is essentially trying to become a one-stop shop for millions of American households.

“The common connection between Apple and Amazon is their ability to get us to think about them every day—whether through commerce or services,” commented Brendan Witcher, an analyst for market research firm Forrester. “They are both almost seen as necessary as a utility in some consumer’s [sic] lives” (The Washington Post).

Manager of Baron Capital Opportunity Fund Michael Lippert reflected, “They’ve proven they can make it work. They’re spending a lot on all these things to build and enforce their competitive advantages” (The Wall Street Journal, “Amazon Hits $1 Trillion Valuation,” 09.04.2018).

However, some prominent political figures have raised concerns about Amazon’s massive size and reach. For example, President Trump has expressed dissatisfaction with Amazon’s effect on traditional retail and accused the company of underpaying for postage through the U.S. Postal Service. He has repeatedly attacked the company on Twitter, asserting that many believe there may be antitrust concerns related to its growth. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has also criticized Amazon for working conditions at the company’s warehouse. Sand- ers plans to introduce legislation that would require large employers, including Amazon, to reimburse the government for any federal benefits collected by their workers (The Wall Street Journal).

In spite of concerns about Amazon’s seemingly inexorable growth, the company marches forward with its expansion, already adding two more companies to its list of acquisitions in 2018. Additionally, Amazon is actively search- ing for the host city for its second headquarters, Amazon HQ2.

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