Longtime 'Village Voice' Columnist Michael Musto Mourns The Paper's Closure
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Alternative weekly papers from San Francisco to Baltimore have struggled in recent years. And now one of the most storied of them all is shutting down altogether. The Village Voice in New York is no more.
The paper started in 1955 and counted Norman Mailer among its owners. Over the years, it groomed a staff of muckraking investigative journalists, top-notch music writers and Pulitzer Prize winners. Friday was its last day. Among its mourners is Michael Musto. He joined the paper in the mid-'80s and became known for his nightlife column "La Dolce Musto." He's on the line from New York. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL MUSTO: Thank you.
CORNISH: So how are you feeling about the paper shutting down? Are you reaching out to other writers?
MUSTO: Well, yeah. We're all a family. I do feel it was inevitable. First of all, print journalism was declining through the years, and the Voice abandoned its print version last year and became Web-only. But I didn't even think, necessarily, the Web version would last that long, mainly because the underground and the alternative point of view has been subsumed by the mainstream.
When the Village Voice started, and even when I started in the '80s there, there wasn't cable TV, there wasn't Internet, there wasn't a plethora of media devoted to the underground and to alternative points of view about the culture and politics. That being said, it does leave a big hole because there is something very special about an alternative weekly, especially the Village Voice, which was the most legendary of alternative weeklies. There's something personal and passionate about the reportage. And there's something about the things they uncover in the culture that nobody else does.
CORNISH: Can you talk about your first column? What was it like?
MUSTO: Well, in 1984, they had an opening for an entertainment columnist. And I actually pitched myself, and they had me write a sample column as an audition, and they even paid me for it, which I thought was very professional. And I did a sort of melange of first-person reporting about nightclubs, movie premieres, Broadway and all sorts of things. And they liked it. That's just what they wanted. I had my finger on the pulse of all different entertainment venues that made New York City tick. And they gave me the column. I called it "La Dolce Musto" after the Fellini film "La Dolce Vita" about a gossip columnist, and also about a "Saturday Night Live" sketch called La Dolce Gilda with Gilda Radner.
And I had total freedom from the very beginning to run with it and just write whatever I wanted. I became more politicized, more openly gay as time went on - and really write whatever I want. There were no restrictions. We never had to worry about insulting an advertiser or being in bad taste or anything like that. We were just told to run with it. And that's the glory of an alternative weekly. It's a paper for the writers to express their voices.
CORNISH: Can you talk more about that? What kind of topics did the Village Voice cover that you feel, maybe, were ignored by other papers in the city?
MUSTO: Well, I would celebrate underground performance artists - drag queens, transgender performers - people that were not getting mainstream coverage at the time. This was way before, you know, drag queens had their own TV shows and there was all sorts of media about the underground.
The Village Voice also took a very liberal political point of view for the most part. And Wayne Barrett was a writer whose beat was basically going against Donald Trump way before he was in politics. And we would uncover a lot of stuff. It was a muckraking paper. It was a paper that uncovered things that nobody else was going near.
CORNISH: In the end, what do you consider its legacy, either in New York or beyond?
MUSTO: The legacy of the Village Voice is that, starting in 1955, it was daring. It was out there. It was in your face. We were not self-conscious writers. We were unself-conscious writers. And it was a paper for writers, and the readers responded to that. Nowadays, a lot of people would rather read a quick Facebook post or a short tweet than an actual article or column. And that's a shame because the Village Voice was about actual journalism as literature.
CORNISH: And can I ask, is there any way that you marked the end, or are going to?
MUSTO: No. I'm not very sentimental or anything, but I wrote for the website of the Voice till the very end. And I did an obituary of Aretha Franklin, and I'm not happy that Aretha passed, but I'm happy that my final piece for the Voice was a lovely tribute to the brilliance of Aretha Franklin. Two legends are gone, the Village Voice and Aretha.
CORNISH: Well, Michael Musto, thank you so much for remembering the paper with us. We appreciate it.
MUSTO: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.