Donald Trump can find a lot to adore in Peter Barbey. Like Trump, Barbey is a reputed billionaire whose fortune landed on him by virtue of the fortuitousness of his birth. Barbey mirrors Trump's belligerence toward the working folk, particularly card-carrying union members. And when it comes to merging business sense with scam artistry, Trump and Barbey share a key affinity for taking something of value and turning it into shit.
Barbey is best known in this parts as the mite media mogul who assumed the reins of Reading Eagle Company after the previous management team ran it into the dirt. But little Petey's vision extended beyond the boundaries of Berks. In 2015 he used some of the wealth his ancestors bequeathed him to buy the Village Voice, vowing through clenched teeth that the storied alternative weekly would "survive and prosper." He cemented this commitment to his new toy by purchasing a $26-million condo in the heart of the West Village.
Prince Peter's journalistic instincts revved to full throttle less than two years later when he shut down the Voice's print edition, boasting that an online-only Voice would reflect "the ever-evolving world around it.. for a new generation of people — and for generations to come."
For another 12 months anyway.
On Friday, which he lamented as "kind of a sucky day," Citizen Barbey concluded that his fortune can be put to better use than maintaining the tradition of a paper co-founded by Norman Mailer, whose pages were once graced with the legendary prose of Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Jack Newfield, Robert Christgau, Andrew Sarris, Lester Bangs...and on and on. Hiring staff to spiff up a $26-million condo can be quite dear!
Here's Jenna Priest, Reading Eagle Company's human services boss, shooing shellshocked staffers off the premises Friday.
Let's hear one of the laid-off staffers, Harry Siegel, tell it:
But fear not! While “due to, basically, business realities, we're going to stop publishing Village Voice new material,” Barbey vows that the brand will live on.
"I bought the Village Voice to save it, this isn't exactly how I thought it was going to end up. I'm still trying to save the Village Voice," he said.
Look, the paper’s problems preceded him and maybe his mid-life crisis dream of resurrecting a brand of his own kept the Voice alive a little longer and paid for Aaron Gordon and Talia Lavin and others to do some fine work there in its final days.
That said, fuck Peter D. Barbey.
Today, Peter D. Barbey is the toast of Gotham.
Perhaps publisher Petey, who once said that running a newspaper is "an obligation and a privilege at the same time," was playing 12-dimensional bridge all along. Instead of preserving the legacy of the "dropouts and the beatniks and the aesthetes and the outsiders" who made the Voice such a lower Manhattan institution over half a century, maybe his game all along was to shutter the paper as a bastion of fresh journalism and instead cash in on the trove of classic writing by the giants of the Fourth Estate penned when Peter was just a pipsqueak in prep school. Sounds like a plan.
The Village Voice is dead. The Reading Eagle lives. For those staffers , sucky days may lie ahead.