Three weeks after Manhattan Media bought the New York Press and declared that, unlike New York Magazine and the Village Voice, the paper would no longer print sex ads in its classified section, Voice editor Tony Ortega fired back by defiantly running eight naked ladies on the cover of his August 22nd issue.
The ladies’ nipples were hidden behind goofy black rectangles; across the bottom of the page was a cheeky, red-letter deck saying, “Looking for a good read?”
The cover was Mr. Ortega’s idea. In a phone interview today, he said he intended it as a playful response to criticism the Voice had been fielding recently for continuing to run ads for escort services and massage parlors in its classified section.
“The subject of our adult ads has been brought up lately in the local press,” Mr. Ortega said later, in an e-mail. “I thought the best response from the newsroom was to poke some fun at ourselves.”
That message went unspoken, however, as the cover was not accompanied by an article inside the paper or addressed in any way. Mr. Ortega said he considered running an editor’s note, but decided against it because he didn’t want to belabor the point.
“This was a mild stunt, not a heavy editorial,” he said.
Manhattan Media CEO Tom Allon, the primary force behind the decision to cut sex-themed ads from the New York Press, said he thought the stunt was too oblique.
“It was an inside joke,” he said. “The punchline was only clear to a small sliver of their readership.”
Mr. Allon said he was nevertheless flattered by the attention.
“Clearly it was a nod to us and to our decision. I was flattered that they thought that a decision we made warranted a Voice cover.”
He added: “It was sort of a sad statement, that this is the only population they have reading their publication—that population being people who look at pornography ads. There’s nothing wrong with that readership but it’s not the readership we’re going for."
According to several staff members, reaction within the Voice ranged from confusion to outrage.
“People didn’t think it made sense,” said one staff member. “There was no explanation for it.”
One long-time editorial employee said the racy cover felt somewhat “off” because the Village Voice’s staff had become so densely populated by heterosexual males since it was taken over by New Times Media in 2005.
“There are no gay people at the Voice anymore,” the employee said. “It used to be all gay people! Suddenly I work with a lot of straight white dudes. They’re all really nice and I like them a lot, but it’s a different vibe. It just has a different tenor when you have a cover like this.”
The employee said that several staff members had expressed dismay at the cover, and that Mr. Ortega brought up the issue at an editorial meeting Monday. “He got really defensive,” the employee said. “He said if you’re going to be offended by something like this, then you shouldn’t work here.”