If you need further proof that newspapers are racing downhill, it was provided on New Year's Eve when New York's Village Voice announced that columnist Nat Hentoff, who had worked for the Voice since 1958, had been laid off. Two lesser known writers also were terminated.
Music devotees valued Hentoff's commentary on jazz and his liner notes on countless albums by leading jazz artists. He also was perhaps the country's leading commentator on First Amendment issues. His "Sweet Land of Liberty" commentaries in the Voice, also syndicated nationally, often were brave and went against conventional wisdom.
Ironically, he was criticized in recent years for his against-the-grain columns opposing abortion. (Although pro-choice, I was shocked a few years ago when, as chair of a nominating committee for the Franklin Roosevelt Library's Four Freedoms awards, I found Hentoff rejected for an award on the principal basis of his politically incorrect position on the issue). Hentoff also wrote regularly on national political issues. Hentoff has a jazz book coming later this year and will continue to write a syndiated column for United Media.
Phoenix-based Village Voice Media, which also owns the Seattle Weekly and many other alternative weeklies, refused any official comment on Hentoff's departure. I was as shocked to hear that his association with the Voice had ended as I would have been to hear 10 years ago that the Seattle Mariners had terminated Edgar Martinez.
Newspapers everywhere, including those in Seattle, where either the Times or P-I seems likely to fold by a year from now, are hurting financially. But when they give up vital editorial content, as the Voice did with Hentoff, they hurry their demise. Hentoff for many years refused to be silenced when he thought First Amendment rights were being threatened. Finally, it was his own paper that silenced him.