I almost never got the chance to meet Wayne Barrett, who announced today that he’s been let go from the Village Voice after more than three decades at the weekly as one of New York’s best political journalists.
As it turned out, I had the pleasure to be among his final interns when, last summer, he taught me the fine art of hounding politicians without mercy after digging deep through the archives, ensuring we neglected no one with anything to hide.
Last spring, the self-loathing writer in me was in full bloom. On the verge of turning 24, I still needed an internship for my undergrad degree. I wanted a taste of the national media scene but had never lived outside Iowa and could never muster up much confidence in my credentials.
The sportswriting internship at a dwindling Indiana paper that I was about to accept looked less appealing by the day. So, on a whim, I applied at the Voice in April. The next month, to my surprise, I was offered an interview. But I was working, and by the time I replied they had found someone else.
Then, a lucky week later, the spot opened back up, and before I knew it I was on the phone with the man himself.
Wayne loves a good story, and it was clear from the start that he had no shortage of them. I’d blogged about the time I met Rolling Stone ace Matt Taibbi, and Wayne had read it. It was five minutes later before Wayne finished recalling the days when a 17-year-old Taibbi was his intern…and I had hardly gotten a word in edgewise when Wayne said he’d have to get off the phone soon: He was expecting guests. Do you really want to do political journalism? he asked. I’m planning to hit the gubernatorial race hard, and Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general—
Oh, you’ve heard of him? Wayne replied. Then you’ve got the job. The last two people I interviewed had never heard of him, and they’re from New York!
To say times have changed since Taibbi’s days at the Voice would be a monumental understatement, and my time there gave me a firsthand look at the uncomfortable merger of Old Media with New. Four years before I arrived, the paper was bought out by alt-weekly chain New Times Media (now Village Voice Media), which went on to drop star writers like Nat Hentoff and James Ridgeway (who now writes for Mother Jones). While the Voice still broke some fantastic stories while I was there, its main draws were often dripping with gossip: slighted fake-breasted banker, self-indulgent Jersey Shore guidos, a good deal of the content on the Runnin’ Scared news blog—once a column and stomping grounds of greats like Wayne and the New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta.
So I can’t say I was surprised to read the news today about Wayne, who’s leaving alongside long-timer Tom Robbins, who wanted to go “out with the guy who brought me to the dance.” That said, the Voice‘s legacy is far from dead. Reporters like Graham Rayman are still doing some great investigative work, and Wayne’s got ex-interns all over the country and beyond. Wayne himself is headed to a fellowship at the Nation Institute, joining former Voice reporter Joe Conason.
As a commenter on Wayne’s departing blog post wrote: “If you add up all of the scoops that have been uncovered by journalists who used the techniques [Wayne] taught them as interns or students or cub reporters or simply colleagues in need of advice, well, then—that’s a lot of muck and the raking won’t stop anytime soon.”
Mother Jones‘ Adam Weinstein, another former Wayne intern, tweeted earlier today: “Tip a 40 oz. to the memory of my journo mentors, mighty Wayne Barrett and Tom Robbins, who are leaving the Village Voice.”
I heartily second that, although in my six months living in New York I never once saw the man drink.
Cheers to you, Wayne. Keep on giving ’em hell.