I was all set to

by francine Hardaway on September 1, 2006

I was all set to write about entrepreneurs who live in my neighborhood this morning, when I saw an article in Gawker about the Village Voice layoffs.

For those of you who don’t live in New York and are not 65, the Village Voice is an old weekly news and entertainment paper that used to be known for its energetic writing and fine arts criticism. Lately, it has gone the way of most “mainstream media”; and it’s been known for nothing except a staff of old people. Truthfully, I hadn’t read it in years, and was surprised to find that some of the critics I read in the Voice when I was in high school were not only still alive, but still writing for the Voice. They may have been the avant garde of the ’50s, but they probably don’t have iPODs, and they don’t blog, and they no longer support the energetic “brand” of the Voice.

My old and dear friend Mike Lacey bought the Village Voice last year, and has laid off or retired many of those people. For this, and for his attempts to re-vivify the paper, he has received a never-ending stream of invective and criticism from people who have no idea who or what they are talking about –and this morning I finally lost it. Some gawker creep called Lacey a plutocrat. So I’ve diverted myself to writing about a different kind of entrepreneur: a guy who owns a newspaper and lives in a neighborhood I could never afford but will NEVER be a plutocrat, although in my mind he is a star.

Now when I say old and dear friend, I mean both. I met Lacey in 1971, when he was a college dropout and had just founded a weerkly newspaper in Phoenix called the New Times. I had recently moved from new York to Phoenix, was teaching at a local college, and was dying to be a film reviewer. The New Times couldn’t afford to pay me, but they let me review movies for nothing. Lacey had so little money then that I used to take him out to dinner so he could eat. On a teacher’s salary, I was rich compared to him. After he fed his cats, he had nothing left, and he always had a couple of cats, and often a couple of dogs.

My students, often stoned and bored by the required course in composition I taught, were convinced that I was a credible teacher of English 101 because I wrote for the publication they all read. This worked out well for everybody. The New Times became well-known in the ’70s, although it was controversial in Goldwater country for its investigative writing and its take-no-prisoners attitude, largely dictated by Lacey.

As editor of New Times, and an indefatigable investigative reporter himself, Lacey was bent on making the paper win journalism awards. It took on the Arizona Press Club, beating the major papers for writing awards time after time. The paper had a hard time attracting advertisers, because of its controversial stories, but Lacey and his partner, publisher Jim Larkin, soldiered on, fighting for their principles through the Viet Name war and the “Me” decades.

I can’t really remember when The New Times started to become successful, but I remember living next door to Lacey and his soon-to-be-wife in 1980. By this time we were both in the middle class, although perhaps Lacey was being helped by Kathleen, who was a well-known attorney. I was divorcing, they were courting, and my kids used to visit their animals.

The last time I was able to extend a hand to Lacey was when one of his sister’s kids needed surgery, and he borrowed some money from me to give her. He was always taking care of his family — his grandmother, his brother and sister, everyone. He was a consummate family man, although he came from an admittedly disfunctional family.

Not long after that, the tables turned, and Lacey began to be in a position to help me. The New Times began a nationwide expansion, taking over failing news weeklies in city after city, and when the checks for our dinners came to the table, Lacey never again allowed me to pay — not even my own share. Generous to a fault, Lacey remembers everyone who ever did anything for him, and many who didn’t.

Admittedly, Michael is an unusual personality — a hard living, Mustang-convertible-driving, animal-loving, fierce fighter. An Irish brawler. A believer in human rights. A seeker after truth. And now, finally, a man of means.

But he has never lost his principles, and by no means is he a “businessman,” as some of the detractors call him. Trust me, that’s the last thing he is. He’s surrounded by people who have to stop him from acting according to non-business principles, such as journalistic ethics and human rights. No, you idiots at Gawker, he’s an ENTREPRENEUR! He’s a man of passion. His dream may not be your dream, but he is actually trying to accomplish something, not just to cut costs, make money, or fire people.

Years ago, they thought he couldn’t make a go of New Times, now called Village Voice Media. Well, now he’s done it. If he had done it in technology, people would be kissing his feet like they kiss Larry Ellison’s–another difficult personality. But he did it in media, so he’s chopped liver.

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