Veteran Reporter Wayne Barrett Departs Village Voice

Wayne Barrett will be on the Brian Lehrer Show Wednesday, January 05 at 11:20am to talk about his departure from the Village Voice.

Veteran investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, who has spent three decades muckraking and challenging the deeds of the city's most recognizable figures, was laid off from the Village Voice because of budget cut backs, he said.

Barrett, whose weekly column was a staple in the alt weekly, said Tuesday that he was surprised when he was told he was being let go. Venerated reporter and colleague Tom Robbins will follow Barrett out the door at the end of the month.

“All he said to me was that I was being laid off for budget reasons,” Barrett said, referring to his editor at the Village Voice, Tony Ortega. “I was given a severance package that went beyond the union contract, and I’m very grateful for it.”

He added, “It certainly was a surprise to me.”

The announcement was made in Barrett's column published on the Voice's Web site Tuesday morning.

Barrett cut a striking figure in New York’s political reporting scene: tall, often smiling, and shamelessly letting his long hair tickle his shirt collar. His reporting was just as distinct. Barrett was decidedly New York-centric. And, since this is New York, his local characters were national: Giuliani, Sharpton, Cuomo -- all of whom came under close and relentless examination as their profiles were raised nationally.

“The reporting I do I believe is very objective,” he said. “After I’ve reported a story, I am allowed, unlike people at dailies, to frame the reportage in a piece that contains opinions. But it’s the reporting that shapes the opinion. It’s not the opinion that shapes the reporting.”

In addition to his weekly column, Barrett was known for his exhaustively researched books, including "City for Sale" -- which he co-wrote with the late Jack Newfield -- chronicling the massive corruption in city government at the start of Mayor Koch’s third term (Koch himself was never accused of wrong doing, although numerous associates were).

More recently, Barrett detailed the struggles rebuilding at Ground Zero in "Grand Illusions," which casts Rudy Giuliani (the hard-charging, uber-ethical prosecutor in "City for Sale") as an ego-driven mayor who defied expert advice that warned him not to locate the city’s emergency response hub at the World Trade Center.

Barrett, who said he is in talks with the Nation Institute to continue his writing career, adjusted to the new media landscape, with its faster news cycle and proliferation of blogs.

“I actually loved writing the blogs,” Barrett said. But, he added, “I don’t want to write blogs that regurgitate other people’s reporting which is the way it’s done at many newspapers, including my own.”

“I actually liked doing it because of the immediacy of it,” he said. “For a guy who worked at a weekly most of his career, it gave me a sense of immediacy and attention to the news that I didn’t have before.”

Barrett said working for an established news outlet still matters, even for him.

“I think being associated with a media enterprise is still extremely important because if you’re trying to reach people who are influential people in public or private sectors, the chances of them responding to someone whose name they don’t recognize and who is not associated with a media enterprise is virtually nil,” he said.

In addition to books and columns, Barrett also fielded an army of interns who he directed through the city’s byzantine system of archival information. He also taught journalism at Columbia University, often producing a list of the city’s worst landlords, the result of countless hours combing through mounds of paperwork and visits to out-of-the-way neighborhoods not accustomed to media attention.