The new owner of the Village Voice is keen to invest in the storied New York City weekly newspaper, he told Billy Penn on the afternoon that news broke of his acquisition. Peter D. Barbey, the 57-year-old CEO of the Reading Eagle Company, said his plans are to add staff until the weekly is “as big as we need to be. Bigger, definitely bigger. Until we get happy with the way the book is.”
Barbey told Billy Penn that he’ll remain CEO of the company that publishes the Reading Eagle, and that the newspapers would likely share back-office functions. But to be clear: The Eagle is not buying the Voice.
“I’ll continue to be President and CEO of the company, and the Voice will be a client in some things, in terms of operating, the back end of the Village Voice,” Barbey said. “But this is a New York paper. It is for New York, it’s going to have New York writers, it’s not a Pennsylvania thing.”
Barbey said he was in the process of looking for a home in New York City, and that he’s often in the Big Apple. During one of those trips, he was presented with the chance to buy the newspaper. But his interest in it goes back decades.
“That goes back to the ‘70s, man. I read this in school. I’ve always loved the publication. It was one of the formative things I read when I was in prep school in western Massachusetts,” Barbey said. “I’m honored I had an the opportunity to purchase it and be part of its future. It’s one of the world’s great journalistic brands. It deserves to survive and prosper. It’s important to a lot of people. It needs to not be resource constrained. Kind of like anything organic, it just needs food and water.
“We’re going to add writers,” he added. “Given my resources (the Barbey family ranks at no. 50 on the list of the richest in the United States, per Forbes), I plan to invest those in the place.”
For now, the Voice shares content with a number of sister publications, including the Miami New Times. That will continue, Barbey said, until he begins expanding staffing and ramps up his new staff. But he wouldn’t share details (“I don’t want to talk dollars”) and would say only that the amount of original content would grow.
“In the immediate sense, we don’t have a target. We have a budget for writers for the next few months, a headcount budget. We’re going to see how that plays,” said Barbey, who also plans a renewed push for freelance submissions and contributed work. “The Voice has always been a journal that people want to submit to… if it’s great stuff, we want to print it. If it’s in the wheelhouse of the Voice. You look at Vice Media, the way they grew through submissions… you not only grow by your staff.”
But it’s a long task ahead, he warned.
“Journalism’s been difficult. A lot of it is because there hasn’t been enough effort put into content. A lot of newspapers look at content like bullets in a gun that you shoot and get advertising. The ones that succeed are very thoughtfully curated and composed content. And the best writing wins,” Barbey said. “Like the Reading Eagle. I’ve been running that for four years now. We introduced new products and sections. And now we’re the best performing newspaper in Pennsylvania.”
Barbey said he plans to retain the current Village Voice staff, and that he’s not planning any cuts.
“We’re going to add. You’ve got to build your team going forward,” he said. “There’s some great talent there.”