The Village Voice has long been considered the bedrock of alternative journalism; the foundation of good, young writing; a rock of the New York media scene. But lately, it hasn't been a very stable place to work.
Ever since the New Times chain bought the paper in fall 2005, the Voice has seen reporters, columnists, and editors come and go with comical rapidity. Earlier this month, the paper fired editor David Blum and hired its current chief Tony Ortega - making him the fifth editor since the merger.
In the midst of this uproar, communications was mostly ignored, often with ill effects. Village Voice Media head Michael Lacey notoriously fired an editor by scrawling a note on a napkin, and placing a photo of it on the paper's Web site.
In January, however, the Voice tacitly acknowledged the need for professional help, hiring Maggie Shnayerson to the vacant post of communications director.
Shnayerson, a Manhattan native, has handled the less-than-placid situation with an aplomb that belies the fact that she is only 25. The media, though, is in her blood. Her brother writes for Vanity Fair and her father, Robert, was once editor-in-chief of Harper's.
Her plan was to be a reporter. She seemed well on that path after a stint on her college paper at Dartmouth. But after she moved to the New York Sun, a new opportunity presented itself.
"I was given the [chance] to either take a beat job as a reporter or take another post more on the marketing side," Shnayerson says. Her ultimate goal is to become a newspaper publisher, so the chance to see the other side of the operation was too good to resist.
"It seemed to me that reporters never really knew much about the inner workings of the newspaper - about the ad side and the business side," she says. "That was something I thought would be really useful for me, and I wasn't sure I would get another opportunity."
Shnayerson spent three years as the communications manager for the Sun, considered to be New York's conservative daily paper. But she says that culture shock was not a problem after joining the decidedly more liberal Voice.
"The politics of both those places never really crossed my mind," she says. "I don't have to agree with [a newspaper's] points to agree with the First Amendment."
The Voice is one of the only - if not the only - alt-weeklies to have a full-time communications director. Shnayerson's job description is not all that unique - serve as a media contact and spokesperson for the paper, handle internal communications, and promote the articles and staff to outside news outlets.
The reality, though, is that the Voice's turbulence has provoked a perverse fascination among the press that covers the press, meaning Shnayerson has been in semi-crisis mode since she took the job.
Jessica Bellucci, the Voice's previous communications director, who left the job shortly after the merger and is now a PR manager for the CW11 and Superstation WGN in New York, says her years at the paper involved much less crisis communications work that Shnayerson has already dealt with.
"I think in light of all the negative press that [it] had garnered when there was no one in place, she's in a position where she can really make a difference," says Bellucci. "Anything that she's going to do while she's in place there is a tremendous asset for them. They desperately needed a PR person."
For her part, Shnayerson seems to be taking the commotion in the press and blogosphere in stride. "I don't consider any reporter the enemy," she says. "You're doing something right if people are shooting at you."
Communications director, The Village Voice
Communications manager, New York Sun