Particularly hard-hitting employee cuts at the Village Voice on Friday included longtime restaurant critic Robert Sietsema, who had been at the New York alt weekly newspaper for 20 years. Gossip columnist Michael Musto and theater critic Michael Feingold also were laid off in what headlines described as a “bloodbath,” one that had led two top editors to step down last week when Denver-based Voice Media Group announced what it refers to as a restructuring.
“This firing was not unexpected,” Sietsema said in an email. “There have been bloodbaths at regular intervals going back six years to when New Times took over the Village Voice. They have forced better food writers than me out over the years ... [including] Houston’s Robb Walsh [and] Jason Sheehan in Denver, and I’m proud to join that coterie.
“Still, as [Ruth] Reichl once told me, when you stop reviewing restaurants, you feel very empty, as if the work you spent your whole life preparing for and then doing is gone forever.”
Sietsema, who co-founded the Organ Meat Society and the zine Down the Hatch while he was a bass player for a band called Mofungo, is also author of “The Food Lover’s Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City,” with Calvin Trillin, and “Good & Cheap Ethnic Eats in New York City.”
Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold once wrote of Sietsema, a longtime friend: “In his column in the Village Voice, Sietsema has insisted that his readers schlep out to Canarsie for the Bajan food, to distant New Jersey for vaguely Oaxacan cooking, and to Ridgewood for an ancient German restaurant smacked down in the middle of a Lutheran cemetery. He probably spends as much time eating Senegalese lamb dishes in Harlem as the New York Times critic does eating French food in Midtown.”
Voice Media Group said in a release that “the net effect of these changes will be to slightly reduce the number of editorial employees at the publication.” In a phone interview with the New York Times last week, Will Bourne, the Voice editor who quit, said that he was told by Christine Brennan, executive editor of Voice Media Group, to lay off or drastically diminish the roles of five employees from a staff of 20.
News of Friday’s layoffs, initially reported by the website Gawker, drew outrage. “Baffling, infuriating for @villagevoice to can @robertsietsema. Actually cannot form sufficient expression of rage in re this development,” tweeted Helen Rosner, an editor at Saveur magazine.
From the tweets of New York magazine writer Adam Platt: “No critic knows more abt food in NYC than the great @robertsietsema, and few had better disguises."