A Voice divided
Two newspapers set to launch this amidst squabble over rights for The Ojai and Ventura Voice
By Hannah Guzik 04/17/2008
The Ojai and Ventura Voice will have two separate but similar reincarnations this month, as writers and friends of the late editor, publisher and one-man-force behind the paper, Jeffrey San Marchi, have divided their alliances over the direction of the publication.
Both camps are headed by longtime friends of San Marchi, who died of a heart attack while delivering the Voice, a free biweekly newspaper, Dec.r 23, 2007, in Ventura.
Almost exactly three months later, Ray Alpern, a longtime Voice writer and photographer, filed a fictitious business name statement with the Ventura County Clerk and Recorder’s office for
“The Ojai and Ventura Voice,” a standard procedure when a business is transferred between owners.
The next day, March 25, Brian Smith, a Voice distributor for 17 years, and his wife Kate also filed a statement for “The Ojai and Ventura Voice.”
Incidentally, both public notices were published in issues of the Reporter earlier this month.
“We went down on Tuesday, and we didn’t know that there was any rush. We were operating in good faith,” Kate said.
Due to a computer researching error at the Clerk’s office, the Smiths failed to see the name had already been registered, she said.
However, Alpern sees the matter differently.
“They tried to steal the name and walk away with the publication,” he said.
According to Kate, San Marchi left no will or directive. The Smiths say they and other former Voice contributors wanted the paper to continue and didn’t think Alpern, or anyone else, was taking the reins to get a new issue out — so they decided to, before people forgot about the paper and its distribution boxes were removed.
“On March 22, we had waited long enough,” Kate said. “Ray Alpern had dozens of calls from everybody and he hadn’t returned them. Meanwhile we had discovered that the boxes were disappearing.”
The boxes are owned by the Smiths; according to Kate, her husband installed them for free more than a decade ago “over a lunch and a handshake” to help out San Marchi. Soon, Brian Smith was getting up at dawn every other Saturday to deliver the paper to northern locations, as far as Montecito, as San Marchi handled most of the distribution in Ventura and Ojai. Brian received only gas money in return for delivering the paper, Kate said.
According to Alpern, the Smiths weren’t happy with the amount of time he had taken to ensure the San Marchi family was taken care of and that the Voice business was in order before publishing another issue.
“Getting the Voice back up off the ground had to be done at a slower pace than they wanted. It’s not easy task, and my main concern was not the delivery boy’s schedule,” he said.
“I think it’s unfortunate that some of Jeff’s friends, who were part of the Voice as well, were not happy with the time frame, but their interests are their own business interests,” Alpern said.
After being informed that the Voice namesake was taken, the Smiths filed two additional statements for the names “The Ojai and Ventura Rose” and “Formerly-Known-as-The Voice Collective,” titles they plan to use for their new publication. The name for the new paper, a creative reflection of the dispute, comes from Shakespeare’s “What’s in a name?” passage.
The Rose and the publication Alpern plans to put out, a “revamped” Voice, will be competing for the same advertisers, writers and readers.
Joel Anderson, a Voice writer and photographer since 1993, is acting editor of The Rose, and Alpern has assumed the title for The Voice.
At press time, The Rose was scheduled to be distributed April 15 in Ventura and Ojai, and The Voice was scheduled to hit newsstands April 25. Both Alpern and the Smiths say their paper will have a similar look and feel to the original Voice. Like San Marchi’s paper, both papers will be free and printed in a tabloid format.
Both camps also say they have the “blessing” of San Marchi’s two daughters, Ana and Rosa. The family gave the old Voice files, computer and distribution truck to Alpern, according to him, but the Smiths say they have also been in contact with the daughters, who encouraged them to create another paper, Kate said.
Perhaps the most peculiar part of the two-paper-trails story is that both groups profess their admiration of San Marchi, the “one-man-band” who brought the community together through his paper.
“We’re doing this is the same spirit as Jeff San Marchi,” said Kate. “His spirit was that of cooperation.”
“Jeff was so much The Voice,” Alpern said. “We’re going to keep quality of integrity of his Voice.”