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Edwin Fancher `41

Edwin Fancher `41

Founder, The Village Voice

Asked for the best bit of life advice he can impart to students, Edwin Fancher ’41 has a ready reply: “Be adventurous,” he says.

That spirit only helped make him a founding father of one of the most influential newspapers of the 20th century.

In 1955, Fancher joined two others, including a young Norman Mailer, in launching an upstart weekly covering Greenwich Village and New York City. No matter that they had just $10,000 to spare. No matter that there were more than a half-dozen daily newspapers covering the city at the time. No matter that Fancher’s journalism experience was limited to writing a column about goings-on at the University of Alaska during his brief stint as a student there.

Fancher’s venture, The Village Voice, was at the vanguard of activist journalism. The Voice helped curb the excesses of urban renewal by thwarting master builder Robert Moses, covered the nascent movements for civil and gay rights, and opposed the Vietnam War, while at the same time becoming a cultural chronicle. In some ways, the Voice was the proto-blog. It welcomed eager young writers and reporters, many of whom had little or no experience, who sometimes became household names as a result of their work. The Voice didn’t so much find talent as talent found it; even the letters to the editor, Fancher marvels, were literate.

Fancher himself came to journalism while studying to become a psychoanalyst - he had a practice until his 80s. Both professions, he says, share a common core of reform, and righting wrongs, a motivation he found after serving in the 10th Mountain Division’s ski troops during World War II. “We all, I think, came out with the idea that it should be a better world,” says Fancher, who saw fighting in the rugged mountains of Italy. “Somehow things ought to be better than they had been.”

He sold the Voice in the 1970s, and stepped away from journalism; in recent years, he moved from Greenwich Village, too, though he still lives in Manhattan. But once a newspaperman, always a newspaperman. Journalism’s reform spirit is needed more today than ever, he says – in many ways, the deep divide that gave rise to the Voice in the 50s (at the time, sparked by McCarthyism) is being repeated today. Modern media outlets, Fancher says, would do well to carry the torch of investigative reporting that long marked the Voice, which won three Pulitzer Prizes in its heyday.

“I think journalism has to be investigative journalism - muckraking,” says Fancher. “I mean, if there is corruption, it should be exposed.”