By Edward Shanahan
Several weeks ago the word on the street was that politically correct
ideologues were trying to muzzle, or even shut down VMAG, a feisty
four-year-old monthly Valley publication.
But, it turns out that VMAG - as in Valley magazine - has shut itself
down, skipping its April and May issues, and apparently going on
Phone calls to Murphy, as the creator and publisher of VMAG calls
himself, have gone unreturned, even though in an earlier hour-long
interview he said he was prepared to fight his censors and continue
His critics are part of a segment of Northampton's population "that's
so left wing, they become right wing and intolerant," said Stephen
Murphy, 41, at his office on the top floor at 518 Pleasant St. Any
legitimate criticism of local politicians, he said, is regarded
by a "little shrill group" as hateful and negative.
Still, he claimed there would be changes in the mission of the magazine,
which he said had a monthly circulation of about 15,000 copies.
There was no hint that publication was about to cease operations.
Some of VMAG's critics had directed their sharpest anger at the
magazine for employing as an advertising salesman, Tony Long, former
WHMP talk show host, long-shot conservative candidate who ran for
mayor against Clare Higgins in 1999, and self-styled lightning rod
For his part, Long, who left VMAG not long before it produced its
final issue, declined, perhaps for the first time in recent memory,
to get involved in public political rough-housing.
"I'm not looking to be news, " Long told downstreet.net, "I've been
The demise of VMAG and allegations of censorship go back to the
beginning of the year when a letter was sent to some two dozen local
businesses by Elizabeth Denny, in which she warned that she would
organize a boycott of those advertisers who continue to support
"While I strongly support the publisher's constitutional right to
publish this magazine with whatever content he pleases, I would
like you to know that I find the publisher "Murphy's" views repellent,"
wrote Denny, who identified herself as senior vice president of
Market Street Research. Inc.
Denny continued: "From time to time I read V-Mag (sic) as a way
of keeping up with the Valley's right-wing faction, and I am consistently
amazed at the viciousness of the editor's opinions. His only goal
appears to be to trash people. His advertising representative, Tony
Long, has a well-established reputation for expressing hideous opinions
about the Northampton area's Gay and Lesbian community. I found
Tony Long's campaign against Clare Higgins to be shamefully dishonest,
petty, and politically unproductive. "...
V-Mag exists because businesses like yours spend money for advertising.
In turn, your business exists because people like me buy things
from you. You have a choice as to where you advertise, and I also
have a choice as to where I shop.
"As long as your company continues to support V-Mag, I think it
is appropriate that I discontinue purchasing any of your products
or services. I also think it is appropriate that I pass the list
of businesses that advertise in V-Mag along to my employees, friends
and colleagues, so they too can take whatever action they deem appropriate
with respect to your business ..."
The letters were addressed to the following businesses: La Veracruzana
Restaurant, Vermont Country Deli, Caffeine's Downtown, City Cafe,
Long Radio, Paradise Copies, Taipei & Tokyo, Panda Garden, Intimacies,
Pacific Printing, Cornucopia, Strada, Taylor Women, Artisan Gallery,
Paul & Elizabeth's, Cedar Chest, Mulberry Tree, Flowers A La Carte,
Different Drummer's Kitchen, Brinkley Thorne Associates, Laughing
Dog, Blue Note Guitars, Pleasant Street Video, Linda Shear.
Two days later, Denny followed up her first mailing with a clarifying
letter. "First, I want to make it clear that the opinions I expressed
in the letter are my own, and may or may not reflect those of my
business or anyone who works there. As you will recall, I sent the
letter on plain paper in a plain envelope stamped with my home address,
which I thought would make it clear that my intent was to express
my own, personal opinion about V-Mag. Apparently some of you misunderstood
this point. I assure you that Market Street Research makes no comment
about V-Mag ..."
She went on to say that "I understand that some of you disagree
with my personal opinion of V-Mag." The letter then reiterates her
determination to withhold her support from those businesses that
advertise in VMAG.
Recent efforts to reach Denny for comment by phone and e-mail failed
to elicit any response.
Speaking for one of those businesses that received the Denny letters,
Dana Gentes, manager of Pleasant Street Video, said: "I just read
it and threw it in the trash." He said he did not hear from other
businesses on the mailing list, nor does he believe the threatened
boycott was a factor in the demise of VMAG. He said he advertised
as a personal favor to Murphy.
In an interview in April, Murphy said the letters may have cost
him one advertising defection, and some other businesses may have
been scared off. But he did not go on the attack, he said. "I decided
to let it go, it wasn't worth it."
Seeming somewhat chastened, he said: "I really don't want the magazine
viewed as a hateful enterprise." He also said he wanted to make
the magazine more "female friendly," conceding that it was viewed
as largely male oriented. As a consequence, he had named a woman,
Sonia Pereira, as managing editor.
It should be noted that VMAG carried a long investigative piece
on the mysterious death in a South Deerfield motel some 25 years
ago of black UMass student Sita Rampersad that has never been fully
explained nor for which anyone was ever charged. In addition, VMAG
ran several pieces by Mike Kirby about various Northampton political
Yet, in an editorial in the final issue, Murphy said the magazine
would be moving away from politics. "I hate politics to be honest
with you," he told downstreet.net. "Politicians don't have a sense
of humor, they take things much too seriously."
As the interview was winding down, it appeared that Murphy, a former
comic book artist, was running out enthusiasm for his publishing
venture. He said he was tending to his ailing mother in Worcester
and planning for his upcoming wedding.
Perhaps the demise of VMag had less to do with censorship and more
to do with the difficulty of sustaining week after week or from
month to month a financially viable, worthwhile, readable, and ultimately
necessary publication. How many of you remember the Valley Optimist
of a few years back?
A final note: Prior to last week when the telephone number for VMAG
was disconnected, if you did reach the magazine's answering machine
the voice that greeted you was none other than that of Tony Long.