A Young Reporter’s Dazzling (and Tragically Short) Career at the Village Voice

Don McNeill at the Yip-In (March, 1968)

“It all started last year when I read an Esquire magazine interview with the accomplished writer Ron Rosenbaum, known for his insightful and compulsively readable long-form pieces. In 1971 he had published ‘Secrets of the Little Blue Box,’ which was about a group of kids known as ‘phone phreaks’ who were hacking the long-distance telephone system. The article was so exhilarating that a 21-year-old Steve Wozniak called his 16-year-old friend Steve Jobs to rave about all the revelations he was finding on Esquire’s pages. Rosenbaum’s prescient investigation has been cited as a ‘foundation event’ for the creation of Apple Computer. But what really caught my attention in the 2017 Rosenbaum interview were these lines, where he talks about applying for a job at the Village Voice after working at the Fire Island News in the summer of 1968: ‘At the end of the summer I went in for an interview and to my surprise got hired on the spot because they had a slot for counterculture reporting. I don’t know if the name Don McNeill means anything to you but he was the early era of counterculture reporting. He was very talented, famous for having his bloody visage blown up on the front page of the Voice. Anyway, McNeill was involved with a bunch of people in a commune in Massachusetts and that summer he walked into a pond and didn’t come out. And there’s still controversy whether it was a suicide or an accident. There was a replacement for him that didn’t work out so there was an opening.’ The name Don McNeill did not ring any bells with me, but the picture Rosenbaum mentioned did. I knew I had seen it at some point during my years of flipping through the yellowed pages of the Voice’s archive volumes. First, I checked the card catalog we keep in the archive room, an incomplete but invaluable resource of Voice — and therefore postwar American — history. Among maybe two dozen entries I found the ones above, which give a clear indication of McNeill’s counterculture beat. One article we will definitely have to resurface one of these days is the piece on LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), in which the poet-playwright-thinker was being tried for ‘possession of weapons and poetry.’  But I wanted to find the photo and story Rosenbaum remembered and I had to go a little farther into that year of 1968. I found it in March. …”

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