Thanks for Everything, Boston Phoenix

It’s July, 2011. Fellow intern Katie Lannan and I sit in a big, dusty, windowless room tucked away in the back of the third floor of 126 Brookline Ave.

We’re surrounded on all sides by stacks on stacks of old issues of the Boston Phoenix, which was, until last year, Boston’s foremost alt-weekly tabloid newspaper.

This afternoon, the two of us are assigned to look through a decade’s worth of old volumes, skim articles, and then find and photo-copy every column by the then-recently-deceased sportswriter George Kimball.

The black dust of crumbling news-print coats our fingers and stings our eyes, but we don’t mind the task. Page by page, we’re leafing through a unique volume of local history. Our period of focus is the 1970s. There are cheeky articles covering streaking on college campus, op-eds on the politics of former mayor Kevin White, and frequent features about the Boston busing crisis.

We laugh at the ads, too–for concerts at the Rat by washed-up hippie chicks and Grateful Dead wannabes, for restaurants that closed up shop decades ago in ‘hoods now completely unrecognizable.

I’m engrossed. To me, the voices still feel fresh and relevant, even forty years on. I feel like I’m reading the same gruff, urgent, shouting voices I’d get if I picked up the new issue on the newsstand outside.

I savor every minute in that musty room surrounded by the rotting newsprint. It’s the high point of my week–the high-point of my entire summer as an intern at the Boston Phoenix.

The Phoenix was free of charge and could be grabbed from any of the red boxes found all over Boston street corners. | photo by Kelly Dickinson
The Phoenix was free of charge and could be grabbed from any of the red boxes found all over Boston street corners. | Photo by Kelly Dickinson

Earlier this afternoon, the folks at the Phoenix announced they’re closing up shop for good. At 3pm, publisher Stephen Mindich posted a statement on the Phlog saying that the 47-year-old paper was collapsing under the weight almost six years of financial stress.

It didn’t go down without a fight: in May, the Phoenix Media Group pulled alt-rock station 101.7 WFNX off the airwaves, moving the property online instead. And last August, the publishers announced that the paper itself was going glossy. The Boston Phoenix absorbed sister publication Stuff Magazine, re-named itself The Phoenix, and re-branded its content just so, all in the hopes of attracting the valuable advertisers that would keep the fires burning.

It didn’t work. With meager ad-sales, the free-of-charge Phoenix couldn’t fly. But maybe that’s not the only thing that killed it: in a world before social media and internet publications, papers like the Phoenix were a rare forum for radical ideas, alternative (and often anabashedly liberal) coverage. But post- the advent of blogging and online magazines (for instance, The Quad) there are more platforms, more competition, and fewer barriers for anyone with an idea and a computer to call him or herself a journalist.

Tomorrow morning, the Phoenix’s last issue will hit the stands, and the final web issue will go up next week. For the moment, The Portland Phoenix in Maine and the Providence Phoenix in Rhode Island will stay aloft.

In this writer’s opinion, the Phoenix’s death is more than a symbol of the slow decomposure of the newspaper. It is more than just another hole in the Boston media landscape.

The Boston Phoenix was a bible for the thousands of young people who moved here for school every year.  It was an advertising platform for local shops and venues, and a way for local bands to get notice and get traction. It was a voice for the alt-crazed, the beer-snobs, the politically-active, and the music-lovers. It was a job for hundreds of writers over the decades, many of them BU grads. It was a place where Quad alumnus Monica Castillo got to write about movies. It was an internship at which I gained the skills that helped me during my tenure as The Quad‘s editor-in-chief last year.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was important. And it was a hell of a good read.

Thanks for everything, Boston Phoenix.

Kelly Dickinson

Kelly is a CAS/COM senior double-majoring in Psychology and Film. She was the editor-in-chief last year, but she ceded to Ingrid in a mostly-bloodless coup. Right now, she's Producing on QuadCast, checking off her BU bucket-list and hunting for one of those "job" things.

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