In December 2006, I flew from Tucson, Ariz., to Boston for a job interview.
The Boston Phoenix—one of the most venerable and respected alternative newsweeklies in the country—was looking for an editor, and my application had caught the Phoenix’s collective eye.
The part-day I spent in Boston was one of the most intense of my life: If memory serves, I had six separate interviews, with a total of 13 people, over a 6 1/2-hour span. If that wasn’t mentally grueling enough, I had to go through that gauntlet on three hours of sleep, because my flight into Boston was delayed.
It became apparent during the interviews that some of the managers there felt that I, as the editor of a paper in little ol’ Tucson, was too small-time for the Phoenix; I knew before setting foot on the plane back home I would not get the job. I was fine with that, even though I had—and have—great respect for the Phoenix.
That weird, exhausting December 2006 day came to mind today, when the owners of the Phoenix announced that the paper was ceasing print publication immediately, and that next week’s online edition would be its last.
The news was heartbreaking to me. I love alternative publications; after all, I quit my fantastic gig in Tucson after a decade to move to the Coachella Valley and launch the Independent, so this area could have a real, honest-to-goodness publication in the alt-weekly vein. This news should be heartbreaking to everyone who loves good, edgy, fun journalism.
In a news release announcing the closure, Phoenix executive editor Peter Kadzis—with whom my first interview was on that December 2006 day—hit the figurative nail on the head, as he explained that although the Boston Phoenix was closing, its sister newspapers in Portland, Maine, and Providence, R.I., would remain in business.
“I started reading the paper when I was 14 years old and had the fun and challenge of running it for 20 years or so,” Kadzis said. “Political Boston, arts Boston, just won’t be the same. We are a textbook example of sweeping market-place change. Our recent switch to a magazine format met with applause from readers and local advertisers. Not so—with a few exceptions—national advertisers. It was the long-term decline of national advertising dollars that made the Boston Phoenix economically unviable. Providence and Portland, however, don’t suffer from that problem. The local advertising market is sufficient to support those publications. You can see why Warren Buffett favors small market papers over their big city brothers and sisters.”
It’s a shame that, essentially, the Phoenix became too dependent on non-local advertisers to succeed. And it’s a crying shame that Boston won’t have that strong, alternative media voice any more (although the smaller Dig Boston, owned by my friend Jeff Lawrence, lives on).
Diverse media voices are important to a community. I have seen this firsthand; in my hometown of Reno, Nev., I was lucky enough to edit the Reno News & Review in my mid-20s, and watched the arts scene grow in Reno along with the paper. I saw it in Las Vegas, where I worked for CityLife. And I saw it in Tucson, where the Tucson Weekly is, in every way, an important piece of the fabric of the community.
Just like the Phoenix was in Boston. That important piece of fabric just got ripped out of Boston. And in its place will be a gaping hole.
The lesson here for those of us outside of Boston is this: Support good, ethical local media. Good, strong, entertaining journalism can make a community better.
I recently met with a local advertising-agency head; he was kind enough to take the time to allow me to introduce him to the Independent. At one point, our mission statement came up, and I spoke a bit about how I believed in quality reporting and writing, as opposed to the regurgitated-press-release-style of writing that’s far, far too prevalent in the Coachella Valley today.
He responded that while creative types like himself appreciate good writing and reporting, most businesses who are spending advertising dollars don’t care; instead, they care about getting their message out to the right customers, period, no matter the quality of what surrounds their ads.
I told him that while I was confident the Independent would indeed be a good fit for his clients’ customers, I was banking on the fact that I believe readers and advertisers still want quality journalism, too.
I hope to God I am right; I am betting my personal financial future on it. While, at first glance, the closure of the Boston Phoenix worries me, Peter Kadzis’ words about applause by readers and local advertisers—combined with the fact that the papers in Portland and Providence live on, and will even be adding staff—give me hope.