Farewell, Sweet Phoenix

Like everyone who ever lived within a 100-mile radius of Boston, I was shocked when the Boston Phoenix announced it had published its final issue late last week after 47 years in the alternative weekly business. Like everyone who’d ever moved to Boston prior to the Internet infiltrating every aspect of our lives, picking up the latest issue of the Phoenix to see what was going on in town was of the utmost importance in college. In the age of smart phones and Twitter, I made it a point to read the excellent stories the magazine was still putting out, even if the event listings weren’t as critical to my social life.

There are many great appreciations of the Phoenix, from those who worked there to those who worked for the competition. Many of them contemplate what a loss like this means for the would-have-been alt-weekly writers of the future, like this post from Robert David Sullivan.

The Phoenix is how I got started as a journalist (after a short-but-terrifying stint as a reporter in central Mass.). My experience cannot be duplicated today. […] I’m sad for myself about the Phoenix’s closing, but I feel terrible for all of the people who might have followed in my footsteps. It’s already hard to believe, but there was once a way to start a journalism career without shoveling free copy into the maw of the Huffington Post.

Excuse me if I’m getting a touch existential, but every generation’s path to success cannot be duplicated. We all have to find our own way in the environment we’re born into. My brief career in journalism (blogging on my own, getting shout-outs from Universal Hub, freelancing in exchange for the occasional gift certificate, freelancing for Boston magazine, getting a staff writer gig at Boston, then being laid off during the economic collapse of the late aughts) wouldn’t have been possible had I come in a bit earlier or later. Every aspect of my life—both personal and professional—can be traced back to opening that Blogger account in 2003 because I was terrified I’d never use the writing degree I’d paid tens of thousands of dollars to get.

While the Internet may have contributed to the death of the Phoenix, it’s also the source of optimism. People still want good, curated information. Some days I feel that I have to step away from my Twitter feed because I can’t possibly read all the exciting content I see there on a minute-by-minute basis. (And I’m not just talking about cat GIFs.) Storytelling will always be important, and we will always look to some authority to vet the information we read. We need people to dig through the bullshit to find the nuggets of truth. And since shit stinks, we need to pay them to do so. Someone will figure out how to make it work. I just hope he or she does it soon to fill the void left by publications like the Phoenix.


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