Boston Phoenix to close
By Joseph P. Kahn | Globe Staff March 14, 2013
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In a poignant signal of a fast-changing media landscape, The Boston Phoenix sent out a short and simple tweet Thursday afternoon: “Thank you Boston. Good night and good luck.”
With that terse dispatch, the groundbreaking Boston alternative weekly, which only six months ago reinvented itself from tabloid newspaper into glossy magazine, put a final punctuation mark on its 47-year history. Its current issue, dated March 15, will be its last.
New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, one of many prominent journalists whose careers started at the Boston Phoenix, said: “It’s like finding out your college has gone bankrupt and is gone. I am a child of the alt-weekly world, and I feel like it has played such an important role in journalism as we know it today.”
Employees at the Phoenix were told of the closing by owner and publisher Stephen M. Mindich Thursday at what evolved into a tearful, emotional meeting. It is expected that about 40 employees will be let go within the week and another10 or so soon after, according to executive editor Peter Kadzis, who described the general reaction among Phoenix staffers as “shell-shocked.” Several people were crying during the meeting, according to one person who was there.
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Employees will not get any severance pay.
“We’ll get paid for this week and if we’re owed vacation time, but no severance,” said staff writer Chris Faraone. “It’s sad, but also not. It’s not an anger thing. Everyone’s really proud. We went as hard as you could to the end.”
The Phoenix established its alternative reputation in the 1970s through its coverage of the local arts scene, especially rock music and movies, as well as with aggressive media criticism and coverage of local and national politics. Its target audience, even after its recent shift to a glossy magazine, never shifted: young, educated, active both socially and politically, and childless. You were more likely to find a sex column than a parenting one in the Phoenix.
Sister publications in Providence and Portland, Maine, will stay in business, but WFNX.com, the Phoenix Media/Communication Corp.’s online radio station, will not continue in its present form, its fate to be decided shortly. The company’s custom publishing unit and MassWeb Printing operation, based in Auburn, will remain open.
The online edition of the Boston Phoenix, slated to appear March 22, will be its last, too.
There had been widespread apprehension about a shutdown on Wednesday, when the meeting was announced, Kadzis said.
“Keeping the Phoenix afloat was costing Stephen more than $1 million a year,” Kadzis calculated. “He’s performed an incredible service to the community, and I don’t think most of the employees here realize how committed he’s been to keeping the paper going.”
The Boston Phoenix’s owner and publisher does not plan a formal bankruptcy filing, but the company has hired The Gordon Law Firm in Boston to liquidate the paper’s assets and distribute the proceeds to creditors.
Stephen F. Gordon, who will oversee the process, estimated the business had $1.2 million in debt, but said it is likely the assets will fetch significantly less than that. The company’s main asset is roughly $500,000 in promised services and goods the Phoenix received in exchange for advertising, but it’s not clear how much a buyer would pay for the bartered goods. It also has some intellectual property and furniture.
Gordon first plans to pay any taxes, employee wages, and fees related to the liquidation process then distribute any remaining cash evenly to other creditors. In addition to employees, the company owes money to roughly 40 other creditors, including law firms, accountants, utilities, landlords, and suppliers.
According to Kadzis, the switch from tabloid to glossy last October won favor with readers and local advertisers. At the time, Phoenix editor Carly Carioli said, “It’s not a surprise this has been portrayed as the sky is falling, but that’s not what it feels like to us here.”
Six months later, however, the end came. There were not enough national advertisers to make the glossy weekly economically viable. Providence and Portland have been better able to sustain themselves with local advertising, Kadzis noted.
Last spring, Phoenix Communications sold its interest in other media properties, notably the Spanish-language paper El Planeta and terrestrial radio station WFNX 101.7 FM.
News of the Phoenix’s closure only six months after the format change blindsided even alternative media insiders.
“It was shocking to me,’’ said Tiffany Shackelford, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia in Washington. “I was not expecting this at all. My understanding was that the new format was successful, and that the glossy was starting to attract national advertisers.”
Local media critic Dan Kennedy, a former Phoenix staff writer, wrote on his Media Nation blog that he was “not even going to try to write a real post about this today.”
“I’m getting bombarded from all directions, and besides that, I’m devastated,” Kennedy wrote.
Orlean, too, was reeling, saying in a telephone interview that she received her education as a writer at the Phoenix when she worked there in the 1980s. Others who started at the paper include Joe Klein, Sidney Blumenthal, Janet Maslin, and David Denby.
The weekly’s closing, Orlean continued, “Removes one more venue for a certain kind of writing that I know was very important to me.”
Shackelford said that despite the loss of a storied brand like the Boston Phoenix, the alternative news industry remains healthy.
“Many of our papers are actually improving circulation,” she said. “This [closure] is not indicative of the larger health of the industry. I don’t think any of our other publications are in danger of closing.”
In general, however, alternative newspapers in large markets, like Boston, are not flourishing at the level of their counterparts in smaller, less competitive cities, Shackelford said. It makes sense, she said, that the Portland Phoenix will remain open, as will the Providence Phoenix, which plans to add four full-time reporters.
The question that worries Shackelford is whether another news outlet will “speak truth to power” in the same way as the Boston Phoenix, which started in 1966 as Boston After Dark.
Mindich, in his statement to employees, said he was “extremely proud, as all of you should be, of the highest standards of journalism we have set and maintained throughout the decades in all of our areas of coverage and the important role we have played in driving political and socially progressive and responsible agendas; in covering the worlds of arts and entertainment, food, and fashion, always with a critical view, while at the same time promoting their enormous importance in maintaining a healthy society; and in advocating for the recognition and acceptance of a wide range of lifestyles that are so valuable for a vibrant society.”
He thanked all who’ve worked for the Phoenix over the decades — “our staff has been our soul,’’ he averred — and all the readers and advertisers who have supported the publication.
“So, that’s it,” Mindich concluded. “We have had an extraordinary run.”
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Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Todd Wallack, Mark Pothier, and Callum Borchers of the Globe staff contributed to this report"
This newspaper actually had media psy op content throughout the GS campaign when I was in the area. Yet they at times had content that seemed helpful to me, usually in later years after Bush and all the horrors I experienced in that era.
They also had a tight connection with my former friend the career criminal. The advertising dept at least was never that nice to me.
Its a strange feeling. It seems as if something so a part of my youth and my life there is leaving and with my situation being the way iit is, it feels like yet another piece of my youth and former life taken from me is going off into another place-a space in time, the past-so that I may never regain ownership of what was rightly mine again.
Its the same effect as being chased out of that apartment in Brighton MA with that horrible, nasty evil campaign of harassment and using the tech- going by there many times since, with the distinct feeling that my very life's energy is somehow stuck in that building.
Ive posted before that it was a Masonic Hall originally. A very old building with symbols on it. Its so sad, the energy there was the most ease in seeking success I'd ever had. And they had to go and do the worst thing possible just as I was about to really move on with my life. To see clearly the path I was to take to create the most constructive use possible of my past and life experience.
On the other hand if the structures that formerly were-that existed during that time, that helped 'trap' me in the nightmare I now live in daily are deconstructed or destroyed it feels like space is freed up. As if the associations I have that make up my perceptions of that community that existed around me and made up my former life when I was basically abducted into this system, that has had me trapped for so many-if any part of that is destroyed it seems to free up room for me to see the truth. My story and experience of events.
A psychological prison had been carefully constructed so that I believed that everyone and any institution who betrayed me in Boston was untouchable, above the law- even that cover stories were somehow more legit and 'real' than the much more sinister version of what went on that I and other Targets know to be true. They've had me trapped in this for years. Its the way in which I was expelled from my own life and abducted by the GS system.
Now that a major pillar or piece of that scene and community has been removed I can finally see out of the prison a bit and I am able to really connect my ex, my mother and family and my old friend-even the entire community, to war crimes during Bush.
The abuse of power involved in utilizing those technologies, psychological warfare techniques and so much manpower to destroy me, discredit me and continue MK Ultra domestically (my mother is the daughter of two US Marines and a documented radiation experimentee from the Naval hospital in Bethesda, Maryland during 1950s.) during the post 9-11 Bush administration.
And I have the ultimate weapon against permanent imprisonment, madness and feeling my life was taken from me without recourse: I have story. One that spans many years over this campaign and I have ALL the information about what really happened whereas most people only have pieces of info or just outright disinfo (cover stories etc).
Thats why its so important to make sure I cant settle down to start construction of a book or even send affidavits or such to officials. Thus the recent hard push to try to get me to leave the USA.
That scene back home for all the years Ive returned only to have Boston-all of MA beat me at this so I just turn around and leave again-they arent so monolithic and infallible after all.
The psychological prison created for Targeted Survivors really does trap a person mentally in time so they just keep being tormented by whatever went on during the usually brutal initial betrayals and removing the victim from their former lives, community, family etc.
Julia, Jake and my mother: all easily black mailed and all betrayed me to this system. All, now its clear-assisted in breaking international laws on human and civil rights by helping to perpetrate war crimes.
The only reason anyone in any Western nation gets away with GS and related activities is becuz not all countries are recognizing and prosecuting war criminals-which doesnt mean there were no war crimes committed it simply means this nation doesnt recognize it as such.
Bush is fine in the USA. Switzerland acknowledges he is a war criminal.
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