The announcement yesterday that the Boston Phoenix is ceasing publication marks the end of an era, an era of substantive, long-form journalism. Jim Barron and I wrote for the paper back in the 1970’s. It was the place to be, along with The Village Voice, the best of alternative journalism.
Back in 1975, Jim Barron and I thought that the change in Democratic Party rules could enable an unknown one-term governor from Georgia (Jimmy who?) to become President. We proposed an article to the Globe and were dismissed out of hand. We took it to The Real Paper. Marty Linsky wasn’t buying.
So we went to Phoenix editor Bill Miller, formerly of The Boston Globe. He said yes, then hired us to cover the election, then national politics. Under him, we learned to sharpen our focus, hone our views. Under copy editor Dave Moran and the late John Ferguson, we learned to relax our overly taut language and let it breathe.
We had remarkable colleagues. Coming from UPI, Dick Gaines, one of the best ever State House political reporters, covered Beacon Hill, a legacy ably advanced in recent years by Adam Reilly and David Bernstein. Howard Husock covered city government and the inimitable Alan Lupo profiled its people. Sid Blumenthal, who ended up going to the White House with the Clintons, wrote well on national security matters. Sports were forever changed for me by the writing of Charlie Pierce and George Kimball. Jon Keller, Mark Jurkowitz and Scot Lehigh were also noteworthy. And look at what has recently been achieved by now NY Times reporter Mark Leibovich, who started out as a secretary to later editor Dick Gaines.
The late Dave O’Brian brilliantly did “Media Matters,” a pathbreaking beat later to be taken up knowledgeably by Dan Kennedy. I’ll never forget the particularly ugly poster of the late Herald gossip columnist Norma Nathan looking down on Dave as he wrote his trenchant columns, often about Nathan’s errors and excesses.
Diane Dumanoski, who covered the environment and feminist matters, wrote one of the first articles ever about a transgender and won New England Newswoman of the Year for her accomplishments. The day her honor was announced, a group gathered in the newsroom to hail the award, and Diane said to publisher Steve Mindich, “Well, Steve, now can I get that raise I’ve been asking about?” He scoffed at the idea, saying “A raise? You should be paying me for the privilege of working here!!”
People were never at the Phoenix for the money. Mindich and finance guy Barry Morris were immortalized in Between the Lines, a movie about life in the alternative media which became a cult film, and was written by Fred Barron (my brother-in-law.) Even before the paper got into trouble, Steve lifted nickels as if they were manhole covers, but he always understood good journalism and the mission of the Phoenix. Frequently irascible, he was a stand-up kind of publisher, and for decades the public understood the importance of the paper.
Because of the personals in the Phoenix, it had an, shall we say, “edgy” reputation. A local drugstore used to keep it under the counter rather than in the magazine rack. When Jim and I wrote a cover story on Joe Moakley, Tip O’Neill told us he had gone out early in the morning in Washington sheepishly searching for outlets that carried copies. Its coverage of the arts will be missed.
So, too, will its eagerness to afflict the comfortable in a responsible way. Remember, it wasn’t the Globe that broke the story about priestly sexual abuse. It was Phoenix reporter Kristen Lombardi. The Globe got a Pulitzer for building on her work. So, farewell, Boston Phoenix and all the terrific journalists who contributed to it over the decades.
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