Devastating news for the Boston journalism scene, as the 47-year-old alternative weekly closes up shop:
The Boston Phoenix, which only six months ago reinvented itself from a tabloid-sized weekly newspaper known for its gritty coverage of politics and the arts into a glossy magazine, will be closing immediately, while its sister publications in Providence and Portland will remain open, according to a statement from the company.
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 was hired (for money, not an unpaid internship) writing listings for the Phoenix's "Summer Preview" back when it was a two-part, mammoth issue with hundreds of pages of information on concerts, museums, amusement parks, films, flea markets, and everything else going on in New England. Because I was accurate and tried to make these blurbs as fun as possible (calling a nut museum a "crack house," stuff like that), my supervising editor gave me a permanent job writing weekly arts listings.
Today, that listings job would be nothing more than data entry for a website, almost surely done from a laptop in my living room. But at the Phoenix, I got to know writers and editors, and I soon felt confident enough to put myself forward as a writer, starting with brief interviews (comedian Pat Paulsen was one of my first) and then long essays on politics and pop culture.
Eventually, I became the Phoenix's supplements editor (back when advertising from bookstores, ski resorts, and the like made it possible to put a literary section and other extra goodies in almost every issue of the paper). Already a pioneer in covering gay-and-lesbian issues, the Phoenix added a monthly supplement called One in Ten that focused on LGBT issues, and being its first editor is one of my proudest achievements.
Later I wrote regular theater reviews for the Phoenix, being given the opportunity because I had become an all-utility player for the paper. Writing one review a week, and working under a patient and extremely helpful editor (theater critic Carolyn Clay), I was able to learn about the Boston theater scene and develop a style of criticism. Again, I don't think I'd be able to do that today; local arts coverage been gutted, and I'd be competing with theater majors for jobs churning out five "reviews" a day for some website based in New York.
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.
Post updated here.