Former Boston Phoenix executive editor Peter Kadzis says of the gray day that the 47-year-old weekly paper closed: “At the moment — and still in retrospect — it had a dream-like quality. There was that pull between the unconscious (can this really be happening?) and the conscious (yes, it is!).
“There were a few tears. A lot of sniffles. A general feeling of numbness.”
He recalls writer Chris Faraone lighting a strong joint — “that provided a flash of levity” — and then about a dozen staffers heading to the An Tua Nua bar for drinks.
The rest of the day “was pretty depressing,” says Faraone. “I think I was there [at the bar] last, and that was probably like 7 or 8 at night. The great detail, of course, is that An Tua Nua just closed too. Like a fucking plague over there.”
The Phoenix folded on March 14, five months ago tomorrow. Here’s what some of the alt-weekly’s staffers are doing now and their thoughts on the paper’s demise.
Carly Carioli, who was editor-in-chief, writes:
My two biggest concerns in the aftermath of the Phoenix closing were 1) to give the editorial staff a way of communicating directly with each other outside of the paper; and 2) to do everything possible to help people get new gigs. As a group, we quickly put together a google doc where we all shared job openings, contacts, headhunters, and agencies. It was a real collective networking effort, and I think there were at least a few jobs that came directly out of that.
That Google doc was titled “FUck you we used to be the Phoenix.” (Yes, it’s FU, not Fu.)
“It was also immensely helpful to have a network of Phoenix alumni to turn to,” says Carioli. “There were dozens of friends and strangers who reached out or responded to cold-calls on behalf of our staffers. Some were in a position to offer freelance assignments, others were able to give tips on unlisted job. There was a long-ago former art director who ended up hiring two of our best people.”
He adds: “I was one of the very lucky ones — I was talking to potential employers within 24 hours of the announcement that we were closing. And ultimately I started at [the Globe’s] Boston.com the day after I left the Phoenix.”
In late July he resigned and joined Boston magazine as executive editor./CONTINUES
A few of the journalists decided to start new ventures – or revive old projects – after the Phoenix folded.
“It took about 36 hours after the final Phoenix ‘send-off’ for me to start getting itchy,” says Michael Marotta, “so I took an old blog off a Blogger platform, which I had named Vanyaland, and started posting there again. It was created around 2008 to give me a proper outlet from the Boston Herald, where I was (frustrated) at the time and wanted to ramble about music and trashy reality TV.”
The site was reborn in May — it now has seven contributors who once freelanced for the Phoenix — and “the response has been huge,” says Marotta.
Did he consider working “a regular job” after his time at the Phoenix?
Not really. I flirted with a certain big company, but my heart was never really into it and the fit definitely wasn’t right. I’m past the point where I ever want to work for someone else, and in 2013 there’s really no need to. Independent online media, at least concerning music, has more credibility in this city right now than the traditional dinosaurs. Their attempts to “get younger” are just facsimiles of what the blogs and indie websites are already doing.
Marotta notes that “a lot has happened to Boston – and the world – since mid-March [and] it breaks my heart a little bit that the Phoenix isn’t around to filter through the bullshit and tell it like it is. But I think anyone that has ever worked for the Boston Phoenix always considers themselves a part of it, and that spirit lives on in how they approach and execute their work, regardless of where they are or who they are working for.”
A week after the Phoenix closed, S.I. Rosenbaum interviewed for a “content provider.” She thought it was a freelance copyediting position, but the company offered her a fulltime job. She took it “and was promptly totally miserable.”
It wasn’t the company’s fault, she says.
“It was just a huge shock after the Phoenix newsroom. I couldn’t deal with the civility, the stable personalities, the swank office furniture, or with no longer being part of a journalistic operation. People were telling me to get used to it, that journalism jobs were over, that I should be happy editing content for Home Depot.”
But she ignored them and started looking for a better job.
“I called up New York Mag, Texas Monthly, and Boston magazine. TM never got back to me, but NYMag was interested, and so was BoMag. They were interested enough that I gave notice at the content company and never looked back.
“In the end, BoMag made me the first offer, and a very good one. By that time the bombings had happened, and I was more than happy to stay in my hometown what looks to be the newsiest era Boston has had in decades. I have the chance to shape coverage about the city I love, and the freedom to do longform journalism – not to mention the ability to make rent every month. I’m thrilled.”
She adds: “At the Phoenix we were earning so little, and working under such bare-bones conditions, that the work itself had to be our main compensation. If we weren’t having fun making our magazine the way we wanted to, working on projects that made us happy, there was no point to being there at all. And that’s not something I’m willing to give up now that I’m being paid a living wage.”
David Bernstein also landed at Boston magazine, as a contributing editor. (He does some work for WGBH, too.)
About two weeks after the Phoenix folded, Bernstein was the first to report – on his personal blog – that Boston Mayor Tom Menino wouldn’t run for re-election.
“I was a fairly valuable brand” – especially after breaking the Menino news – and it became clear it would be a huge political year, “so, several outlets, including BoMag and GBH, reached out to have conversations with me.” He signed with both.
There was something special about working at the Phoenix, feeling that you were part of putting out something that you could at some level feel was valuable and important, and upholding a certain tradition. And, although I tend to keep mostly to myself when I work — whether on staff or as a freelancer/”contributor — I like being around smart, incisive, clever people who are engaged in the world, which was always the case at the Phoenix.
I asked about the city missing its alt-weekly.
“Boston without the Phoenix? A disengaged and disconnected media wasteland of conformity and pandering, where the occasional talented journalist toils futilely within deadening constraints before succumbing to the lure of a PR job that pays the bills. But that’s probably a slightly too pessimistic view. Slightly.”
I asked former Phoenix media critic Dan Kennedy — he left the paper to teach in 2005 — the same question.
“The effect of its demise has been incalculable,” he says. “Its absence after the Boston Marathon bombing and, now, during the first wide-open Boston mayoral campaign in 20 years is a terrible loss. The Boston Globe is about to be sold, and the Phoenix’s take would have been definitive. I don’t know how you make up for it. The era of the big-city alt-weekly seems to have passed.”
Former executive editor Kadzis, now a WGBH News regular contributor, adds: “The demise of the Boston Phoenix has left a hole in the city’s media fabric, but Phoenix talent is still enriching the scene. It’s just not concentrated in a single place.”
I was at the Phoenix just shy of 25 years, so leaving there felt a bit like leaving home when I was in my early 20s: equal parts exciting and scary. What I miss are my colleagues: the crazy driven salespeople, the cooler-than-cool graphic designers, the writers who constantly second guess themselves to make sure they got things right, and the know-it-all copy editors who are truly the unsung heroes of our business.
Jacqueline Houton started as managing editor of The Improper Bostonian six days after The Phoenix folded. (She had been M.E. there, too.)
“I just felt extremely lucky to land something so soon,” she says. “I applied for one other position and was asked in for an interview, but by that point I’d already accepted the position at the Improper.”
What Houton misses about the Phoenix: “The muckraking spirit, the creative freedom, and the incredibly talented, weird, and wonderful team.”
“When most people lose their jobs, even they don’t give a shit,” says former Phoenix staff writer Chris Faraone. “When we lost our jobs, everyone from you to the New Yorker had something to say about the situation. It seems a bit overblown – no doubt. But the place really was that special.
“Money was always tight, so we wouldn’t always be able to bring in freelancers and interns who we wanted there full-time, but they stuck around anyway, and in a lot of cases became part of the family. I’m one of those people, as I started freelancing hip-hop articles for the paper about six months before coming on as a staff writer.”
About 10 minutes after word got out that the Phoenix was closing, Faraone got a text from the owner of Dig Boston; he wanted to talk about Faraone’s next move. (He started his career there — when it was called Weekly Dig — in 2004.)
“I decided that it’s best to stay mostly independent for now, but to also work with the Dig to develop young writers, and to keep the alt spirit alive locally.”
The Dig has published his series on City of Somerville corruption, which he started working on with other journalists last September. “So far, our work has yielded some significant results,” he says.
He was asked to write the Dig’s cover story after the Boston Marathon bombing.
“I didn’t even have to think about it; less than 24 hours later, I filed this story, flashing back between my experience in NY on 9/11, and what I saw in Boston following the marathon attack. Coincidentally, the Dig had picked up some Phoenix ad dollars, and was bringing back a feature well after years of not having one. My bombing story wound up marking the return of long form to the paper.”
“It’s sold pretty well on Kindle, even charting a few times, but more importantly it’s been read tens of thousands of times in this kickass free format that I did with help from a few friends. Looks great on any device.”
He’s also working his next book, “I Killed Breitbart.”
Longtime arts editor Jon Garelick says that since the Phoenix closed, “I’ve just been trying to get a new work rhythm going where I’m freelancing and also looking for work.”
He notes that “the Globe has been really responsive to my pitches” and “I’m now doing work for people who used to work for me and still like me, which is nice.”
Freelancing has kept him busy, but “it’s very isolating. You’ve got to remind yourself to leave the house once in a while otherwise you won’t go out. …I’d be happy to fully employed again.”
I’d like to add life-after-the-Phoenix stories from others. Please drop me an email or let us know in comments what you’re doing.
Peter Kadzis gave me this information:
“Kristen Goodfriend, the overall art and design director, is working/consulting with the Portland and Providence Phoenixes to train them on maximizing editorial design. Lindy Raso, the receptionist and general go-to person, is now the office manager at The Weekly Dig. …Staffer Alexandra Cavallo is at Metro Boston. …. Kevin Banks, deputy art director, and Shaula Clark, managing editor, are at The Pohly Company. Liz Pelly, the assistant music editor, has started an online alternative paper, The Media.”