Last words: Boston Phoenix closes today after 47 years

We were notified at 2 pm today that the issue of the Boston Phoenix on stands today is the last one we will ever publish.

The timing comes as a shock, but the news isn't a surprise. We're less than a year into an experiment launched last fall to turn a 46 year old alternative weekly newspaper into a weekly magazine. By every measure not related to advertising sales, it has been a success. Unlike many newspapers and magazines, we didn't suffer from declining readership, online or in print -- only declining revenue. But in the end the money is what matters. It wasn't a secret, inside the building, that ad revenue, after an initial surge when we relaunched the magazine, was down -- way down. Local advertising remained strong, but the uptick in national business we hoped for never materialized. Still, we thought we had a little more time.

When I took over as editor in chief, a job I'd dreamed about for nearly 20 years, I made a solemn oath uttered only to myself that I would not be the last editor of the Phoenix. To my colleagues, past and present: I'm sorry I wasn't able to see it through. I first set foot here in 1993, still in college, and I've spent half my life in the service of this particular way of making journalism; it's been a blessing to spend that long among the most talented, creative, and passionate people I've ever met. I can't begin to describe how much it hurts to lose this.

The tragedy is that it feels like we're going out at the top of our game. As I write this our best journalists are where they belong: in the field. David Bernstein is in Washington, interviewing Elizabeth Warren for what would have been the next issue's cover story. Music editor Michael Marotta is heading up a team of photographers and writers covering SXSW. Among those with him is Liz Pelly, who arrived in Austin direct from a DIY music festival in Mexico. Our next issue would also have included an important essay by's Bill McKibben on the Democratic Senate primary between Ed Markey and Steve Lynch -- and its deep importance to preventing the expansion of the KXL pipeline.

The week after that, we were scheduled to run the first in a two-part series by Chris Faraone that he has reported painstakingly over a series of months with an innovative, ad-hoc investigative unit of Somerville reporters.

I don't know where these pieces will end up. I hope they end up somewhere. 

All of this comes on the heels of what I believe was some of our best work. We just published a 10,000 word piece by Faraone on the way the right-wing blogosphere eats its own. Two incredibly important pieces by Wen Stephenson on the climate justice movement. Just a couple weeks ago, the Phoenix was the first media outlet honored by the Mass Cultural Council's Commonwealth Awards -- a reflection of the vital role we've played in Boston's arts scene over half a century. (By the way: if you think people who care about classical music don't use the internet, I encourage you to read all 180 comments on the story we published last week about the shuttering of Longy School of Music's community programs.)

And all you have to do is read pieces by our newest generation of writers -- like Cassie Landry's profile of Jamie Bissonnette in Hong Kong, or Maddy Myers's feminist video-game essays, or Pelly's longform DIY label profiles -- to see that the editorial future of the magazine was incredibly bright.

None of us are naive. We know that editorial excellence is never enough. But we kept hoping it would be, because while there are plenty of other media outlets vying for your attention -- many of them fantastic -- there is still nothing in Boston, maybe not anywhere, even remotely like the Phoenix.

When editors address their readers, they tend to do so in the abstract sense. But over the years I got to know a great many Phoenix readers. It was impossible not to. Our brand of journalism and criticism attracted people like us -- opinionated, passionate, fearless. Our audience has never hesitated to scream at us when we got it wrong, and surge to our side when we got it right. Almost all of the Phoenix's writers and editors were Phoenix readers first. To all of you who supported us over the years by picking up the newspaper or the magazine or read us online, who shared our work or shouted at it: we can never thank you enough.

There is a tendency, when single-owner newspapers go under, to blame the publisher. But there is no private conglomerate, no publicly-traded corporation, that would have supported a newspaper like the Phoenix for as long -- and at as great a cost -- as Stephen Mindich. I am disappointed that we're closing down the magazine without a chance for a proper farewell issue, and I'm concerned for the well-being of my newsroom family, so suddenly turned into the streets. But it will have to be someone else who criticizes Stephen, because his vision, his ambition, his conviction, and -- yes -- his money, are the reasons any of us were allowed to do, for so long, exactly the things we loved and valued most.
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