An open letter to Salon on the occasion of a really dumb piece about alt-weeklies

Shorter Salon: "Duhhhh, I don't know . . . it looks different."

Frankly, I didn’t realize Salon was still a thing – didn’t they change their name to Slate or something? -- but since Faraone just called me up and is ready to murder someone, a few brief words about this shamelessly shoddy piece on alt-weeklies, which even its editors must have known was suck-ass, since they waited until early on a Saturday morning to dump it onto the internets, sandwiched between (I shit you not) a think-piece on the history of the spork and a Dan Savage blowjob.  

To paraphrase: Salon’s Will Doig [sic] claims that the Phoenix has “vanished.” His evidence for this: the name of the publication used to be “Boston Phoenix.” Now it’s “The Phoenix.” “The city’s name – the sense of place – simply disappeared,” he writes. Fact-check: We’ve been publishing online at since 2006. Somehow, we managed to maintain our sense of place – Brookline Avenue did not spontaneously evaporate in a puff of sophomoric semantics, nor did the city of Boston have a brain hemorrhage trying to figure out whether we still existed. I don’t want to make Doig’s head explode, but we also changed our logo: slightly. Pound the alarm.

(Sidebar: At least when the Globe writes something specious about us, they have the balls to quote us.)

According to Doig, the Phoenix used to be an “alternative weekly,” but now it’s a “news culture lifestyle” magazine. Breaking news, Will: we’ve always been a news, culture, and lifestyle publication. Those elements were a part of the Phoenix – and of all alt-weeklies – in 1969. As for the claim that we are now a glossy magazine: guilty as charged. We are exactly as glossy a magazine as the Atlantic, the New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, Time Out New York, Esquire, Rolling Stone, GQ, and SPIN (RIP), to name just eight of the magazines that continue to hoover off Phoenix writers and editors whenever they’re looking for someone smart, witty, urbane, and ready to smash the powers-that-be in the face. We have said for decades that we are a magazine in newsprint form. Now we’re a magazine in magazine form. My ten year old understands this; I’m sorry if media critics have a rough time wrapping their heads around it.

Doig is among the writers who are eager to throw us in with the Village Voice, a paper which has spent years sloughing off its heritage, slaughtering its staff, and eating itself alive. (The final straw – the one that prompted Rosie Gray’s elegy/autopsy – involved the layoff of my good friend Camille Dodero, a Phoenix veteran who was the last great writer left at the Voice. She’s now kicking ass at Gawker.)

Well, the Voice is what happens when you sell out to a shitty conglomerate. Meanwhile, the Phoenix has remained proudly independent and locally-owned for over 45 years.

And now you’re seeing why that matters.

While the Voice fired its great writers, we have protected ours. The relaunch of the Phoenix as a magazine bolstered and expanded our arts and culture coverage, which is written – now as it was in newsprint – by our Pulitzer-winning classical editor Lloyd Schwartz; our nationally-recognized film editor Peter Keough; 20-year-plus veteran arts editor and jazz critic Jon Garelick, a winner of multiple ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards; and New England’s most treasured theater critic, Carolyn Clay. Our music section is still breaking new acts in the age of Pitchfork, led by Michael Marotta and Liz Pelly, who are also helping program our world-famous online radio station, Our columnist David Thorpe won a Deems-Taylor award last year – even more extraordinary because he’s a humor columnist – and christened our second magazine issue with a 4000-word piece on his epic trolling of Wal-Mart and Pitbull. Editor-at-large Peter Kadzis, who has been here over 20 years, has just launched a new column on politics, history, and literature, to go along with 30-year-veteran correspondent Harvey Silverglate's long-running column on civil liberties. David Bernstein is arguably the city’s most influential political columnist – not only if, but especially if, you ask Twitter. Chris Faraone is the only reporter at any alt-weekly to singlehandedly cover Occupy on a national scale, and the book he wrote collecting his Phoenix coverage has been hailed by such flufftastic glossy throwaway magazines as The Economist. I can totally see how someone would say we’ve gotten stodgy, since Faraone’s first two features in the new magazine were an account of the DNC as recorded through the haze of five hits of LSD, and a report on how he was singled out by police, assaulted, and jailed – sustaining career-threatening injuries that may result in multiple lawsuits against the NYPD – while attempting to cover the one-year Occupy Wall Street anniversary protests. Same as you’d read in the dailies, nbd.

BTW, the two editors we brought over from our sister publication Stuff Magazine both have Phoenix blood in their veins: managing editor Jacqueline Houton started here as an intern to our late, legendary managing editor Clif Garboden; photo editor Janice Checchio has been shooting for the newspaper for years.

The media-watchers who’ve pontificated about the Phoenix’s transformation from newspaper to magazine have generally missed the real story entirely. If anyone wants to tell it, give me a call, I’ll be happy to walk you through it. Here’s the lede: A weekly magazine is an elegant solution to a series of problems – financial, aesthetic, journalistic -- that weekly newspapers cannot solve, and almost all of those problems stem from the internet being a better delivery vehicle for news and advertising than cheap newsprint. 

(Another sidenote about Salon’s sloppy aggregating: they quote a blog post by someone named Mark Lecese and imply that this person is a media writer for the Globe. By which they mean the opposite: the blog post they quote contains a disclaimer that says, unequivocally, “This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.” From what I can surmise, then, Lecese is some sort of sad, failed journalist who can’t land a paying gig, isn’t smart enough to figure out Tumblr, and therefore has to settle for the community blogs on Dear Salon: If that’s the guy you found to proclaim that the Phoenix is “stodgy,” please kill yourself.)

But look, Salon’s piece isn’t much dumber than a lot of alt-weekly-death-watch pieces that’ve come out over the past year. And it isn’t just wrong about us. It’s wrong about alt-weeklies in general.

I’ve been an alt-media guy my entire adult life – I dropped out of j-school to take a job at the Phoenix back in the early 90s, and have dedicated fully half my years to this enterprise, the last decade spent seeing it through the most difficult era that the industry has ever seen. I spent a wonderful year serving on the board of directors of AAN, the trade organization of alt-weeklies, attempting to solve some of the systemic problems that all of us are facing. Here’s something else that nobody is writing about: while many big-market alts are faltering, many small-market alts are prospering. And not just the anomalous ones in Denver and California that have lucked into an advertising gold-rush in the form of medical-marijuana ads. (Which, by the way: please god let us get medical marijuana ads in Massachuestts this fall.) From Seven Days in Vermont to Mississippi’s amazing Jackson Free Press – which began life as a website and migrated into print, bringing progressive community to one of the reddest, meanest states in the country – success stories are actually easier to find than failures. 

And Salon-boy should remember this: The notion of the alt-weekly was as disruptive in 1972 as blogs were in 2002. But the ones that lasted were the ones that continued to innovate, adapt, and change. The Phoenix launched as a four-pager called Boston After Dark in 1966, focused on arts but eventually covering radical politics (Famous Vietnam-era headline: “Enemy Bombs Hanoi.” Famous Occupy-era headline: “This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” over a photo of jackbooted cops dragging young woman out of Dewey Square) at the same time that it published quarterly glossy-fashion-mag inserts. In the 1980s and 1990s, it expanded into broadcast and tele-publishing– launching a commercial radio station and inventing the computerized (telephone) personals business years before anyone thought up We were on the internet a week before the Boston Globe back in 1994, and almost immediately partnered with Yahoo and AOL.

Salon? Last I checked, it’s still just a website – supported by advertising. How long you think that’s gonna last, son? Forever? The Phoenix didn’t get to stick around for nearly half a century by resting on its laurels, or being nostalgic for supposedly purer days – that way of thinking is intrinsically against our nature, which is, over and over and over again, to change. To shift gears and adapt when the shit hits the fan. So don’t come in here peddling that “disappeared” nonsense. This isn’t our first evolution, more like our fortieth, and it won’t be our last. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, motherfucker.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Phlog Archives