Boston Phoenix Closing: Is Beloved Alt-Weekly ‘Paying The Price’ For Missteps, Or Another Victim Of A Changing Industry?

on March 14 2013 4:54 PM

Updated 8:15 pm ET

The Boston Phoenix will not be rising from the ashes of the economic devastation that plagues so much of the publishing industry today. The alternative weekly’s March 15 issue will be its last in print, followed by a final, online-only issue published on March 22.

Stephen M. Mindich, head of the Phoenix Media/Communications Group, announced the closure in a statement to his staff on Thursday, which Boston.com published in its breaking story about the weekly's demise.

“As everyone knows, between the economic crisis beginning in 2007 and the simultaneous radical changes in the media business, particularly as it has affected print media advertising, these have been extremely difficult times for our company and despite the valiant effort by many, many past and current staff to attempt to stabilize and, in fact, reverse our significant financial losses, we have been unable to do so and they are no longer sustainable,” Mindich said, adding that both the Providence and Portland Phoenix, which each have a “smaller scale of operations,” would continue production “for as long as they remain financially viable.”In September, the Boston Phoenix rebranded itself from a newsprint staple of Boston’s arts and culture scene, and the go-to source of listings and classifieds, to a glossy magazine titled The Phoenix, in an attempt to adjust to a changing media landscape. But the repackaging, which was met with some skepticism, did not reverse the struggling alt-weekly’s fortunes. Phoenix Media/Communications group executive editor Peter Kadzis said that while the new format was embraced by local advertisers, it led to further loss of national advertisers, whose numbers were already in decline. After the announcement last fall, the Boston Globe’s Mark Leccese wrote a column addressing the faded glory of the Phoenix and alt-weeklies in general, titled “The sad, inevitable decline of the Boston Phoenix.”

For 47 years, the Boston Phoenix was a stalwart supporter of the city’s arts and music scene, and the abrupt closure is being felt as a serious blow to the city’s cultural framework. Past and present employees of the Phoenix have expressed bitter disappointment for the loss.

Phoenix Editor Carly Carioli described the closure as a “tragedy” in a blog post: “It feels like we are going out at the top of our game,” he wrote, pointing out that numerous reporters were in the field working on important, national stories at the time of the announcement.

Karl Stevens, a cartoonist and former contributor to the Boston Phoenix, who has a troubled history with the weekly -- it canceled his cartoon series after one of them insulted Bud Light, an advertiser -- blames more than the general decline of newspapers for its closure. “They made too many missteps regarding their content, and are paying the price,” he said.

Michael J. Epstein, a musician and filmmaker with strong ties to the Boston arts scene, called the closure of the Phoenix a “devastating thing,” given the paper’s authority and influence.

“Part of what a music scene and art scene rely on is the legitimization provided by trusted media outlets,” Epstein said. “There is a big difference between saying ‘my friend has a band’ and ‘my friend has a band that was written up in the Phoenix.’” Epstein pointed to the Phoenix’s willingness and ability to provide in-depth coverage to important political stories, in addition to artist profiles. “[They] would be willing to devote a good number of words to really dig in and get some insight.”

Asked if he had seen any writing on the wall, Epstein said there were signs the end was near. “I can’t say it was surprising, but it felt very sudden,” he said. “At this point no loss of a newspaper or radio station feels too surprising.”

On Thursday afternoon, the Boston Phoenix's official Twitter account tweeted a message acknowledging the closure: "Thank you Boston. Good night and good luck."

An earlier version of this story used an incorrect pronoun in reference to Carly Carioli.

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