After 47 Years, The Boston Phoenix Will Close

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It's the end of a Boston institution. After 47 years as an alternative voice, The Boston Phoenix is closing, The Phoenix Media Group announced Thursday.

The alternative weekly built a reputation of gritty political coverage and edgy reviews of the arts. It was also a vibrant training ground for young writers, many of whom went on to national prominence.

But the Phoenix won’t publish any more of them. The last print issue (the current one) is on newsstands now. The next and final issue comes out online-only next week.

The Boston Phoenix, which recently reinvented itself as a glossy magazine, will close. Here's the last print issue, which hit newsstands Thursday. (Abby Elizabeth Conway/WBUR)
The Boston Phoenix, which recently reinvented itself as a glossy magazine, will close. Here's the last print issue, which hit newsstands on Thursday. (Abby Elizabeth Conway/WBUR)

The media group had already unloaded some other publications and sold its radio station, WFNX-FM. And last year, the weekly Phoenix switched from its inky tabloid format to a glossy magazine.

"The move to magazine was very successful," executive editor Peter Kadzis said Thursday, after the closing was announced. "Readers liked it, local advertisers liked it. National advertisers — with a couple of exceptions, like Budweiser — were largely indifferent."

And that, Kadzis says, is what that was killed the Phoenix: It was never able to recover the national advertising that started falling away 10 years ago.

Meanwhile, The Boston Phoenix's sister papers in Providence and Portland, Maine, will stay open. Local advertising is keeping them afloat, even as the Boston institution dies.

"We are a newspaper that allows writers — young and old, radical, crotchety, conservative, but definitely alternative — to say what they want the way they want it, and it’s a shame that that vehicle is going to pass into the memory," Kadzis said.

But the Phoenix was already becoming less memorable, says Boston University mass communication professor John Carroll. He says the Phoenix was still doing good work, but not as great as the stuff that earned it its reputation.

Carroll says the Phoenix got stuck in the middle between mainstream newspapers and the rich alternative content that’s flourishing online.

"It was a distinctive publication in some ways," Carroll said, "but it wasn’t an essential publication for reaching any particular demographic."

In its final, online-only issue, political reporter David Bernstein digs into new U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

This post was updated with the Morning Edition feature version.

-- Here's the Phoenix Media's statement:

The Phoenix Media/Communications Group owner and publisher Stephen M. Mindich today announced a major reorganization. Among the changes:

With the issue dated March 15, The Phoenix, the 47 year old alternative arts and news weekly will cease print publication. The online issue slated for the week of March 22, will be the publication’s last.

The Portland Phoenix in Maine and the Providence Phoenix in Rhode Island will be unaffected. They will continue weekly publication.

The custom publishing unit of the PM/CG, likewise, will stay in business. as will MassWeb Printing, based in Auburn MA.

Mindich announced these changes at a staff meeting at 2 pm today. Freelance contributors were notified subsequent to that.

PM/CG Executive Editor Peter Kadzis, a 25-year veteran of the Phoenix, said this:

“I started reading the paper when I was 14 years old and had the fun and challenge of running it for 20 years or so. Political Boston, arts Boston, just won’t be the same. We are a text book example of sweeping market-place change. Our recent switch to a magazine format met with applause from readers and local advertisers. Not so — with a few exceptions — national advertisers. It was the long-term decline of national advertising dollars that made the Boston Phoenix economically unviable. Providence and Portland, however, don’t suffer from that problem. The local advertising market is sufficient to support those publications. You can see why Warren Buffett favors small market papers over their big city brothers and sisters,”

“The tragedy” wrote Boston Phoenix Editor Carly Carioli in a blog post, “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.”

-- Here's the statement from publisher Stephen Mindich:

I can state with certainty that this is the single most difficult communication I’ve ever had to deliver and there’s no other way to state it than straightforwardly –

As of now the Boston Phoenix has ceased publishing and will not continue as it is.

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.

Because of their smaller scale of operations and because we believe that they remain meaningful publications to their communities, with some necessary changes to each, it is our intent to keep the Providence and Portland Phoenixes operating and to do so for as long as they remain financially viable. The same is true for Mass Web Printing Co.

I cannot find the words to express how sad a moment this is for me, and I know, for you as well, so I won’t try.

What I can and will say is I am extremely proud, as all of you should be, of the highest standards of journalism we have set and maintained throughout the decades in all of our areas of coverage and the important role we have played in driving political and socially progressive and responsible agendas; in covering the worlds of arts and entertainment, food and fashion – always with a critical view, while at the same time promoting their enormous importance in maintaining a healthy society; and in advocating for the recognition and acceptance of a wide range of lifestyles that are so valuable for a vibrant society.

And finally, at least for this moment, I want to thank all of you – and the literally thousands of women and men before you, for lending your talents to our mission over the past 47 years – as I have always said – our staff has been our soul.

And obviously as well, my sincere gratitude to our millions of readers and tens of thousands of advertisers without whom none of what we did accomplish could have been possible or meaningful.

So, that’s it. We have had an extraordinary run.

This article was originally published on March 14, 2013.

This program aired on March 14, 2013.

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Curt Nickisch Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.



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