Ode to the Providence Phoenix

I fear something terrible has happened.

-Obi-Wan Kenobi

My initial reaction to reading that the Providence Phoenix was ceasing publication was that it must be a joke or a mistake. After all, it had only been their 35th anniversary a year ago, and after it survived the demise of the Boston Phoenix I figured that it would continue indefinitely. It was a gut feeling, and it was wrong.

You should immediately read editor Phil Eil’s eulogy. Seriously, click that link, read it, maybe grab a cup of something, ponder over it and feel bad for a while. Then come back. This will still be here.

For me, the Phoenix represented a paper for everyone. It seems unfair to compare it the Providence Journal, but the Phoenix was far more accessible than the Journal. Yes, that was the free model, it’s easy to grab a Phoenix on the way out the door of a local liquor store or sit down to read it at a coffee shop. The Journal depends on you asking for it to be delivered or putting just the right amount of coins into its little box. No one leaves a Journal on a RIPTA bus, but six times out of ten, you could find a discarded Phoenix, adult section and all, in the back seats.

But while its accessible price was certainly a key to the love its received over the years, far more important was its accessible content. The way I grew up, for most of my life the Journal couldn’t attract my attention beyond the comics, and my interest in that waned. But I’m reasonably sure the Phoenix was the first real news I ever read. Maybe it was the thrill of breasts and porn reviews for a horny teenager, or maybe it was because the front page was advertising something other than whatever political nonsense was ongoing at the moment, but I started reading news from discarded Phoenix copies on the RIPTA bus from home to school and back again.

The Providence Phoenix is(was?) the only news source that takes its name from Providence and actually seems to love the city. In the Journal, we’re failures and fuck-ups. In GoLocalProv, we’re worse — mouth-breathing, parasitic clowns. In the Phoenix we are a living, breathing city; complete with social activism, quirky people, fascinating companies, and some pretty awesome local entertainment. Few other news sources would care enough to put rock bands on the front page; and if they dared to slap a profile of a video game up there, it’d invariably be another story on the collapse of 38 Studios. With the end of the Phoenix, we’ve lost the one news source that treats Providence as human; as a place more than where corrupt politicians conspire and where people get robbed or shot. In the Phoenix, the starched suits of Smith Hill have to give way to the studded leather of Empire Street.

What I do now owes a lot to the Phoenix. Undoubtedly my tone is highly influenced by what I read as a teen in its pages. I think there’s a lot in the online world in Rhode Island, in blogging in general, that owes a debt of gratitude to alt-weeklies like the Phoenix. But I think some of our blogging has missed the rest of what the Phoenix offered. You could flip from a discussion on the internal politics of the General Assembly to find out what bands were playing, whether that movie you wanted to see was any good, and what weird thing might be happening at the Providence Athenaeum.

There’s no other way to say it. This is fucked up.

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