From The Phoenix’s Ashes, A New (Online) Weekly Emerges
Liz Pelly, assistant music editor at the Boston Phoenix, almost skipped the call.
She was in Austin, Tex. at the time, attending the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festival. And she was consumed by work. Tired.
But it sounded important. So she dialed into the call — a sort of town meeting for the staff — just in time to hear publisher Stephen Mindich’s announcement: “This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. As of today the Boston Phoenix will cease publication.”
For Pelly, 23, it was devastating news.
When she was an undergraduate at Boston University, the only place she could imagine working was the Phoenix. And she wasn’t sure where she’d find the same mix of radical politics and underground culture.
Six weeks later, Pelly and another former Phoenix staffer — Faye Orlove, 22 — have launched an online publication, The Media, that aims to capture a bit of the Phoenix’s spirit.
The first issue, dated May 1, included an interview with musician Laura Stevenson and a piece on medical marijuana and the media. Starting May 10, The Media plans to publish a new issue every Friday morning.
Pelly, the editorial director, and Orlove, the creative director, say they didn’t know immediately after the Phoenix’s collapse that they would launch a new publication.
But their own career anxiety melded with a broader worry about all the young writers in Boston who could no longer look to the Phoenix as a place to get started. And they were concerned about a city deprived of an important voice.
“It was a sense of being overwhelmed by ideas and energy and wanting to be part of something new,” Pelly says.
The Internet, over the last couple of decades, made the Phoenix and other alternative weeklies less distinctive than they once were — providing plenty of space for the sort of alternative views on music, culture and politics that once set the papers apart.
The Media faces the same crowded marketplace. But Pelly says the publication will offer something in short supply in the blogosphere: the rhythm and thoughtful pace of a weekly.
There is something to be said, she adds, for combining cultural criticism with the kind of political coverage often shunned by the cool.
And The Media will aim for a sense of place absent on much of the Web, exploring a Boston-specific underground little noticed on national sites.
The May 10 issue, for instance, will include a feature on Black & Pink, a local organization that works with imprisoned gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Orlove says the site — with no immediate plans for a print publication — also aims to distinguish itself through design. The Media, rendered in black and white, looks like a hipsterfied community newspaper.
And for now, that’s what it is. The paper is small and filled with pieces by youthful, unpaid contributors. It doesn’t approach the sweep of the Phoenix.
There are no advertisements on the site. And Pelly and Orlove say they will not seek any; some of the ads that filled the Phoenix, they say, struck them as less-than-alternative. The co-founders are seeking donations instead. And as of Tuesday morning, they’d collected $830.
The pair earn their money elsewhere — Pelly is a freelance writer and a weekend editor at music site Stereogum; Orlove books shows at the Middle East rock club and steers a pedicab.
But they’re hopeful that The Media can survive where the Phoenix did not. They’re used to living on the cheap. They’ve been overwhelmed by pitches from would-be contributors expecting no payment in return.
And this summer, they’ll erect a lemonade stand.