When the Boston Phoenix hired me in the pre-9/11 aughts, I had little more on my resume than a stint scooping ice cream in Harvard Square and some clips from an internship at a magazine. I suppose it was qualification enough for the position to push the weekly paper’s content online through some deft copying and pasting (learned on the job). But I was a shy 22 year old, humbled by the bylines that I carefully posted each week. Despite achieving some success as a writer for my college newspaper, I was still terrified of picking up the phone and getting a quote. Still, I proudly took home my measly paycheck, which went straight toward my Porter Square rent and my weekly supply of burritos from Anna’s Taqueria.
Last week, when I learned that the Phoenix has published its last issue, I fell into a state of mourning. The mere three years I spent there overlapped with those formative early-20s years of figuring out Who You Are, and for me, the paper was a guide to life, informing this recent grad on what to do in her spare time with a group of friends growing closer with every night out for beers, show attended at the Middle East, or odd film screening in a lost corner of town.
For someone who had not gotten her post-high-school rebelliousness out of her system during college, a job at the Phoenix was a countercultural balm. While my parents wished I was studying for the GRE or LSAT, I spent my nights playing drunken Jenga in my friends’ Somerville apartment and stumbling into work the next day—easy enough when the work day didn’t really start until 10:00 a.m.
I gradually learned that my coworkers were not giants to be sidestepped but kind and brilliant people from whom I could learn quite a bit and even earn their encouragement when I finally worked up the courage to pitch stories. After the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11, I loaned my gym shoes to my boss so she could literally run out to get man-on-the-street interviews. From that day onward, I understood the importance and difference that good reporting could make, and the unique void that an alternative weekly can fill in uncovering hard truths.
When the day came for me to leave the Phoenix—I handed my resignation to the managing editor with a degree of smugness that I regret to this day—I was on my way to join the online team at “Frontline.” At that point, I had learned how to pick up the phone and get a quote, but I’d like to think I’d also learned to be a somewhat functioning colleague, despite my terrible inability to stay in touch over the years.
I continue to tell anyone who will listen that time spent at a paper or TV show is better than a degree from any journalism school, but the passing of the Phoenix underscores the old-media virtues of my advice. I am at a loss. Even though my career has taken me away from journalism and I’m thankful for the path I’ve taken, I can’t believe there won’t be a paper on Thursday.