Editorial: No Phoenix, and less power for us all

The abrupt closure of the Boston Phoenix two weeks ago leaves a staggering black hole in the city’s self-understanding and civic power.

Journalism is a scrappy business, and like most papers, the Gazette generally doesn’t deign to mention the competition. But we must mourn the loss of that storied alternative newspaper/magazine. In JP alone, the political culture, nightlife, restaurant business and arts scene are now without a crucial, sustaining, regional forum.

The Phoenix was a civic institution whose work affected us all, whether we were regular readers or not. We all just became a little less powerful and a little less savvy.

The toughest part of editing a newspaper is deciding which stories to leave out. With the Phoenix gone, there will be thousands of stories a year that won’t be told at all. Yours might be one of them.

Quality journalism is hard and expensive to produce, and even harder to replace when it’s gone. Blogs and message boards aren’t going to cut it.

It’s not up to readers to figure out the ongoing mystery of journalism’s future. But we all should remind ourselves of the civic values a newspaper (either print or digital) embodies and avail ourselves of them while we can.

A newspaper is a device for cultivating a collective spirit, for holding our government accountable, for awakening to our neighbors achievements and struggles, for encountering new and contrary ideas, for declaring, “This is important to us.” It is a stage where residents can hold civil, moderated debates. It is one of the precious few institutions in the world where the whole point is to tell the truth as best we know it.

In an era justly cynical about civic institutions and retreating ever deeper into niche media that tell people only what they want to hear, that collective empowerment and purpose are too easily forgotten.

With the Phoenix, the Globe and the Herald, Boston was fortunate to be a three-major-newspaper town. We’re still lucky to be a two-paper town. A lot of big cities only have one. Several have none. Imagine how the corrupt lick their chops and the ignored suffer in silence in places like that.

At the Gazette, we’re lucky to have so many readers who do understand the power of a local paper and constantly hold us to keeping that promise. By no coincidence at all, JP is one of the city’s most powerful and energetic neighborhoods.

We can’t begin to replace the Phoenix, but we can work a little harder for JP, and we will. Readers should demand no less from all Boston media.

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