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Lifetime piling up

My back pages: Notes on 1809 weeks of newspaper-making
By LOU PAPINEAU  |  October 16, 2014

Two years ago, in a dour mood and feeling less than optimistic about the future of the paper, I blew off steam by whipping up a cover for the inevitable any-day-now last go-’round:

 1017_Me_Fun_top.jpg

See the hype in the lower left corner? I assumed that we wouldn’t get to say goodbye. But we do! Last week, after being informed that we had just shipped our penultimate issue, we found out we could do one more.

Then the panic set in: what do we do?!? On the previous pages, you’ve seen what we did (with pretty short notice): An incisive overview from news editor Phil Eil (who energized these pages in the past 18 months; mega-thanks to him and his illustrious predecessors: David Scharfenberg, Ian Donnis, Jody Ericson, and Lisa Prevost); a ton of moving and immeasurably bittersweet words from current and former staffers and longtime readers; and a shotgun view of Chris Suchmann’s experience as our stalwart delivery guy for 27 years. That’s a swell compendium of where we are at the end of our road.

We’d already chronicled our storied history (with much more time to prepare) in the hefty anniversary issues marking our 20th, 25th, and 30th years. The 25th was our best “special issue” ever. Period. It’s a rich trove of recollections and anecdotes and insight. (We’re not sure how long the web will be there, but go to providencephoenix.com/whats_new/archive/2003whatsnew1024.asp now.)

In 1998, in the first of our deep dives (providencephoenix.com/archive/features/98/10/22), I wrote:

“It has been a daunting task. How do you cram 20 years of journalism — 20 years of life — into 12 pages? Luckily, there’s a lot to draw on. The boxes and file cabinets and towering piles of pulp that we’ve been digging through for the past few months provide ample evidence of who we are, and what we’ve done.

“ ‘I can feel my lifetime piling up,’ Talking Head David Byrne sang about 10 years ago. That’s certainly how we feel after turning every page of the approximately 1040 issues of the NewPaper and the Providence Phoenix. . . But as the memories surged and the musty old papers yielded their treasures (and embarrassments), we were struck by the vitality and spirit of the work. The great thing about this job is the end result — it’s a new paper every week.”

After the Boston Phoenix gave up the ghost on March 15, 2013, we knew that any given edition could be the last. You all know the story: the diminished advertising market and radically altered media world have taken their toll. (An ironic note about the free content movement putting us out of business — we’ve been free all along. Damnit!)

Some perspective: this year’s Best issue was 48 pages; the 1999 edition was 116. The 2014 Summer Guide was 60 pages; in 1993: 216 (and the canvas was bigger: 10”x16” vs. our current 10”x12.75”).

Corporate-structurally, it’s been a wild ride: from the freewheeling NewPaper days (though, 10 years in, we were definitely ready for prime time) to the expansion/corporate/banner days after the Boston Phoenix bought the NewP in 1988, to the hey-we’re-calling-our-own-shots-again final stretch when we lost the support system/overview/content-sharing that our colleagues at the mothership provided.

It was a fun, challenging, rewarding (and sometimes exhausting) job. I salute my editorial gurus, Peter Kadzis and Clif Garboden; the men who kept the presses running: Stephen Mindich, Barry Morris, Steve Brown, Everett Finkelstein, and Ty Davis; and the hundreds of writers, photographers, and illustrators who have graced these pages.

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