[Illustration by Dale Stephanos]
It was only a matter of seconds after we sent out a press release on Thursday, October 9 — “MEDIA ADVISORY: PROVIDENCE PHOENIX TO CEASE PUBLICATION; FAREWELL ISSUE WILL BE THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16” — before the emails, tweets, Facebook comments, calls, texts, and articles started pouring in. And they haven’t stopped.
Some are short (“Sad!!!” “WHY?” “NOOOOO FUCK NO”) and some are long. Some come from near (the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Public Radio, AS220); others came from Rhody emigres in Manhattan, Florida, Tennessee, and Utah. Some made us chuckle, others made us choke up.
We’ve done our best to reproduce as many messages here as space will allow. Some of them may overlap or repeat slightly, and we’re OK with that.
A friendly reminder before we begin: newsprint conveniently doubles as a handkerchief, in emergencies.
When I founded the NewPaper during the Great Blizzard of 1978, it was for two main reasons: to disseminate the news that was being ignored by the mainstream media of those days and to give Rhode Island’s vibrant music and cultural arts scene the coverage it deserved.
In those days, the “Internet” only existed in college and military computer labs, the World Wide Web — that “www” thing — wouldn’t happen until 1993 (and kudos to you youngsters who know the difference) and there was no “Lifebeat” in the Providence Journal (which started that section to compete with us and to follow a national trend by other dailies).
The Boston Phoenix had been blazing a lot of trails up north and I figured RI needed a good alternative paper of its own. Several had been tried but none lasted more than a few months. The NewPaper was the first statewide alternative weekly to succeed. And succeed it did for 10 years until it eventually became the Providence Phoenix.
In short, the NewPaper filled a need and its staff had a great time making it happen. A few of us even got full-time jobs out of it!
We were fearless in trying different ideas. For instance, we ran original fiction before Rolling Stone did. We also tried a TV section with full listings (neither idea survived). In addition, we ran comics — both original works such as Steven and the various creations of John “The Mad” Peck (he of “The Providence Poster” fame), as well as little known syndicated daily strips, six at a time, such as Conan the Barbarian and Bloom County.
We were always in tune with Rhode Island. The vast majority of political candidates we supported won — well over 90 percent, I believe. Similarly, when a competing paper gave away free classifieds to music-related groups, most musicians preferred to pay for NewPaper
classified ads — a fact we always appreciated. We delivered our papers on Wednesday and they were gone by Friday. Everybody, it seemed, read us.
When a freelancer publicized an RI ecological disaster in an early issue, we were gratified to hear that then-Senator Claiborne Pell publicly read excepts from our story to help create the EPA “Superfund” laws. And when we ran a cover featuring New Times’ revelation of a Buddy Cianci scandal from his college days, suddenly many of those papers disappeared — at least within the then-Mayor’s capitol city.
I also loved “the critics’ bands” — under-rehearsed groups of the local music critics who would open NewPaper birthday party club nights and let the musicians and others turn the tables on the critics. Names included A Flock of Egos, Tony Goes to Cranston, Deranged Deranged, and We Be 40. One of those nights actually set the house record for attendance at the late, lamented Living Room!
The NewPaper also introduced “The Personals” (personal classified ads) to RI. It was a shame when the personals got decimated by the Internet dating sites — more than a few weddings resulted from our Personals.
Despite the fun, I eventually sold the NewPaper to the Phoenix — not because I was worried about competition from them, but because I wanted Rhode Island to have the strongest alternative paper it could have. (Also, I had a very young son who had no idea who I was, due to hours the paper required.) Stephen Mindich and the Phoenix did a great job carrying on and improving things. Just about all the staff that wanted to stay did so, especially editor Lou Papineau, who has helmed the paper for the vast majority of its 36 years.
However, just like composite tennis rackets replaced wooden ones, better ways of accomplishing the NewPaper’s original goals appeared — mostly via the many avenues of the Internet. In fact, one could argue that the Providence Phoenix should have died around 2001 or so. That it soldiered on for another 13 years is a tribute to the editorial department, the advertisers, the publisher, and especially the readers.
When the news came out last week, I told an acquaintance about my connection with the Phoenix. He didn’t know I had founded its predecessor.
“Wow,” he said, “the NewPaper, that was a great paper!”
Yes, yes it was! The NewPaper and the Providence Phoenix were great newspapers that changed their communities for the better. A newspaper of any type cannot have a better epitaph than that.
R.I.P. to both of them.