FORMER PHOENIX NEWS EDITOR (1999-2009), RHODE ISLAND PUBLIC RADIO POLITICAL REPORTER
Buddy Cianci was still riding high when word of dissatisfaction with the Providence Police Department’s approach to community policing continued to simmer. It was the summer of 1999, a time when national hype about the Providence Renaissance remained in full effect, and Buddy’s approval rating was north of 60 percent. But poor and working-class residents across Rhode Island’s capital city wanted a police department more responsive to its citizens — a sentiment that inspired the cover headline “Whose Force Is It, Anyway?” (one of many thanks to Lou Papineau, the Phoenix’s stalwart managing editor, for that), and the accompanying story I wrote, outlining a marginalized approach to community policing within the PPD.
Flash forward 15 years: Cianci has been indicted, prosecuted, convicted, imprisoned, freed, hired (again) as a radio host, and by 2014, he’s once again pursuing the mayor’s office—- his “rightful place,” according to more than one supporter. So a tiny light bulb flares when Buddy, during a recent televised debate at RIC, is talking up public safety and his commitment to community policing; I tweeted out a link to the 1999 Phoenix
story indicating otherwise.
This was the mission of the Phoenix, to do something a bit different that informed and contributed to the communal record. The Journal itself offered a fruitful vein for reporting, both because of its traditional importance as Rhode Island’s dominant media institution and the question of how citizens get informed in a time marked by disappearing reporting jobs. Under Belo’s former ownership, the ProJo’s management team almost always declined to talk, a curiously aloof position for people in the business of communicating, particularly compared with the more voluble stance of editors and executives at larger papers. But that didn’t stop the Phoenix from offering a singular kind of local media criticism and reporting stories that would go otherwise unreported, like how a Providence Newspaper Guild protest once reached into the Journal newsroom.
So many stories, so many years: politics, arts, and the gaps in between. So many talented interns who went on to greater things (Jessica Grose, David Hirschman, and Alex Provan, to name a few) and stellar contributors like Steven Stycos and Brian C. Jones. The challenge and opportunity of being part of a little alt-empire that prized insight and deft writing. And things I’m just realizing, like how I’d never have met my wife if not for the Phoenix, since I met her after coming to Rhode Island to work at the paper.
Thursday used to mean something other than one more day of work, or two or maybe three more if you work in a restaurant or bar. For me, growing up, Thursday also used to mean an empty fridge, so I likely first read the Phoenix — then called the NewPaper — hot off the presses, while waiting for chili or pudding at Leo’s, where some of the paper’s staff worked and/or drank.
More and more, Buddy was there, too, flanked by goons, face down on the bar. When he’d come to, he’d adjust his rug and hit on the hottest woman within earshot, no matter what side of the bar she was on. But I was eight or nine, then, and wouldn’t drink there for another eight years. Sometimes the kitchen was backed up, but that was part of it, and on Thursday there was a fresh stack of NewPapers by the cigarette machine. I liked the movie reviews because they didn’t say things like, “if you liked ________, then you’ll love ________!”, or “Nothing Less Than _________!”, but instead noted the increasing likelihood of today’s — meaning the 1980s — young female characters having boys’ names, like Sam and Syd or Billie. This still seems like a better way to talk about movies.
Unlike Buddy, but very much like his rug, Leo’s is no longer there, and became two or maybe three other things before settling into nothing. And now the Phoenix is gone, too. Like Acme Video and Fort Thunder and the train tunnel before it. A couple years ago, I walked by a strip club that’s now a hotel and thought, “Hey, I remember when that used to be a strip club.”
So long, Phoenix, you window onto the arts and music scene. Print media have been rustling in the winds of digital change for a long while, so it’s good you lasted as long as you did.
So long, theatergoers, actors, and directors, at least until I write about and for you again elsewhere.
And so long, dear readers, the reason for my privilege of being able to get up in the morning and get paid for tapping the keyboard and thinking about what I enjoyed the night before.
FORMER PHOENIX NEWS EDITOR (1989-’97); FREELANCE WRITER; AUTHOR OF SNOB ZONES: FEAR, PREJUDICE, AND REAL ESTATE [FAIRFIELD, CT]
As I sit here flipping through my yellowed copies of the Phoenix, I am surprised to find that what I feel is grateful. These issues are fat, relics from the golden ’90s. We had space, glorious space. And we had the freedom to go after whatever needed attention. The combination inspired some terrific journalism.
I’m not blinded by nostalgia. The hours as news editor were ridiculously long, and the paychecks to freelancers were shamefully small. Many were the Rhode Islanders who refused to take the paper seriously because of the “adult entertainment” section. And you try editing Phillipe and Jorge.
But how lucky we were to be able to unfurl the long, detailed stories of our choosing. Here are a few pulled from the stack in my attic:
The intrepid Steve Stycos took on the Providence Police Department over brutality claims. He also combed state inspection records to expose neglect in numerous nursing homes.
Former staffer Jody Ericson relayed fascinating conversations with doctors about how they, the saviors, dealt with the reality of death. Equally mesmerizing was her tale of a Jamestown woman who lived life on her own bold terms and, after a diagnosis of progressive dementia, ended it the same way.
For my part, I’m proudest of the months I spent unraveling the heart-wrenching story of a battered mother whose ex-husband used the Family Court system to continue torturing her, at the expense of their young daughter. The questionable power-building tactics of a political bully, Representative Vincent Mesolella, were fodder for another lengthy piece that ultimately won a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.
Throughout, the guy who managed to get the whole thing out the door every week was the legendary Lou Papineau. Lou, thanks for making all those thousands of hours so worthwhile.
AS220 ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
The Phoenix’s historic relationship with AS220 is well documented in the innumerable articles written in support of our work. I can say, without reservation, that AS220’s growth and evolution was aided and abetted by the Phoenix and its awesome staff. Their commitment to alternative culture has been critical to making visible what has become the soul of Providence. Thanks tons from AS220 and the city for helping realize Providence as one of the favored cultural destinations in the country.