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The Globe looks at the Phoenix’s challenge in a changing media landscape

September 18, 2012

The Boston Globe has a thorough look at the challenge facing the Boston Phoenix as it moves this week to a new format, scrapping the traditional alternative newsweekly template while adding a big helping of lifestyle content.

Phoenix owner and publisher Stephen Mindich, 69, tells the Globe the rejiggered Phoenix in Boston “is right for the time.”

It is a hybrid of the old Phoenix and the more lifestyle-oriented Stuff magazine, which trafficks in food, fashion, party coverage, and local scene-makers. Asked to calculate the ratio of news and culture content to lifestyle and fashion, Mindich said those categories are too narrow. But if “pressed for a number,” he wrote in an e-mail, “I would probably say 65/35 or maybe 70/30 ‘news/culture’ to ‘lifestyle/fashion’ would be reasonable.”

Given the difficulties facing such once-vibrant dailies as the Providence Journal, there’s little surprise that smaller media entities are being vexed by the same changing landscape. Here in Rhode Island, the Providence Phoenix will maintain its traditional look, although the Ocean State’s Everett Finkelstein has emerged as chief operating officer of the Phoenix’s parent company.

Mindich bluntly told WBGH-TV’s Emily Rooney last month that the Phoenix’s flagship is relying on an uptick in ad sales. I spilled a lot of words for the Providence Phoenix in my previous job, so I’m hoping for the success of these changes.

The Globe recounts some of the backstory, including distinguished alumni(overlooking some of the people who moved from the Phoenix to Morrissey Boulevard, like Renee Loth and Scott Lehigh):

The Boston Phoenix (which began as two other publications) has been a vital part of the local media landscape for more than 40 years. As an alt-weekly with countercultural leanings, it has attracted and nurtured legions of young journalists who have gone on to greater glory, among them Joe Klein, Sidney Blumenthal, Janet Maslin, Jon Landau, Susan Orlean, and David Denby. One popular joke among Phoenix alums asks, How many ex-Phoenicians does it take to screw in a light bulb? Four, goes the punchline: one to screw in the bulb and three to say how much better the old bulb was.

The media landscape has become much more mult-faceted, and the advertising market far more diffuse, since the bygone heyday of alt weeklies.

Yet the scrappy little guys still play a useful role by shining a light on overlooked stories,  offering smart analysis, and sometimes even beating the big guys.

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