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Nov15

Keeper of the Flame: Boston Phoenix owner gifts archives to Northeastern

Posted by: Jennie Robbiano

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Boston Phoenix owner Stephen Mindich decided in September to donate the paper’s archives to Snell Library. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Originally Published in News@Northeastern on November 24, 2015

By Noelle Shough

For nearly 50 years, The Boston Phoenix was Boston’s alter­na­tive newspaper of record, the first word on social jus­tice, pol­i­tics, as well as the arts and music scene. Its intrepid jour­nal­ists tackled issues from safe sex and AIDS aware­ness to gay rights, mar­riage equality, and the legal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana. Ads for room­mates, romantic mates, and band mates—one could find all these and more in the newspaper’s probing, irreverent, enter­taining pages.

It ceased pub­li­ca­tion in March 2013, but the Phoenix will be pre­served for posterity—thanks to owner Stephen Mindich’s deci­sion in Sep­tember to donate the paper’s archives to Northeastern’s Snell Library.

Snell’s Archives and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions already houses an impres­sive array of his­tor­ical records of Boston’s social move­ments, including civil and polit­ical rights, immi­grant rights, home­less­ness, and envi­ron­mental justice.

The Phoenix never shied away from cov­ering topics of neigh­bor­hood interest, sup­porting the rights of indi­vid­uals and groups,” says Will Wakeling, dean of Uni­ver­sity Libraries. “So it will form a per­fect complement to this growing collection.”

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The Boston Phoenix will be preserved in Snell Library’s Archives and Special Collections. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The Boston Phoenix will be pre­served in Snell Library’s Archives and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions. Photo by Matthew Modoono/​Northeastern University

LOCAL HISTORY WRIT LARGE

Mindich’s gift encom­passes much more than The Boston Phoenix. The archives include sister pub­li­ca­tions in Worcester, Mass­a­chu­setts, Port­land, Maine, and Prov­i­dence; Boston After Dark; The Real Paper; the alter­na­tive pro­gram­ming of WFNX FM; and Stuff and Stuff at Night mag­a­zines. These sources, including a full Web archive of mate­rial not included in the print edi­tions, pro­vide a richly nuanced per­spec­tive on how people thought and put ideas into action when it came to social issues and social jus­tice from the 1960s to the near-​​present day. They are doc­u­men­ta­tion of the ways social change happens.

Our vision for the archives is dig­i­tizing all the print and making it fully text-​​searchable, so all that his­tory lives on,” says Dan Kennedy, asso­ciate pro­fessor at Northeastern’s School of Jour­nalism and a former Phoenix media colum­nist and nationally-​​known media commentator.

Adds Wakeling, “As the library works on the com­plex dig­i­tizing strategy, the archives will be made avail­able to the public.”

The Boston Phoenix not only reported on the news, it made the news. In 1987, during the height of the AIDS crisis, it dis­trib­uted 150,000 con­doms to readers. In 2001, Phoenix reporter Kristen Lom­bardi described trou­bling pat­terns in how Catholic Church leaders were trans­fer­ring priests accused of sex­u­ally abusing chil­dren to new parishes. The alter­na­tive weekly also fol­lowed the evolving rights of the LGBTQ community.

A great strength of the paper was also its arts cov­erage, which is also Stephen’s pas­sion,” notes Kennedy. In 1994, writer Lloyd Schwartz won the Pulitzer Prize for Crit­i­cism for his cov­erage of clas­sical music. Many former Phoenix writers—Susan Orlean, David Denby, Mark Lei­bovich, and Michael Rezendes among them—went on to illus­trious careers at top U.S. news­pa­pers and magazines.

Though Boston’s anti-​​establishment spirit has faded some­what over the years, Mindich’s dona­tion ensures that its his­tory never will. “Scholars and researchers in this area will be licking their lips in antic­i­pa­tion,” says Wakeling.

Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Library News

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