Q&A with The Media, an Alt-Weekly from the Ashes of the Boston Phoenix
"Thank you Boston. Good night and good luck." That was the tweet sent out by the Boston Phoenix the eve the world found out the legendary, nearly half-a-century-old publication would be shutting down. Its loss was mourned acutely and by many, perhaps most eloquently by Phoenix alums Susan Orlean and former Voice staff writer and current Gawker senior editor Camille Dodero. But not all is lost: Earlier this week, former Phoenix staffers announced the launch of a new alt-weekly, one that started taking shape as the paper fell apart.
Welcome "The Media." With a subversive URL, a radically simple ad-free design, and plans to raise funds by donation buttons and lemonade stands, former Phoenix assistant music editor Liz Pelly and production artist Faye Orlove published The Media's first issue on Wednesday. The Voice spoke to The Media's editorial and creative directors over the phone about the publication's journalistic direction, how they plan to keep it going, why they made it their mission to "save the spirit" of the alt-weekly.
Is it alright if I record this for my notes?
Liz Pelly: Yeah, totally. And thanks for being interested in writing about The Media.
LP: I should specify--the name of the publication is actually "The Media." Everyone keeps referring to it as if it were titled, "Fuck the Media," but that's just the URL.
Why make the URL "Fuck the Media"?
LP: Honestly, The Media was taken. We didn't want to take ourselves too seriously and we thought it was a super tongue-in-cheek way to find a home for our newspaper.
Ah. So, why does the spirit of the alt-weekly need saving?
LP: Why do we listen to alternative music [sic] than just what's on Top 40 radio? It's more interesting and diverse, and more forward-thinking and progressive. So I think that's why the spirit of newspapers that cover those sorts of subjects need saving.
You're ad-free. How do you plan on paying your writers?
LP: We have a donation button on the website, and we're going to be doing fundraiser shows, and new events, and we're going to have a lemonade stand this summer.
Did you say a lemonade stand?
LP: Yeah. This summer. We're trying to figure out where to have it. There are a few intersections where I live that are highly trafficked, so we're trying to figure out where to have it.
Is the lemonade going to be spiked with anything special?
LP: No, it's just going to be regular lemonade.
Are you planning on doing anything with Kickstarter?
Faye Orlove: No Kickstarter. Kickstarter tends to work towards people's guilt reflex, and we want donations to be purely passionate, where the button exists, you can donate if you want to contribute and support us, but we don't want to send a link to our friends and family and make them feel a pressure to donate. And so far we've received a good amount of donations, which makes us feel unbelievably supported. And I just don't think Kickstarter has the right atmosphere we want to foster.
I really like your website design. It definitely espouses the idea of "radical simplicity." Who came up with the design, and how?
FO: We wanted things to be simple and harken back to a time when stuff wasn't as flashy. So I went with mocking it up like it was an actual newspaper, and it seems to be taking really well. My brother Matt did all of the coding. We sat together weekend after weekend, and he would code it all because he's really smart.
And your brother used to work for NASA?
FO: Yeah, he worked there for a little less than a year, and then they had budget cutbacks, but it was the coolest thing ever.
Will The Media be in print as well?
LP: The original idea I had was that it would be online, and then we'd have the donate button, and when it was financially stable for us to put out a print issue, we would. If you look at the donate page, we indicate that 5 percent of the donation is for printing costs. So for now what we're doing is printing out copies of the calendar that Faye designed, that one-sheet.
Here's a question from one of my colleagues: Who do you think is going to read something called, "Fuck the Media"? My coworker thinks it'll only be conducive to 14-year-old girls listening to emo music.
LP: I love emo music. I grew up on it. But we're both involved in various creative communities in Boston. Faye's a visual artist, I'm mostly a music writer. There's a really cool underground house and music scene in Boston, and for the most part when we started coming up with it we intended for it to be a publication read by our peers, or people who read the Phoenix. If you read the piece I wrote for the first issue, I quote Camille Dodero, who was a Village Voice staff writer and was also a Boston Phoenix staff writer, and she's talking about the spirit of alt-weeklies and this editor Clif she worked with for a really long time. And she was saying that the spirit of alt-weeklies is being able to say "Fuck you" without an asterisk. That sort of subversiveness in the title of the URL is part of the energy of alt-weeklies.
What are we not getting enough of, as a society, in our media diet?
LP: As someone who's coming from mostly the music writing world, I'd like to see publications where there's more in-depth, awesome music writing that's pushing boundaries and having conversations about forward thinking things in the same publication, progressive news about grassroots activism and social movements and that sort of thing. There aren't enough publications that bring those worlds together. I feel like it's characteristic of alt-weeklies to have really good arts and music journalism as well as news and politics.
FO: I feel like there's a lot of great journalism in the world, but not always a lot of great journalism about the things we care about and our peers care about, which tends to be more radical and alt-weekly-esque. We have an issue we're trying to put together about drag culture because the way the media objectifies and sensationalizes drag culture is something I really can't stand. And we're trying to present drag culture as something community-oriented, in a way how we see it.
How much of The Media will be boots-on-the-ground original reporting? How much of it will be first-person essays?
LP: Each issue has two main features, which will be reported features, and then there's a sidebar that has a mixtape, a comic, and columns. And the columns won't necessarily be reported, they'll be first person.
Liz, from your essay, and from Camille Dodero's as well, it seems like the Boston Phoenix was a real garden of mentorship. Who are the mentors that have influenced you the most, helped you graduate into more of the journalist/editor you want to be?
LP: Oh man. From the Phoenix, definitely the editor, Carly Carioli gave me a lot of really cool opportunities there and was really encouraging of a lot of my ideas. I feel like I learned a lot from this editor at the Phoenix, S.I. Rosenbaum, who is just this really amazing copy editor and story editor, who would just sit down with me while I was working on pieces and talk through them. She's a really face-to-face kind of editor who would have conversations with you about your pieces as she's going through them. And also just being in the newsroom. I had the really awesome experience of being at the Phoenix as they were covering the Occupy movement, which I found really inspiring and influential to me as a reporter. Chris Faraone--just seeing the way he threw himself into that story and lived and breathed it for months, put the rest of his life on hold and totally dedicated himself to it, I thought that was really cool.
Elaborate more on the evolution of clickbait and how you feel it's influenced online writing.
FO: When you have people buying ads, you really need to meet a certain quota. And I think a lot of publications have started relying on flashy means to get there. Fortunately we're just relying on ourselves right now, so the articles speak for themselves, and the articles are on their own merit, without having to have a certain number of people read it. We want people to read it, but we want them to be interested, not lured in by some cool glitter.
LP: My feelings against clickbait are sort of intuitive. It's just a sign of the times with the blogging world and the direction that things are going. So hopefully this can be a pull in the other direction.
Why do you think it became "uncool" to write about social and environmental justice?
FO: I think it was cool to be apathetic for a while. That was the voice of our generation. I do think that there are a bunch of people who care, and while this apathy trend was circulating, a lot of people became disenchanted with that. I blame it on apathy.
What else should we read/listen to/eat that you believe is genuinely punk as fuck?
FO: In a couple days I put together a really awesome show I'm excited about with Screaming Females and Shellshag, and two days later I'm going to go see Taylor Swift with my dad. I think the most punk as fuck thing is to like what you like and not call it a guilty pleasure.
LP: I could sit here and tell you all the things I'm really into, but it would not be punk as fuck to tell people what they should or should not be doing.