July 26, 2006

In a tough media market, The Phoenix restructures

The changing of the guard continues at the Boston Phoenix, with Bill Jensen taking over as editor as Bradley M. Mindich puts more of a personal stamp on the local alternative-media empire his father founded 40 years ago.

The newspaper has evolved from scrappy upstart to established weekly in its long history, winning a Pulitzer Prize for its classical music criticism in 1994.

But like many media companies, it’s scrambling to adapt in an environment of softening advertising and Internet competition. Just over a year ago, it unveiled a redesigned format meant to appeal to younger readers.


Alternative weeklies that trace their roots back to the protest movements of the 1950s and 1960s often pride themselves on political coverage, but recently many have been challenged by a new generation of publications such as the Weekly Dig in Boston, which focus largely on entertainment, said Dante Chinni, who studies alternative weeklies at the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington.

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Looking to ensure that the Phoenix survives for another 40 years, Mindich is restructuring the organization, partly so the staff has a mix of experience and youth.

Jensen, 33, who came to the Phoenix as associate editor just over a year ago from the weekly Long Island Press, will become editor within the week. The Boston University graduate helped found the Press four years ago and built it into a newspaper with a circulation of 150,000.

“Bill is the hip, happening guy,” said Peter Kadzis, Phoenix editor for the last 16 years, who said that part of Jensen’s focus will be on pop culture, including music and movies.

Kadzis, 54, will become executive editor for the Phoenix Media/Communications Group, a Boston company whose operations include the Boston Phoenix, the Portland (Maine) Phoenix, the Providence Phoenix, radio station WFNX-FM, and a mobile media firm whose specialties include cellphone marketing.


Nearly a dozen officials are getting new titles and responsibilities several months after the company disclosed that executive vice president Brad Mindich, 38, will replace president H. Barry Morris, 62, after Morris retires at the end of 2006.

Brad Mindich has worked a variety of jobs at the Phoenix over the last 13 years. “Brad has more than earned his spurs,” said Stephen M. Mindich, 63, his father, who is publisher and founder.

Stephen Mindich said he’s been gradually relinquishing control, but has no plans to retire.

According to Chinni, 40- and 50-year-old alternative weeklies such as the Phoenix are facing challenges.

In the last decade, papers sometimes disparaged as “faux weeklies” have emerged, Chinni said.


These newcomers want dollars that advertisers have been spending to reach the 18- to 34-year-old consumers who read alternative weeklies.

As the staffs of alternative weeklies aged, these upstarts sensed an opportunity.

Roughly seven years ago, Jeff Lawrence started the Weekly Dig. He believes most older writers struggle to connect with young readers.

“We look young; we feel young; we smell young,” Lawrence said of the Weekly Dig.

Lawrence professes to admire Stephen Mindich, but said: “The biggest mistake he made was to hold on too long.”

Meanwhile, older alternative weeklies also face other potential threats from the likes of Craigslist, an Internet bulletin board where landlords can post free ads for vacant apartments instead of buying classified ads in mainstream newspapers or alternative weeklies, Chinni said.

Older alternative weeklies are “bleeding from a lot of little cuts,” Chinni said.

That industry overview does not apply to the Phoenix, Brad Mindich insists.

With its presence in print, radio, the Internet, and mobile media, the Phoenix can offer advertisers a wide-ranging proposition. One recent example is Snapple, the beverage brand that bought all the commercial air time on the company’s radio station for a 40-day period. Working with other Phoenix entities, the radio station helped organize free concerts on Snapple’s behalf.

Not only were such concerts promoted by the radio station, but also in the Phoenix, on Phoenix websites, and by a Phoenix unit that can market to cellphone users.

That type of “convergence” strategy may be the key to the future, Mindich said.

“We know how to produce great content,” he said.

Now the trick is delivering that content over several media so the Phoenix can reach the “right people at the right time with the right message,” Mindich said.

Chris Reidy can be reached at