I have two indelible memories from my more than 40 years with The Boston Phoenix.
The first memory: I began my long-running Freedom Watch column in the early 1970s, covering all manner of injustices committed by cops, prosecutors and judges. I considered myself an antidote to reporters too cozy with a power structure they saw more as good news source than good reporting target. Before long, a lawyer told me that he was walking in a courthouse corridor in Boston one morning and peered through an open door of a judge's office and found the judge reading one of my columns. Back then the traditional press was too gentle on prosecutors and judges, and the Phoenix was the outlier, a voice in the wilderness crying out against unfairness and injustice. I realized then that lawyers were right when they told me that my coverage of their cases had consequences.
My next memory: After a couple of decades of watching some of the most talented young writers imaginable come, spend a few years at the Phoenix, and then leave for bigger cities and higher paying and more visible journalism jobs, I approached publisher (and by then my friend) Stephen Mindich. I suggested that Stephen might consider paying his journalists more, in order to entice them to stay so that he could build up a more or less permanent roster of the best reporters and writers in America. Stephen exploded at me. I'll never forget his words: "Harvey – I don't tell you how to run your law firm, and you don't tell me how to run my newspaper!" That was my first and last attempt to barge into the paper's management; I stuck to my "Freedom Watch" column.
Of course, it turns out that Mindich was absolutely right. Had he retained a permanent staff of reporters and columnists, the paper would have become stale and complacent. It's not an accident that I'm able to boast that "I'm the oldest living columnist at the Phoenix." I'm one of the few who did not move on to write for, or even edit, some of the finest, most respected and powerful publications in the nation. (But, of course, that was expected, since I have another day job.) The Phoenix has remained fresh, vital and relevant in large measure because of the steady influx of new blood, all enabled by Mindich's vision of what an "alternative newspaper" and its staff should be.
And Mindich had a visionary's ability to pick editors of extraordinary talent and insight. And so I had the pleasure of working with Dick Gaines, Clif Garboden, Peter Kadzis, and Carly Carioli. I don't know anywhere else that I could have had better cohorts in "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable."
It's no surprise to me that assaults on freedom – the mainstay of my long-running column – have outlasted the newspaper I could always count on to publish even my harshest critiques of the criminal justice system. Unlike, it seems, the institutions that work hard to subjugate others, newspapers, which are essential to free the subjugated, are not immortal. Even the wealthiest such publications come and go; such was even the case back in the heyday of print media.