35: The paper of record

35 sentences for 35 years
By PHILIP EIL  |  November 21, 2013


1. On the evening of March 29, 2012, I walked into a sports bar in Johnston called Ball's. 2. At the time, I was freelancer for The Providence Phoenix covering how Johnston residents felt about the fact that their hometown hero — the hair-gelled, faux-tanned Paul DelVecchio — had his own Jersey Shore-spinoff MTV show, The Pauly D Project, premiering that night. 3. Upon entering Ball's, I took a seat at the bar and promptly asked the guy sitting next to me for his thoughts on Pauly. 4. The man paused for a second to fully absorb my question and our surroundings, then responded, “Do you have the worst job at the Phoenix?”

5. I tell this story because A) the fact that there was a sports bar in Johnston called Ball's still tickles me; B) it typifies the anything-goes spirit that guides what I get to write for the Phoenix (it’s not all goofiness; I’ve also written about gun violence, Rhode Island’s slave trading history, and drone surveillance); and C) because I’d like to tell that Ball's patron just how far off-base his question was. 6. I love this job.

7. As a Phoenix freelancer — and later, as news editor — I’ve interviewed blues guitarists, fiction writers, filmmakers, preachers, professors, police chiefs, poets, politicians, paranormal investigators, ex-spies, Roger Williams impersonators, and of course, Mr. Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. 8. I’ve attended cage fights, tango marathons, foam parties, mini-horse shows (entrants had to be less than 34 inches high), student sit-ins at the Rhode Island Department of Education, and a lube wrestling competition at a gay strip club called Hush on Allens Avenue. 9. My sixth article for the paper ran under the sub-headline “Providence Gripped by Funk Shortage.” 10. My seventh was about remote-controlled toilets.

11. Now, having only worked full-time for the paper for seven months (though I started as a freelancer five years ago), I would hardly claim to be an authority on its complete history and significance. 12. But I do have a pretty good idea of who we are in 2013, at age 35. 13. The Providence Phoenix can be a microphone, as it was when Vinny Paz strayed off-message at a recent press conference for his Hollywood-produced biopic, calling a former scriptwriter an “asshole” and one of his previous lawyers a “douche.” 14. Another week, we may be a megaphone for Brown students demanding their school’s divestment from coal. 15. The next, we’re a magnifying glass peering at the details of Alex and Ani’s operations — their in-house rock band, their corporate “university,” their quasi-religious marketing materials — as they proceed with their apparent takeover of the Ocean State.

16. But enough imagery. 17. The Providence Phoenix is simply a newspaper, and a pretty small one at that. 18. And given the size of our staff and the fact that we’re published only once a week, I wouldn’t blame you for saying that we’re never going to be the Ocean State’s “paper of record.” 19. But here on the occasion of our 35th anniversary, I submit to you that that is exactly what we are.

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