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Alternative Paper Born In ’60s Thrives In ’80s

October 26, 1986

BOSTON (AP) _ Twenty years after its birth as a ragtag entertainment guide for college students, the Boston Phoenix has become a multimillion-dollar enterprise and an established voice of arts and liberal politics in the city.

The paper, which started in 1966 as Boston After Dark, quickly became an advocate of the anti-war and civil rights movements in Boston and Cambridge. But the one-time ″outsiders″ paper now proclaims itself a power in the state’s cultural and political scene.

Publisher Stephen Mindich is throwing a 20th anniversary party Monday night and a black-tie dinner Tuesday with the governor, mayor, newspaper executives and other local leaders.

″I don’t think we have sold out because we’re successful,″ said Mindich, 43. ″I don’t think you have to be unsuccessful to have integrity. I don’t think you have to be out of power to be on the right side of issues.″

Two decades ago, the thought of such an anniversary event ″would have seemed like they were turning on their own sort of anti-establishment values,″ said Jonathan Klarfeld, a Boston University journalism professor and longtime local media-watcher.

And, he said, ″it would have suprised me that any politician would have gone near them″ back then.

But times have changed, and so has the Phoenix. The weekly has grown from four-page to 150-page issues and a paid circulation of 75,000 to 80,000.

Phoenix Editor Richard Gaines said the paper evolved during the 1970s as the activists of the 1960s began entering politics.

″As the counter-culture began to dissipate and the so-called alternative lifestyles began to be co-opted by and included in what is considered to be normal lifestyles, the focus of attention shifted from (the Vietnam War and civil rights) to the more localized political issues,″ he said.

The Phoenix, he said, decided ″to remain on the cutting-edge of the key political issues of the day in Boston, and those issues weren’t that radical or revolutionary, but of more traditional definition, of a group of people trying to wrest power from the entrenched establishment.″

Today, many of the people the Phoenix supported in the early ’70s are in positions of power, including Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, and U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry.

Gaines and Mindich say critical differences between the Phoenix and other counter-cultural publications of the era explain why their newspaper has survived, years after the others disappeared.

The Phoenix, unlike underground papers of the day such as the Old Mole of Cambridge, did not start out as a political publication, Mindich notes.

″It was started as a business venture, and it was that need for me to eat, literally to survive, that kept us constantly looking for economic survival,″ he said.

And other alternative papers were published by political activists who were interested in journalism as opposed to journalists interested in political activism, said Gaines. He joined the Phoenix in 1975 from his post as Statehouse bureau chief for United Press International.

Boston After Dark acquired the Cambridge Phoenix in 1972 and changed its name to The Boston Phoenix. In 1979, Mindich acquired all the company’s stock.

Today, it is a $10 million operation that includes an FM radio station, and Mindich is considering expanding to the southern Massachusetts-Rhode Island market with a new paper.

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