The last Philadelphia City Paper will be in orange boxes all over the city come Thursday morning, and when those copies become fishwrap, urban tumbleweeds, and sidewalk blankets, City Paper will be gone forever. Even its web identity, citypaper.net, may disappear, though the new owners are now saying they’ll preserve the archives.
I’m no expert in detailing how newspapers, particularly free independents, are struggling because of the recession (which only Wall Street has recovered from) and/or due to Internet competition. I realized years ago that Philadelphia could no longer support two free papers — Philadelphia Weekly survives, a shadow of what it used to be — and that, at some point, one or both would go.
Few expected City Paper to fold first, however, and everyone was taken by surprise by how suddenly: Broad Street Media (Philadelphia Weekly’s publisher) purchased the paper from Metro, which had owned it for about a year, on September 30 and immediately shut it down. Full-time staffers learned their fate from a press release. The October 1 issue was already finished; the October 8 issue is our last.
I received the news through, of course, Facebook. For the first time in nearly ten years, I can no longer call myself “City Paper theater critic.”
A few theater critics more or less probably don’t matter, though our numbers actually won’t fall. My fellow CP critic, David Anthony Fox, announced “I’m Still Here” last week on his blog, RecliningStandards.org, where he writes about theater, opera, television, and more.
I’m happy to say that I’m still here too — at Broad Street Review!
Theater covered and uncovered
Being reviewed by City Paper meant something, which I knew even before I joined the staff in 2006, when I worked with the now-gone Brick Playhouse on South Street and we nagged David, Toby Zinman, and Cary Mazer to see our low-budget productions in our tiny second-floor theater. Sometimes they did, making our work a little more real and visible, whatever their opinions.
I hope that during my tenure at CP, we gave a boost to small companies and local theater in general. A lot of theaters have sprouted up over the past decade, and I was proud to chronicle their work. My biggest fear now is that coverage will diminish as papers die (Philadelphia Weekly perseveres, but shed longtime theater critic J. Cooper Robb two years ago.)
All I can do is try to balance these losses with my own small contributions. I hope to write not only reviews of theater productions for BSR, but also essays comparing and contrasting shows and discussing larger trends and issues in local and national theater. I might even write some book reviews and previews pointing theatergoers toward what’s new and exciting — and there’s always plenty of that.
I’ll miss seeing my reviews in print — and, given that BSM might delete City Paper’s online archives, I’m glad that I saved everything I wrote the old-fashioned way, little yellowing scraps of newsprint stuffed in folders. City Paper had a tangible weight, a satisfying crackle, and a fresh print smell that we’ll never know again.
I’ve already experienced the thrill of seeing my work published in BSR’s bright, clean, eye-friendly format, however, and enjoy the ease of instantly sharing it with friends on Facebook, the modern equivalent of door-to-door delivery.
Someday, I imagine, I’ll tell bored youngsters reverent tales about the sensory bliss of “real” newspapers. They’ll insist that “real” is not ink stains on processed wood pulp, but pictures on a glowing screen, images floating holographically before their eyes, or condensed thoughts beamed directly into their skulls. I’ll reluctantly admit, it’s better in so many ways.
And yet, I’ll fondly remember these good old days.
For Dan Rottenberg’s recollections of Philadelphia’s alternative press, click here.