Image by Chris Faraone
I wrote most of this screed at seven o’clock in the morning last Thursday at Dig headquarters, in the building we’ve inhabited for more than a decade on East Berkeley Street in Boston’s South End. Forty-eight hours later, along with all my co-workers, I helped move the newsroom out of that same industrial loft, as we closed one chapter in this paper’s 17-year history and moved on to another in new digs.
The change is fairly innocuous; we will still maintain a smaller office in our legacy building, the red brick castle off the highway with Medieval Manor in the basement, for staff meetings and sales, and we will also have access to more modern workspaces downtown and in Cambridge. What’s difficult to swallow though is the heightening challenge for alternative news outlets in Boston. With one of the tightest office markets anywhere, the Hub is fast becoming a metropolis fit for sharks and few others. The rest of us can swim around, sneak in here and there, but property is unattainable for most, rentals even, and that goes doubly for entities—media, nonprofit, or otherwise—that rail against the predators who gobble up real estate. That’s always been the case to some extent, but there used to be crevices in which minnows could create comfortable existences. Those days are apparently over, along with any hope of renting an apartment in the Greater Boston region on a handshake.
Given the circumstances, it’s impossible to come off sounding anything but sour about leaving the South End. So be it. But having covered gentrification from the vantage point of East Berkeley Street on and off for 11 years, I’d be derelict in my duty to wage class war if I ignored the pressure that development exerts on the media. In case you haven’t noticed, most broadcast radio and television stations decamped for suburban outskirts years ago; now, even operations without the need for acreage enough to accommodate satellite dishes may have to follow their lead.
What’s made change especially painful at the Dig might be our immediate surroundings; for the past year we have shared an office with employees of Suffolk Construction, which is developing a sprawling mixed-use oasis on the corner next to us, right where Broadway and East Berkeley Street meet the I-93 overpass. Our bedfellowship was strange from the beginning; for one, the newsroom spends between half and three-quarters of any given day blasting the Boston 2024 Olympics, which of course is the brainchild of Suffolk CEO John Fish. If that’s not awkward enough with his employees within earshot, the construction giant named the flashy new complex Troy. Yep, Troy, as in the antagonist from The Goonies whose villainous dad evicts families in order to build golf courses.
Even before the Troy banner was hoisted, some aspects of life at the Dig already felt like the Goondox. Men in tailored suits and hard hats roamed the premises, some even in trench coats, as if they were plotting our ouster. In reality most of the Suffolk guys are friendly; we were awful and obnoxious neighbors despite admiring their work and skill sets, and yet they answered all our questions about building stuff. Still the remarkable speed with which they executed the Troy project only fed my concerns about Fish and the Olympics, namely that their combined hand is strong enough to play god, and affect outcomes for others.
To be fair, Suffolk is no more directly responsible for the displacement of the Dig editorial team than the glistening new Whole Foods in the nearby Ink Block complex can be blamed for booting the Boston Herald from the South End. Generally speaking though, it’s safe to bet that in a city where virtually every politician and business leader stands solidly behind an idea like the Olympics, there will be less and less ground for those who dissent to stand on, and in all likelihood less affordable apartments to occupy.
My earliest fear, that Troy was just a decoy for an Olympic Village, was off by a mile; a literal mile that is, as it turns out the Newmarket and JFK-UMass areas will ultimately be more impacted in that regard if Boston winds up hosting. But watching Fish finesse the crowd at a community meeting in Southie last week, I realized that it doesn’t matter where the Suffolk hammer lands, whether it’s next door to the Dig, on the waterfront in Eastie, or all the way out west in Allston. It doesn’t even matter if it’s Suffolk’s hammer, as the company has pledged to abstain from profiting, at least directly, on Summer Games construction contracts. It seems that when the Big Fish moves in, the only thing that matters is that destiny is manifested; like he said in Southie, it wasn’t his choice to invite the Olympics, but rather the decision was made for him by some powerful divine force.
I think I’ll call it Troy.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.