If you follow news about the media itself, or perhaps even if you don’t, then you’ve probably seen the bloodletting—hell, the outright executions—that have brutalized the industry of late. From megacluster acquisitions that stand to hurt journalists and the communities we cover just so that a few gutless monopoly men can stack paper, to mass layoffs at shops like BuzzFeed that do great work but cannot seem to spin a dollar from the fifteen cents that web ads bring in, it’s often just a string of awful headlines, one domino falling after another as reporters are discarded like so many blunt roaches.
That nightmare considered, it’s a miracle the Dig is still standing 20-plus years after we started as Shovel in the distant ’90s. And by miracle, I mean that we’ve not only worked hard—media makers everywhere do that, whether or not their outlets are sustainable enterprises—but also improvised and innovated in order to not only remain standing, but to stay relevant. From our founding of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, the tandem outfit that we formed in 2015 to assist with deep reporting in this newspaper and others, to starting our cannabis newsletter, Talking Joints Memo, we’re hardly just a weekly print and online outfit. Instead, we’re one of the last independent publishers of hard news in the city where American newspapers were born, and we consider that a badge of honor.
The Dig has innumerable successful alums—journalists, comedians, photographers, screenwriters, and even businesspeople who, after a taste of the reporting life and Ramen for too many nights, decamped for the private sector. In the past couple of months alone, several of our top recent contributors have landed full-time jobs at bigger shops, and we wish them all the best. Not just because we helped with their development to varying degrees, but because they will always be Dig fam. Writing for us isn’t like working at the Boston Globe or Associated Press, and not only because we pay far less. The Dig has always been a place where creatives are encouraged to follow their instincts, stupid as those instincts may be.
I often joke about how happy I am that the old Dig archives aren’t readily available online. They don’t exist there due to laziness, stupidity, and digital malpractice, but in hindsight, as an editor who would be held responsible for all things written in the paper back then as well as today, it’s harrowing to think about having to answer for the shit we published that would not be considered PC in 2019. I try hard to avoid being that dipshit straight white guy who rails against political correctness, but the last thing that I need are daily email feuds and flame wars with activist frauds who would love nothing more than to impugn our old articles. Nevertheless, having my name on roughly 500 of those past issues, I’ll gladly say that I am proud of what we published. Most of it, at least.
I have no doubt that more than a few people reading this haven’t known the Dig over the past five, 10, or even 20 years. Some of you are probably picking our paper up for the first time this week; perhaps you just landed in town and sought out one of our street boxes to check out our concert ads and comedy show listings. Whatever the case, our history actually matters to you, too, because without our enduring all the storms that countless larger outlets couldn’t weather, Boston would most likely lack a notable subversive weekly that delivers the kind of diverse range of ideas and voices that get heard through an alternative rag like the Dig.
The alt media movement has a remarkable past, and for those who want to learn more I recommend David Armstrong’s A Trumpet to Arms for the long backstory, plus Astral Weeks by Ryan H. Walsh for more Boston stuff. For starters. As for the history of DigBoston itself, formerly known as Shovel and the Weekly Dig, we have you covered. Check out the first installment of longtime contributor Barry Thompson’s oral history of the Dig in this week’s feature section, and stay tuned moving forward as we will be serializing his work all year in the runup to a larger book release.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF