Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
Each issue of the Phoenix is 10.5 inches wide x 13.75 inches thick.
Pages of content, not including the Adult pullout, in a standard issue (front and back cover included): 40
Pages of content in Arts and Entertainment section alone: 20
Pages of content in Adult section: 16
Not that the individual is capable of altering the materiality of any issue of the Phoenix. He or she can fold the paper, cut out individual articles or images, write in the margins, or fill in the crossword puzzle with pen ink. Just by handling the paper one alters its materiality, as ink rubs off easily onto hands and edges easily bend and tear.
The existence of microfilm as a means by which to archive newspapers changes the materiality of the Phoenix as an artifact. On December 5th I went to Brown University's Rockefeller Library in search of a Providence Phoenix archive. My hope was that I would be able to sit down with two issues of the Phoenix, one from this fall and one from 30 years ago, and flip through them to compile a list of similarities and differences. However, I was immediately informed by a cynical librarian that there was no point in holding on to the print versions of newspapers, because "they just crumble." Furthermore, while the Providence Journal has been deemed worthy of preservation by the library staff, and exists in archives on Level B going back as far as the mid-1800s, no copies of the Providence Phoenix are held. In order to find old copies of the Phoenix I had to go to the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, located at 121 Hope Street in Providence. This library is the repository for the Rhode Island Newspaper Project, which is part of the United States Newspaper Program. It possesses "a microfilm collection of almost every Rhode Island newspaper ever published" (qtd. from www.rihs.org). Issues of the NewPaper, The Phoenix's NewPaper and the Providence Phoenix from the 1970s, 80s and 90s no longer exist in print form. Instead they exist as slides on long strips of microfilm, which are kept in small cardboard boxes and are organized alphabetically in tall metal cabinets.
The following disclaimer, which appears on the first slide of the reel entitled "New Paper Oct 4 - Dec 27 1978" at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, is a nod to the authenticity lost in transferring newspaper to microfilm: "Some originals are in poor condition due to age, use, prior mending and trimming. Original printing process may have obscured text. The best available issues were used for this film. Missing: Nov. 22, 29 and Dec. 20, 1978." Not only is the record provided in microfilm incomplete, it is in many cases difficult to absorb due to obscured text and blurred images. Rather than being able to flip through pages of 30-year-old newsprint, to feel the paper between my fingers and skip from front to back with ease, I was forced to view issues of the Phoenix on a grainy screen. Microfilm requires that you push a forwards or backwards button, at low, medium or high speed, in order to move from one page of a particular issue to the next. Depending on the particular reel, the images may appear sideways and must then be rotated using a nob on the front of the screen. Two separate lenses allow the viewer to zoom in and out and focus images at will.
The fact that archived issues of the Phoenix can only be viewed in a library on a hulking, whirring microfilm machine insures that it is impossible for today's reader to absorb an old issue of the Phoenix in an environment even remotely similar to that within which it was first read. This raises the following question: If all news is eventually transfered to the internet, will Phoenix readers of the future ever be able to recreate the experience of reading a print version of the Phoenix in a crowded cafe? The materiality of the Phoenix entirely determines the nature of the reader/publication interaction. If print journalism is lost forever, so will be the experience of interacting with print newspapers, and the ability to place oneself in the past.