Although it went unmentioned in obituaries last week in the Phoenix and
the BeloJo, Caroline Knapp, the popular author and wonderful former Boston
Phoenix scribe, who died June 3 at age 42, began her writing career
alongside P&J at the long-defunct Providence Eagle, here in Our
Little Towne. Caroline was fresh out of Brown, and P&J fresh from the
closet, when we had the chance to meet and enjoy the company of this wonderful
young woman. A few remembrances:
Jorge remembers: Caroline first appeared at the Providence Eagle only
days after her graduation from Brown. I was one of the first people that she
met since I spent a lot of time at the office. Her first assignment was to
interview Stu Erwin Jr., a television producer who was being feted at Brown for
some hazy reason. Her shyness was such that she asked me to accompany her, so
she wouldn't get too nervous. As it turned out, she did just fine and didn't
need me at all.
After a few short years at the Eagle, Caroline got a better opportunity
in Boston. It sounded like a good move, both personally and professionally, and
I encouraged her to make the move. Another Eagle writer, however, took
umbrage with my encouragement. "What the hell are you doing telling Caroline to
leave!" he fumed. His point was, "We won't be able to hang around with Caroline
anymore, and that sucks." Needless to say, we all had mixed feelings.
If you've read her best seller, Drinking: A Love Story, you know that
she described herself as withdrawn and self-conscious. While very popular with
all her co-workers, Caroline did indeed keep to herself. In her best writing,
though, she opened herself so completely that she could move you to tears.
Although certain revelations in her "Out There" columns were stunning, I was
utterly floored by the courage of Drinking. It's a powerful and very
human book, and I strongly recommend it, regardless of whether you know someone
who's struggling with an addiction. The book's wisdom is, in many ways,
Phillipe recalls: You will never meet a sweeter and kinder person than
Caroline Knapp. Her shyness and unprepossessing demeanor disguised not only the
problems that she would eventually reveal so publicly and courageously, but
also a wonderful, satiric and wacko sense of humor. This is what immediately
attracted us to Caroline in the Eagle office and at parties and
post-work cocktails at Steeple Street or Leo's.
In a work scenario that included a large number of certified loonies, she was
invariably smiling and unflappable. Asked recently about the possibility of
speaking at a library in my community, she laughed and said she absolutely
couldn't take up the offer. "That's the next neurosis I'll end up having to
beat -- speaking in public," she explained.
It was that ability to take an honest look at herself, offering it up with no
pretensions, that made Caroline's revelatory writings and the predicaments of
her alter ego, Alice K., so marvelous. I benefited not only from having been
around her as a co-worker, but also from the experiences and lessons she
conveyed. Caroline was far too young and too good to be gone so soon.
Although we frequently mention the passing of well-known people, like Caroline
Knapp, who inhabit our little slice of the world, the unsung heroes are usually
those who go about their lives with integrity, meeting their daily
responsibilities and making the world a better place for all of us. Such a
person was Jorge's brother-in-law, Bob Browning, who died on Sunday, June 9,
from a brain tumor.
Bob was a schoolteacher, one of the noblest of occupations. For more than 25
years, hundreds and hundreds of young people learned from him. Beyond the
standard lessons, they were able to soak up those intangible lessons offered by
a great teacher: lessons involving character, good will, honesty, and caring.
Although these lessons rubbed off in perhaps imperceptible ways, they'll have
an impact for years to come.
Bob Browning was a husband, father, and teacher. He did each of these things
well, and because he cared about his family and friends, students and
community, many, many people cared about him. In the most basic and important
ways, Bob was a heroic person and a real role model.
Nation of slackers
Stories about the questionable quality of public education in the United States
are a staple of American newspapers. The Sunday New York Times of June 9
featured a story that stands the alleged efforts to improve public
education on its head. The latest innovation is -- get this -- a four-day
According to the Times, about 100 (mostly rural) school districts
across the country have eliminated classes on Fridays. The move is a
cost-cutting measure, and with "at least 15 states sharply reducing education
spending this spring," we can expect more of the same. The best part is the
rationalizations offered by some of the education professionals responsible for
the four-day plan. They claim, "Better attendance and morale, less time lost to
extracurricular activities, teacher training and doctor's appointments and
longer class periods."
Your superior correspondents may buy the "longer class periods" as being
beneficial, but that could be done without eliminating school on Fridays. Most
education professionals complain about the fewer school days of American
students, compared to their counterparts in Europe and Asia. They say this is
absolutely the wrong direction to be moving in, and who could disagree?
Like everything else in the U.S. of A., it's all about money. It may be fine
to have most things about money, but we should accept that education (and
health-care) are too essential in sustaining life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness to be driven entirely by marketplace values.
P&J got a kick out of this aside from Lou Papineau, managing editor and
all-around pop culture guru at the Phoenix: "Hadda chuckle when I heard
the latest McDonald's ad touting their `New Tastes Menu,' which uses INXS' `New
Sensation' as the jingle/hook. Michael Hutchence was evidently striving for
some `new sensations' when he checked out of the realm we call `Earth' with
some autoerotic asphyxiation shenanigans. Fast-fooders may not want to conjure
that image while chomping on the new grilled chicken flatbread sandwich."
Yes, those were members of the Providence Newspaper Guild, leafleting outside
the Urinal's "Diversity Career Fair" at the Providence Convention Center on
June 5. The main intent was to suggest it's a bit hypocritical for the white
boy-controlled BeloJo to be acting like Bwana Benetton in the diversity
As one Guild member described it to your superior correspondents, "Anyone
coming inside the Providence Journal building would find it ironic that
the Journal is co-sponsoring a diversity fair. At the Journal
people of color are rarely seen except in menial jobs. In the downtown
newsroom, there is only black reporter; in sports, one black writer; in the
features department, one black arts critic. Latinos are even harder to find,
despite the growing Hispanic community in Rhode Island. The Journal's owner,
the Belo Corp., has one of the worst records in the newspaper industry for
minority hiring. In a Boston Globe analysis of the minority workforce at
newspaper chains Belo ranked a dismal 31 our of 40."
Well, that's just that wonderful Texas equal opportunity attitude, as long as
you're not colored or a wetback, we guess.
The Guild flyer also mentions the 65 unfair labor practice charges pending
against the newspaper; the lack of raises for three years; and how it's more
than a little absurd for BeloJo execs to claim to be good citizens while
screwing the workers. This is part of the growing sense of doom on Fountain
Street, the deterioration of a once-mighty newspaper being bled dry by their
non-resident owners. As P&J often point out, the Belo big boys don't have
to face the employees and readers they screw when they chop staff and other
One trick by the marketing geniuses on Fountain Street is the live "news
update" piece they run on TV, usually featuring a newsroom worker who looks
like he's making a hostage tape. On Saturday, June 8, the talking head droned
about the shooting of three people at the BeloJo, not mentioning it was at the
separate production plant, and he advised viewers to "read about in tomorrow's
While this infuriating and anti-responsible journalism gimmick is now de
rigueur with local TV news -- "H-bomb hits Warwick! Details at 11!" -- it's
indefensible coming from the newsroom. It outraged and alarmed P&J, who
have many friends working at the Urinal. Without other information, one
immediately suspected a possible case of retribution against a reporter whose
story reportedly attracted threats of retribution last year. This was mindless
simplification, if not shameless and absolutely hideous exploitation of a
Finally, look for the byline strike in the Thursday, June 13 edition of the
BeloJo. The Guild is calling on all reporters and photographers to withhold
their bylines or credits from stories and pictures to protest the lack of a
contract and management misdeeds. It's the first byline strike since September
11, and not a choice easily made -- or accepted -- on Fountain Street, as the
Guild Web site explains:
"Keeping our names off our work . . . means a lot to reporters; they show the
world what we have done and give us a chance, in a small way, to show off what
we can do. Giving that up hurts. But we must be willing to accept some pain to
get what we want . . . In the past, Journal editors have shown obvious
anger at byline strikes . . . More than once reporters have stood up to furious
management pressure to break ranks for major developed stories; stories were
rescheduled for later rather than run during a byline strike."
We are with the Guild entirely, and admire the many very talented reporters at
the paper who bring class reporting to Vo Dilun, such as Michael Corkery's
exceptional current series on Afghanistan. We also respect the ethics and
courage of people who are willing to fight for what they believe in, even when
it hurts them to do so.
Send flatbread and Pulitzer-grade tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Issue Date: June 14 - 20, 2002