A media market splintered

Online
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  May 5, 2010

The fragmentation of the local media market, long predicted, is finally a reality.

The state’s political blogs break news on a regular basis. EcoRI, a non-profit media venture, is offering up a steady diet of environmental fare. Providence Daily Dose has been feeding the hipsters for almost three years. And Jim Hummel, a former investigative reporter at ABC6, has demonstrated — with a string of online videos targeting Central Falls corruption — that an independent, one-man shop can even drive the local news cycle.

But the latest entry, GoLocalProv.com, may be taking the most explicit aim to date at Rhode Island’s central media outlet: the Providence Journal.

On a recent Wednesday morning, golocal featured video from a gubernatorial debate, a piece on the best burgers in the state, and some musings on diversity at Providence College.

There are news, sports, politics, and lifestyle sections. The site offers up liberal and conservative columnists, rebranded as “Mindsetters.” And GoLocalProv, which does cross-promotion with talk-radio station WPRO, has some recognizable names attached to the project: longtime Rhody weatherman John Ghiorse, sports radio personality Scott Cordischi, and WPRO host John DePetro, among others.

Josh Fenton, a Providence public relations maven who founded the site with Paul Krasinski of Quincy, Massachusetts-based Ando Media, says the pair began working on the idea two years ago amid signs that the broadsheet may not be long for this world.

“Those under 40,” Fenton says, “functionally have no relationship with a newspaper.”

But it is not just the generational shift in media habits that provides GoLocal with an opening. A ProJo under financial pressure has lost significant talent of late — senior political reporters Scott MacKay and Mark Arsenault took buyouts a couple of years ago, ace Red Sox reporter Sean McAdam left for the Boston Herald and wound up at Comcast Sportsnet.

And the same brain drain is in evidence nationwide. Indeed, Fenton and Krasinski are already imagining similar sites in other mid-size cities with declining daily newspapers.

A couple of weeks into the new venture, though, it is clear that GoLocal will not be a substitute for the ProJo anytime soon. If the paper of record has shortened its stories to accommodate a time-starved readership, brevity seems almost a guiding principal at GoLocal. The site depends on freelancers and contractors to deliver the news.

And an early set of stories that focused on US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and his wife, an environmental consultant, raised some eyebrows in political and media circles.

The pieces noted that Senator Whitehouse and the entire Rhode Island delegation signed letters in October 2009 urging the US Department of Transportation to approve grants for the Port of Providence and Quonset Business Park. Quonset sought the money in preparation for the arrival of Deepwater Wind, a New Jersey company planning a large wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

In the weeks that followed, the ProJo and Providence Business News reported that Deepwater had hired the senator’s wife, Sandra, as a consultant. This, it seemed, had the makings of a juicy story.

But, as the GoLocal piece noted, Whitehouse’s office said Deepwater never actually hired his wife, robbing the tale of much of its power. That GoLocal proceeded with the story anyhow, Whitehouse said afterward, was a “mystery.”

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