The uncertain future of Rhode Island media

Breaking news or broken news?
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  April 6, 2011

GoLocal_main
SPLASHY ARRIVAL GoLocalProv has made an aggressive debut.

The endless, anguished debate over how to deliver local news in the Age of the Internet has not reached anything like a satisfying conclusion.

Plummeting newspaper circulation, weak print and online advertising revenue, shrinking newsrooms — it's all proven a bit too much for even the savviest of publishers, Internet entrepreneurs, and navel-gazing media writers.

But there are, at least, a few promising ideas: solid, nonprofit news operations have popped up in cities like New Haven, Minneapolis, and St. Louis; erstwhile competitors are collaborating in interesting ways in many parts of the country; and a compelling balance of aggregation and original reporting is taking hold on some news web sites.

These efforts are not "saving journalism" — a quaint, even faintly ridiculous notion, circa 2011. But they are part of an important project: salvaging some of the old, harnessing the best of the new.

And what's troubling about the Rhode Island mediascape is how slowly the players have moved to embrace this project — in an era when speed is nothing less than a matter of survival.


TOP DOWN

Start with the Providence Journal — deeply diminished, but still the state's undisputed media king.

The newspaper is moving to overhaul its web site, but at the moment, projo.com feels like a dinosaur. The social networking revolution that has swept the rest of the Internet has passed over the site entirely; no "like" button here.

The paper's blogs have little of the pizzazz of, say, the Miami Herald's colorful — if imperfect — blogosphere. There are no reporters doing the sort of quick, entertaining videos that Chris Cillizza — the Washington Post's political blogger extraordinaire — puts up on a regular basis.

And while declining dailies in many cities have acceded to the realities of an aggregated web — providing prominent links to stories from other outlets or, better yet, incorporating local bloggers directly on their sites — the Journal has resisted.

The paper has even been hesitant, until recently, to put its reporters on local television or radio with any regularity — turning down the advances of WRNI, the local National Public Radio affiliate, for instance.

Newsroom sources say the paper of record appears to be loosening up a bit on this front, with a heretofore minimal partnership with WPRI-TV moving toward something more robust.

The station is featuring items from the Journal's "PolitiFact" operation on its newscast, now, and hosting the broadsheet's sports writers on "Sports Wrap," the nightly show on its Fox affiliate.

Jay Howell, general manager at WPRI, says he expects an expansion in the coming months, with ProJo reporters appearing on The Rhode Show, an on-air lifestyle magazine, and elsewhere with increasing frequency.

The move, though hardly groundbreaking, should help both outlets. But if building partnerships is important for established news organizations looking to stave off decline, it is even more crucial for upstarts trying to build brand recognition. And the record, here, is mixed.

Jim Hummel, a former television reporter-turned-one-man, nonprofit investigative engine, puts video on his own web site, appears on talk radio station WPRO, and produces print versions of his stories for Motif magazine.

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