Warwick — the childhood home of Providence Journal publisher Howard G. Sutton and the town in which he still resides — has emerged as a site of intensifying competition for newspaper readers.
The Journal Register Company (JRC) is bolstering its presence in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts, launching a new daily in Warwick and a new weekly in Somerset, Massachusetts — not long after the ProJo closed bureaus in those two communities and two others. Plans for launching the Warwick Daily Times, which debuted Tuesday, started well before the ProJo closed its Warwick bureau, says Times publisher David R. Dear Jr. “[but] it just made that decision that much easier. We knew we were going to have a little easier time of it.”
In a statement, Dear hailed the move as a no-brainer: “Warwick, with more than 85,000 residents, is Rhode Island’s second largest city. It’s a vibrant community with a strong sense of itself and it’s the retail sales hub of the state. There aren’t many communities of this size in the US without a daily newspaper. We see an opportunity to provide timely coverage of the people, places and events that make Warwick a great place to live and work.”
Dear says JRC has made an “enormous” investment in the new daily, adding 15 positions, including five in editorial. While the challenges of metro dailies are well known, he says, “Advertising revenue for community newspapers is very strong.”
Sutton did not a return a call seeking comment. Asked about JRC’s new daily, a sister to its West Warwick-based Kent County Daily Times, John Howell, publisher of the rival twice-weekly Warwick Beacon, says, “It certainly puts us on our toes to do a better job and try to maintain not only what we have, but to expand upon what we have.”
New Jersey-based Journal Register operates newspaper “clusters” in six parts of the US. Its Central New England operation consists of 25 daily, weekly, and monthly publications in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Dan Goodrich, publisher of JRC’s Fall River Herald News, confirmed the launch last week of a new weekly in Somerset.
Michael Moses, the publisher of two JRC dailies, the Times of Pawtucket and the Call of Woonsocket, says the company plans to partially combine the two staff of these papers. While he calls the effort part of a move toward increased efficiency, Moses says maintaining the two separate newspapers, with their distinct offices, is “really important.”
Tim Schick, administrator of the Providence Newspaper Guild, which represents reporters and some other workers at the ProJo, ascribes a wider strategy to the JRC moves. “If you think about it,” he says, “the Journal has sort of retrenched in its bureau coverage, and JRC, on three fronts, is potentially moving in to fill the void.”
While enhanced newspaper competition is a good thing for readers, Schick notes, “JRC is a newspaper corporation that lives by the bottom line. The question here is whether they’re going to put the resources into it that are necessary to [journalistically] compete.” An increased profile “might be an effort just to latch on to some ad dollars, as opposed to competing on the news side.”