Still, Vetters says the idea of long-form, web-based journalism — if unlikely to draw the traffic of, say, a major storm — has "merit." And he suggests the station will examine the possibilities later this year.

There is a certain logic to a measured approach. In most markets, it is difficult to imagine any television or radio station with a couple of digital reporters emerging as a true game changer anytime soon.

In Boston, NPR station WBUR has built an impressive web presence, but it's still no match for bostonglobe.com — in breadth of coverage or page views. And even here, WPRI's Nesi says he's had to accept "that you're not going to be exhaustive."

"A lot of what we're talking about," says Dan Kennedy, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University, "is quite possibly down the road, and not now."

But in Providence, where the main daily newspaper has turned its back on the Internet and endured a sharper decline than most dailies, the road may be a bit shorter than elsewhere.

Nesi and McGowan are, perhaps, the two best young reporters in the state. And White's work, also prominently featured on the web, is top-notch. If any threesome could provide a reasonable alternative to the Journal, this might be it.

WPRI is already making some startling inroads. According to comScore, which tracks web traffic, the Providence Journal's website attracted 764,000 unique visitors in November 2010 to WPRI's 218,000. This past November, nine months after the paper erected its pay wall, providencejournal.com had 500,000 visitors to wpri.com's 333,000.

You do the math.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at  dscharfenberg@phx.com. Follow him on Twitter @d_scharfenberg.

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