The other issue is serendipity. If you're looking through a magazine or a newspaper or even a book — an old-fashioned, non-Kindle book — you tend to come across stuff you wouldn't come across when you go to the web. As they invade our privacy and find out what we're looking at, [the web is] increasingly focused on what they think you're interested in . . . One of the best pieces of advice I got many, many years ago when I worked for the Wall Street Journal was [that] usually the best story is, like, on the bottom of page 37.
WHAT ARE SOME LOCAL "PAGE 37" STORIES RIGHT NOW THAT AREN'T GETTING ENOUGH ATTENTION? [Rhode Island] is a great place for aquaculture. In the end, it's very minor . . . it's what, $2.5 million? [But] I think that's the kind of thing that can be written about and sort of ramped up.
Another economic development area would be [promoting] Newport as a sort of intellectual center. Because they've got all these ex-spies, they've got the Naval War College, they've got the Pell Center [for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina], they've got the Navy base. And I think that could be a much, much more important place, intellectually.
Oh, and trains. On the east side of Narragansett Bay, you've got almost a perfect stretch . . . to bring back commuter trains. Because you've got these densely populated village centers: Barrington, Bristol, Warren. [Also, think of] what you can do with places like Central Falls and Pawtucket if they had train stations there.
YOU'VE NAMED SOME OF THE CURRENT ISSUES FACING THE NEWSPAPER BUSINESS: THE HUGE LOSS OF CLASSIFIED ADS, THE WORST RECESSION SINCE THE 1930S. BUT COULDN'T SOME PEOPLE SAY THAT THE JOURNAL, SPECIFICALLY, SHOULD HAVE BEEN NIMBLER IN ADAPTING? I would only go so far as to say that every paper should have been nimbler, including the New York Times, the Washington Post. . . I think the entire industry has been slow . . . in making these transformations to making money on [the Internet]. It's actually a very conservative industry. Managements were presiding over local instructions [that were] almost like the banks used to be before deregulation caused all this trouble. They were almost like public agencies: very staid, stodgy. Publishers were local families and the people running these companies were from the families, like [late Journal publisher] Michael Metcalf. We'd have recessions. Things would go up and down. But it was pretty predictable, pretty stable.
And it was difficult to wrench yourself out of that and go into this crazy churn where there would be technological developments every 15 minutes which would cast into doubt your business model. The ProJo. . . was a much, much bigger company than people realized. We owned [the media conglomerate] King Broadcasting; Colony Communications, which is the cable company; a billion dollar cell phone company. In the old days — which in my case would be, say, the '70s, '80s, early '90s — they could look ahead and make capital investments and have a pretty good idea what their revenue would be in four or five years. Now, it's like six months is long-term.
Whitcomb will continue to contribute a biweekly column to the ProJo. You can follow his blog at newenglanddiary.com.