Better times on Fountain Street
MEDIA CENTRAL: The Journal has grown thinner and less vibrant since being bought by Belo in 1997.
Although not at the table during contract talks, Ryan came to be perceived by Providence Newspaper Guild members as a driving force during the bitter contract standoff that persisted from 1999 through 2003. Not coincidentally, he was elevated to his current post as general manager and executive vice president in late 2001, placing him above executive editor Joel Rawson in the administrative hierarchy, symbolizing a power shift between business and journalistic interests.
Since Guild-management relations soured not long after Belo’s 1997 acquisition of the ProJo, many Guild members interpreted it as an attempt to break the union. In the years since a contract was reached, however, relations have been and remain “very good,” says Providence Newspaper Guild administrator Tim Schick, and with that pact set to expire December 31, the union feels relatively optimistic about talks expected to start later this year.
It’s impossible to say to what extent Ryan influenced each swing of the Guild-management relationship, Schick says, “but he was definitely involved and a responsible executive throughout that period.” Schick describes Ryan as someone who “knows what he wants and he can be very single-minded in going after it. He can be both very charming and very abrasive; it depends on the situation.”
Reporter John Hill, the president of the Guild, says his talks with Ryan have been cordial and polite, but adds, “He’s a very straight-line-between-the-shortest-distance kind of guy. He will identify an objective and he will advance on it. He wants to see the numbers on things. There’s not a lot of small talk with the guy. He wants the job done in the shortest amount of time possible and by the most direct route. And there’s no ambiguity with the guy. You don’t have to worry about hidden meanings or try to divine what you thought he meant. He will be clear and direct with what he expects.”
Ryan, who resides in Narragansett, has a reputation for sometimes having employed hardball tactics with advertisers; he is said to have to have once torn down an advertising department sign reading, “When our customers succeed, we succeed,” remarking that from now on, “It’s about us.” (Ryan did not respond to requests for an interview.)
Yet while many people inside the ProJo have had very limited conversation with the general manager, acquaintances de¬scribe another side of him. “Unbeknownst to some of the people at the Journal, he’s a very funny person,” says former Cranston mayoral candidate Allan Fung, who, like Ryan, was in the 2001 class of the professional development program Leadership Rhode Island.
George Nee, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, calls Ryan “a very thoughtful sensible leader in the business community . . . I find him to be very engaging. There are some things we agree on, like [the concept of developing a port at Quonset Point], and others that we don’t, like the tax cut for the well off. I think he’s done a very good job with labor relations at the Journal over the last several years.”
Some of the most enthusiastic praise for Ryan comes from Eileen Hayes, executive director of Amos House, a homeless shelter in Providence, where he formerly served as president of the board — something that his admirers point to as a telling sign of his character. “I think Mark is wonderful,” Hayes says. “He’s one of the smartest men I know.”
Hayes says Ryan was very interested in the issue of homelessness and provided her with a lot of helpful direction in terms of the organizational development of Amos House. The nonprofit developed “a lot of programs under his leadership,” she says, including a culinary training program and a catering business, in part through his advocacy for more aggressively using some of its $500,000 in reserves.
Not your father's Projo
Ryan’s fans also credit him with bringing more of a common touch to the Providence Journal’s upper ranks, reflecting the change in the paper’s culture from a Yankee preserve to something more of a meritocracy open to the Irish Catholics scorned by the paper in its distant past.
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