House Speaker William J. Murphy, who is friendly with Ryan and has golfed with him on occasion, says, “He wants what’s best for Rhode Island, not only as a citizen, but in the business he’s in — he wants to make sure Rhode Island succeeds.” Noting how the Journal’s editorial page used to be more uniformly Republican, Murphy credits Ryan and Sutton with fostering more of an issue-by-issue approach.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but the ProJo has editorialized in favor of a number of things backed by Murphy — most notably, last year’s unsuccessful casino proposal, developing a port at Quonset Point, and a tax cut for affluent Rhode Islanders. While the Journal used a pro-jobs argument in advocating for the casino, the newspaper would have enjoyed an advertising boost if voters had approved the proposal. Murphy says Ryan and he discuss various issues and Rhode Island’s condition “from time to time.”
One knowledgeable observer thinks the Journal was sincere in its use of a pro-jobs argument to endorse the casino, and that it will be vindicated should Massachusetts proceed with casino gambling. This source offers Ryan a kind of ultimate local tribute: “The thing I liked about him, he’s a born-and-bred Rhode Islander. He understands the state for too long was dominated by the upper crust. It seems like they’re much more down to earth and understanding of working class Rhode Island, and I think a lot of that stuff goes to Mark.”
Ryan is friendly with former Warwick mayor Joseph Walsh, a leading State House lobbyist — each serves as a trustee of the Providence Performing Arts Center — and Walsh, who has represented greyhound owners at Lincoln Park, was firmly on the other side of the casino issue. (Lincoln and Newport Grand, the state’s two gambling parlors, were among the main financial backers of last year’s anti-casino movement.) Asked if they discussed the issue much, Walsh says, “Not really.”
Although ProJo publisher Howard Sutton has occasionally used a heavy hand on the paper’s editorial page, and Ryan came to be an increasing presence in Rawson’s office during the Guild stalemate, the news side doesn’t seem to have many significant complaints about interference from the fourth floor.
Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, has gotten to know Ryan through his service on the chamber’s board. She calls him “very tough, very smart, fearless. I would say that he’s all about busting up the status quo and conventional thinking, and it appears that he has the ideal personality to do that. I don’t see him as someone who sits around all day fretting about what people might think of him. He speaks his mind freely. What I see is that people enjoy going to meetings with him, because oftentimes he says what others might be reluctant to say out loud.”
White, who is married to WJAR-TV investigative reporter Jim Taricani (an occasional Phoenix contributor) recalls how Ryan approached her when Taricani was facing imprisonment a few years back because of his refusal to identify the source of an FBI videotape. Ryan expressed his pride in Taricani, she says, “and told me the Journal would file a friend-of-the-court brief to support him. I believe he [Ryan] has great respect for the field of journalism and I’ve never forgotten that.”
Still, even though internal views of Ryan have mellowed since the bitter four-year labor dispute ended in 2003, one observer, describing him as the iron first to Sutton’s velvet glove, question the duo’s level of support for the paper’s fundamental journalistic mission.
“Things have become more and more production-driven, as if we’re driving out widgets, says the source, who requested anonymity. “It’s all about revenue, it’s all about advertising. They want to keep costs down, and there’s no financial value seen to having a large news staff. It’s almost as if the news department is incidental to the newspaper.”
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