Barbarisi assigned to the Sox; more changes coming

As The ProJo Turns
By IAN DONNIS  |  October 9, 2008

In a locally unorthodox move, the Providence Journal is reassigning Dan Barbarisi, its well-regarded Providence City Hall reporter, to cover the Red Sox, perhaps in time for the American League Championship Series against the Rays.

The move shows the extent to which the ProJo plans to place a continued emphasis on its sports section — something that still helps to propel newspaper sales — particularly after ace baseball writer Sean McAdam’s departure for the Boston Herald. In this respect, Barbarisi, a self-starter with a knack for finding good stories (even if he lacks professional sports writing experience) is an interesting choice.

At the same time, it’s fair to question whether the ProJo’s hyper-emphasis on scholastic sports on its Web site is excessive. Most Rhode Islanders are more interested in pro sports stories, such as a Celtics’ piece reported out of Newport last weekend by the New York Times’ William Rhoden.

Barbarisi, who didn’t return a call seeking comment, will be paired with Joe McDonald in leading the Journal’s Sox coverage. (Assigning a news reporter to cover baseball isn’t unprecedented. The Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler did a nice job in making the same transition.)

The upshot from other personnel changes at the ProJo, including a thinly subscribed buyout and subsequent layoffs (see “Journal job cuts: practical or self-destructive,” News, This Just In, October 3) may become clearer after a staff meeting reportedly planned for this Friday, October 10. The layoffs of some 30 news employees, including a number of part-timers with many years of experience at the ProJo, take effect the same day.

Some Journal insiders believe the paper is about to make a significant reduction of its locally zoned news editions — something that wouldn’t be surprising, considering how the ProJo has dismantled in recent years its once-vaunted statewide network of suburban news bureaus.

In related news, the statewide daily planned to reassign Steve Peoples, one of its three State House reporters, to fill the vacancy at City Hall being created by Barbarisi’s move to the Red Sox beat. Yet after the change was reported on my blog earlier this week, there was internal pushback at the Journal, leading to some uncertainty about whether it will be implemented. (Peoples didn’t return a call seeking comment.)

As the ProJo has gradually downsized over the last decade, its State House bureau has remained a source of strength, even if it, too, has seen some reductions — from a high of four to five staffers during the legislative season to the current three reporters. Reducing this number by one would represent a significant hit.

Meanwhile, in another sign of the challenge facing newspapers, the Journal was reportedly distributing free copies at a Barrington supermarket on a recent weekend. If you can’t sell your product in one of the state’s most affluent, most educated communities, it doesn’t bode very well.

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