Metropolitan newspapers have been moving toward über-local coverage for some time now.
In an age of media saturation, a paper like the Providence Journal stands out not for warmed-over Associated Press accounts of the latest in Paris or Peshawar, but for stories on the Cranston contretemps of the day.
This week, the local broadsheet took the trend to its logical conclusion: launching a redesigned paper that puts local first, local second, and local third.
The Journal has folded the Rhode Island section into the front, or A, section and renamed it projoRhode Island, in a telling, digital-age reference to the newspaper's Web site, projo.com.
The bulk of the national news now resides in a wire service-heavy B section known as projoNation. And the business section is no more, with local financial stories appearing in the front section and national pieces showing up in the B pages.
The redesign has led to some grumbling on Fountain Street. "It's jumbled and it's hard to read," said one newsroom source. "It looks sort of desperate to me."
But the rejiggering seems to be inducing a collective shrug, for the most part. "It's really a predictable arc of where we've been going the past few years," said John Hill, a reporter who is president of the Providence Newspaper Guild.
And the indifference is striking: a move that was unthinkable just a few years ago — diluting the business reporting brand, burying national news deeper in the paper — is a ho-hum occurrence these days.
"If newspapers aren't local, what are they?," said Arlene Morgan, an associate dean at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. "That's the brand."
Scattering business stories could present some risk, said Morgan, "particularly if you have a business community that depends on that coverage." But the ProJo is hardly the first paper to de-emphasize dollars and cents.
The Los Angeles Times dropped its standalone business section in January. The Denver Post runs a separate business section on Sundays only. And the Baltimore Sun will reportedly move its business reporting to the back of its Maryland section next week.
If the change at the ProJo were to benefit any local media outlet, it would be the Providence Business News. But even Mark S. Murphy, editor of the publication, seems nonplussed.
"I think the opportunity [for us] is not much changed," he said. "The question will be how many resources do they dedicate to business coverage, even if it's all not in the same section?"
All indications are that the paper will not pare back the staff it throws at business coverage — or any other topic, for that matter — in the near future. The latest iteration of the ProJo is, by and large, an exercise in repackaging.
The more substantive change came in the fall and spring, when the paper shed dozens of jobs through buyouts and layoffs, closed its four regional bureaus and reorganized into five desks — breaking news, public policy, justice, commerce and consumer, and futures, which covers education, the environment and health care.
Newsroom sources say the reorganization has created some bureaucratic headaches. But the reshuffling under executive editor Tom Heslin, a Journal fixture who has held the top job for over a year now, seems to be provoking little in the way of serious rebellion.
Change, everyone agrees, is necessary. The question is, can any reorganization of staff — any repackaging of the product — save the American newspaper?
Heslin did not return a call for comment.