Last Friday P&J noticed an article on the Providence Business News Web site concerning a major design change being planned by the Urinal. According to the source for the story, veteran BeloJo scribe and Providence Newspaper Guild president John G. Hill, the paper "is scheduled to announce a redesign of the newspaper in its print edition this Sunday." We anxiously read Sunday's paper, seeing no announcement and no apparent design changes. Same thing Monday.
Most of you know by now that the reconfigured BeloJo appeared on Tuesday, accompanied by a page 3 statement from Urinal vice president and executive editor Tom Heslin. How will it work? What will it mean? Only time will tell.
As the world of advertising-driven media (not just newspapers, but television and radio) continues to quaver from the reverberations of a poisonous economy and the myriad challenges of the Internet Age, the leadership at the BeloJo deserves credit for trying to meet the challenges with strategies rather than more cutbacks and layoffs.
The problems that newspapers face emanate from a technological tsunami. Therefore, rethinking the daily newspaper, while a good idea and well worth the effort, is not the answer. But no one knows what the answer is, and the danger of a new media paradigm without a clue as to how to pay for vigorous newsgathering organizations is looming.
The BeloJo's response is to skew local. The most profound change is that the entire front section of the paper is now Vo Dilun and regional news. This also includes the promise of more local stories gracing the front page (on Tuesday, four of the five front-page stories were from BeloJo writers). Most of the stories in the reconfigured A (or "projoRhode Island" section) are shorter USA Today-length stories. The B section is now "projoNation" (not to be confused with "Red Sox Nation" or an actual "nation," as in "country").
Unmentioned by Mr. Heslin in his explanatory note to readers was the fact that this format also works more conveniently on a Web site. Your superior correspondents have no reason to believe that the BeloJo is any less obsessed with projo.com today than it was a year ago. And that is how it should be if the statewide daily newspaper is to navigate the storm. Remember this: first quarter 2009 Urinal revenue dropped 30 percent.
It is true that P&J's predictions for the future of the Other Paper have been dire. That's just the way we see it. But that does not mean that we are rooting against them. No matter how sad the mighty BeloJo looks today, the thought of no daily newspaper in Vo Dilun is just too painful and dangerous to imagine. Think of a world where Mike Stanton, Katherine Gregg, Amanda Milkovits, Bill Malinowski, Karen Lee Ziner, and Bob Kerr are too qualified to hold a job because no entities will pay to have real news reported by real writers because all the slots are taken up by bloggers and former Entertainment Tonight co-hosts. Good luck to the Other Paper and good luck to us all.
REMEMBERING FRANK McCOURT