No cuts planned, but still a mixed story on Fountain Street

As The ProJo Turns  
By IAN DONNIS  |  September 6, 2006

The good news is that no layoffs or voluntary job reductions are planned at the Providence Journal, unlike at the Belo Corporation’s flagship Dallas Morning News, where a move to cut 85 newsroom jobs (about 17 percent of the editorial staff, according to Editor & Publisher) was announced last month. The not-so-great news is that the ProJo — like every US newspaper — continues to struggle with the seismic shift caused by the migration of readers and advertisers to the Internet.

Considering this mixed outlook, the paper occupies a middle ground that speaks to the state of American journalism. It offers must-read political coverage and periodic in-depth reports — like Edward Fitzpatrick’s superlative series earlier this year on the struggles of a drug-addicted woman — while showing less ambition than in the past and drawing occasional letters lamenting the amount of news from other papers.

In the latest departure from the Journal, reporter Gerald Carbone, an 18-year veteran, is leaving to explore other writing opportunities. Also, Providence City Hall reporter Cathleen Crowley recently took a job with the Albany Times Union, to join her fiancé, and on the eve of the start of the football season, New England Patriots beat reporter Tom Curran split for a gig with www.nbcsports.com.

Carbone speaks warmly about his time at the Journal, recalling a broad range of assignments and the paper’s stalwart support when he received a Stanford fellowship, not to mention when Providence police once arrested him, on a spurious charge of obstruction of justice, while he was asking questions about a reported downtown shooting. Although then-Mayor Buddy Cianci was enthusiastic about prosecuting Carbone, then a member of the ProJo’s investigative team, the paper spent about $50,000 for his successful defense, he says, and was ready with a strong case had the city appealed. “They’ve been very, very good to me,” Carbone says of the Journal,” adding that any complaints he has stem from the broader contemporary trends in the journalism industry.

John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild, says publisher Howard Sutton recently assured him that there are no plans to cut newsroom jobs. Yet the gradual erosion of the ProJo’s staff and resources — including a reduction in bureaus, from eight in 1995 to four (with the bureau staff diminishing in size from 44 to about 24) — clearly isn’t cause for cheer. As Hill, one of the reporters moved from a bureau to the Providence office earlier this year, puts it, “Our concern is that we’re losing the brand of being the newspaper that covers Rhode Island . . . You can’t cover Burrillville from Fountain Street. You lose the eyes and ears of that community.”

Guild administrator Tim Schick says the Journal is “doing about as well as any other paper in New England, and in some cases, a little better, but the bottom line is that no paper in New England or anywhere else around the country is making the kind of money that they are used to.”

Meanwhile, New York-based GateHouse Media is seen as a prospective buyer for the five small dailies (including the Times of Pawtucket, the Call of Woonsocket, and the Herald News of Fall River) and 21 other publications in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts put on the block last week by Journal Register Co. If a buyer were to invest in these papers, “they could have the potential to have something that puts news competition back in Rhode Island,” says Schick. “But I don’t know if anyone is really willing to invest in newspapers to make them better these days, as opposed to taking money out of them.”

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