On the plus side, Belo knows how to make money while running a solid newspaper. Yet it has also shown itself capable of backing cuts that once would have been unthinkable.

Newspapers with a strong local franchise, like the Journal, could conceivably continue to fare well — if their ownership can ride out the current uncertainty, and if rates for what newspapers can charge their Web advertisers eventually climb.

The alternative scenario, though — of a debilitated watchdog — isn’t very pretty.

“Anyone who has lived in Rhode Island for more than 45 minutes knows the ethical atmosphere,” says John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild, “and this state really needs a newspaper, and news media in general, that’s willing to look under the rocks and behind the doors to see what these people are up to.” With all the transgressions that are already revealed, “imagine what would happen if everyone was to slack off on these guys. It would be like open season.”

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Ian Donnis: idonnis@phx.com.

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