ProJo squashes kids' spelling-bee

As the ProJo Turns
By IAN DONNIS  |  January 17, 2007

Newspapers need all the help they can get these days, so the Providence Journal’s withdrawal of sponsorship for the Rhode Island Statewide Spelling Bee -- resulting in the cancellation of this year’s competition -- has angered ProJo staffers.

The Journal’s decision to no longer serve as the event’s main sponsor was communicated in a letter sent just before Christmas time to the Rhode Island Association of School Principals, which helps to coordinate the bee. “Unfortunately, it won’t happen this year as a result,” says John Golden, the association’s executive director.

Golden finds no fault with the paper’s decision. “The Providence Journal has been very generous for a long time,” he says. Being the lead sponsor for the bee, which was scheduled for March, “is expensive and it eats up a lot of staff time,” particularly in the ProJo’s promotions department. Golden, who was unable to identify the precise cost of lead sponsorship, places it at “something in excess of $5000.” Because of the cancellation, schools have been encouraged to conduct their own local spelling bees.

A number of ProJo staffers are angry and flabbergasted by the newspaper’s withdrawal of sponsorship, which has gone unreported in Rhode Island’s newspaper of record.

“This is just incomprehensible,” says reporter John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild. “I don’t see how you could have an event that is more connected to a newspaper’s mission, which is reading, and learning about the world, and expanding your vocabulary. These are things that you need to learn if you’re going to be a newspaper reader or a Web site reader.”

Past winners of the Rhode Island Statewide Spelling Bee have progressed to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC.

Hill recalls having covered a packed Rhode Island spelling bee last year in which study guides provided by the ProJo were a ubiquitous sight. “To throw that away, I’m completely baffled by it,” he says. “It just betrays a tone deafness to what the Journal’s role in the community ought to be, and we are diminishing that role.”

Last year, the newspaper’s parent, the Dallas-based Belo Corporation, considered the Journal’s support for the spelling bee important enough to trumpet it in a news release on the corporate Web site. Now, though, the decision is thought to be part of another cost-cutting effort at Rhode Island’s largest newspaper. Barbara Nauman, the Journal’s director of promotions, didn’t return a message seeking comment.

“In terms of the spelling bee, newsroom people are very upset,” says a source. “They see a direct connection between literacy, the ability to use the English language, and promoting interest in reading and in reading newspapers.”

Paige Kimble, director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, says she was not aware of another newspaper that has withdrawn its sponsorship of a statewide spelling bee because of cost concerns. With participation from 275 kids last year, 286 are expected for this year’s competition. “I think it’s a tribute to the popularity of the program and the relatively low cost,” she says.

  Topics: This Just In , Media, Newspapers, John Golden,  More more >
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