The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
Media -- Dont Quote Me  |  News Features  |  Talking Politics  |  This Just In


By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  August 26, 2009

Arts and education reporters recently teamed up to tackle the controversy over the ouster of the RISD Museum director; several desks provided pieces for a multi-part series examining the use of stimulus funds in the state; and a paper that might have looked at municipal contract squabbles in isolation under the old bureau system recently produced a trend piece on unions forced to make concessions in tough times.

The ProJo, which has also strived to put more of the quirky and colorful on the front page, is in many ways a more interesting read than it was a year ago. But the transition to a new sort of journalism is not complete.

For all the contextual work, there is still plenty in the way of narrowly tailored stories on local sewage plants or budget resolutions — sometimes of interest to a statewide audience, but often of limited value.

Indeed, while other papers lean more and more on analysis in a bid to stay relevant in a 24-hour news cycle — the Boston Globe recently ran an amusing piece on the hubbub over a Harvard Yard clothing line and turned Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy's return from cancer and depression into a piece on the psychological toll of illness — the ProJo still appears a gray document at times.

And there are barriers to improvement. Several of the paper's most experienced reporters and editors and columnists — those best positioned to connect the dots — left amid the buyouts and layoffs of the fall and a subsequent round of cuts in the spring.

And pulling reporters back from the zoning and school board meetings can make it harder to produce a more meaningful journalism. "The insight to do a good interpretive piece or the leads to do an investigative story often comes out of the nuts and bolts work," said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida.


But depth is about more than trend-spotting and nuanced reporting. It is also about taking the full measure of a community. Putting out a paper that reflects the readers' interest in science and business and theater. And metropolitan dailies, forced to cut somewhere, have taken the ax to this sort of "niche" reporting first.

Newspapers in Tampa, Atlanta, and Denver have dropped film critics in recent years. The Los Angeles Times has jettisoned its standalone business section. And the Boston Globe is the latest to cut its science section.

The ProJo, for its part, still has its share of theater and music reviews. But much of the paper's specialized reporting has melted away. The commitment to book reviews has waned. The paper has dropped most of its in-house Celtics and Bruins coverage.

One-time television reporter Andy Smith has moved to the business desk. And after last month's redesign, the business page is no more, with corporate and consumer reporting now spread throughout the local and national news sections.

Editors at newspapers across the country say their readers can get movie reviews and the latest on forensic science elsewhere. And they're right. But dropping niche coverage and de-emphasizing national and international reporting can ultimately alienate a local audience with broad interests.

"People look at the paper and say, 'That's not me,' " said Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Of course, a more cosmopolitan newspaper may be an impossibility in an era of diminished resources. And it may not even make sense in what Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at New York University and writes the blog PressThink, calls an "unbundled" era.

For every traditional newspaper reader who wants a comprehensive broadsheet that reflects his interests, there is a next-generation consumer who is looking for specialized reports on skiing conditions and the local music scene and the elementary school down the street — the sort of hyper-local coverage that is beyond the means of a slimmed-down newspaper, but readily available on various niche web sites.

And that leaves the modern metropolitan paper in what may be an untenable position: it is too local for some and not local enough for others.

The denizens of Fountain Street are aware of this conundrum. Aware of the paper's financial woes. But most say they are proud of what the paper is doing with a smaller staff. Pleased that the ProJo is trying to adapt to the new reality, however imperfectly.

And that may the best a metro daily, circa 2009, can do.

"At least the paper isn't standing still," said one newsroom source. "If we're dying, we're going to put up a fight."

David Scharfenberg can be reached at

< prev  1  |  2  |  3  | 
  Topics: News Features , Media, Sports, Providence Journal,  More more >
  • Share:
  • Share this entry with Facebook
  • Share this entry with Digg
  • Share this entry with Delicious
  • RSS feed
  • Email this article to a friend
  • Print this article
Re: Short-sighted?
 Are you serious? 'Uber-local' You think the Journal is focusing on local news? Their reporters don't get beyond the urban ring, sort of. Hell, you never get a serious story out of Pawtucket unless someone is bleeding from knife or gunshot wound, or mauled by a pit bull. The coverage of local government, the level of government that affects all of us the most, is non-existent. Check out some of the web pages for the towns. They're blank, save for some retread pieces. The Journal covers local news as part of a theme, like TV. Although, I should criticize TV as WPRI-12 ace Tim White regularly feeds the ProJo its lunch. The whole theme team concept is death t otrue news coverage, especially local coverage. You can't show up in town every few weeks for a feature story or to grab a few graphs for a round story on an issue and convince people they are getting local news.
The serious economic problems in the local communities are going uncovered by The Journal. Think of that for a moment. All the thunder the ProJo reports from Smith Hill is only an echo of the lightning strikes in Town Halls that the journal has turned its back on. But local news is available and locals are turning to the state's weeklies to get their news. The Breeze newspapers in northern Rhode Island and now Pawtucket and the Bristol Phoenix chain of papers have credibility not only from their accurate, thorough, well written reporting but by being present in our communities. Their reporters and editors - many being former ProJo hands from the Journal's old, dearly departed bureaus - are present at our council meetings, school committee meetings, plannng board and zoning meetings. They produce not the sort of grind it out coverage you infer those old ProJo bureaus produced, but in-depth, substantial news articles that offer us perspective. They get their leads at the meetings and they pursue the stories out the door.
We former readers of the ProJo are not fooled by Tom Heslin's rearranging of unmarketable journalistic merchandise from the dusty back of the store shelves to the window display of the A-section. The news product that the state's largest daily produces, in terms of local news, is inadequate and not worth the buck.So spare us this local news initiative by the ProJo. 
By Jeremiah J. Green on 08/28/2009 at 3:37:22

Best Music Poll 2009 winners
Today's Event Picks
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   SHORT-SIGHTED?  |  August 26, 2009
    There may, in the end, be no way to save the American metropolitan newspaper. Plummeting advertising revenue and competition from the Internet often seem forces too daunting for even the savviest of publishers.
    John Maeda arrived at the Rhode Island School of Design a year ago pledging a different sort of leadership.
  •   THE MIGHTY WIND  |  August 19, 2009
    The Rhode Island recession, among the worst in the country, has become something of a national curiosity: how could such a little state be in such big trouble?
  •   STATE HOUSE STATUS  |  August 12, 2009
    Rhode Island voters, for all their supposed insularity, are an increasingly progressive bunch.
  •   THE MUSIC MAN  |  August 05, 2009
    Forty years after a half-million hippies descended on a sprawling dairy farm in upstate New York, Woodstock has become shorthand for an entire epoch.

 See all articles by: DAVID SCHARFENBERG

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2009 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group