Dean Starkman’s analysis of the dangerously out of whack priorities of the ownership of the Providence Journal and the connection to the paper’s decline is spot on. Back in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, I worked for the Mayor’s office in Pawtucket. When I started there, the ProJo’s Blackstone Valley Bureau was staffed by three reporters who covered Pawtucket and Central Falls. Within a couple of years, the ProJo had its first round of cutbacks/consolidations and the bureau’s coverage map was expanded to include Woonsocket, Cumberland and Lincoln. (And before it was shuttered as part of the big cutbacks which eliminated all the local bureaus, the Blackstone Valley Bureau also included North Providence, North Smithfield, Smithfield and Johnston.)
That change had an immediate impact. Three reporters could easily attend City Council and School Committee meetings in Pawtucket and CF. There was no way there were going to do that with three other communities thrown into the mix. So they were left to work off press releases sent in to them from Mayor’s offices, school departments, council members and school committee members. In many cases, they would simply run those releases. So readers went from having a daily dose of well-reported stories based on the news in their particular community to a mixture that included fewer of those stories and more one-sided press statements from a particular office-holder.
At the end of the day, the product was diminished. And we saw a similar phenomena happen again a few years after the bureaus were shuttered, with the A section of the paper (which contained most of the state generated news) and the B section of the paper (with the national/international news) being merged into one, in what struck me as a move intended to make sure we didn’t notice that state coverage was getting the short of end of the stick.
It’s been sad to watch. But at least we have someone like Dean Starkman who’s not afraid to pull any punches in examining what has gone wrong. Looking forward to seeing what he has to say about about the likelihood of the current ProJo ownership following the path of “investing in the product” to turn around the papers fortunes. My guess is the news won’t be good there…