Although Newport is probably Rhode Island's best-known community, the
Providence Journal has closed its bureau in the City-by-the-Sea -- a
move that past and present staffers see as a symbolic retreat from the paper's
commitment to statewide coverage.
In the mid-'90s, the Journal closed bureaus in Westerly and
Woonsocket, communities that, like Newport, have their own local dailies. But
because of the range of important stories that come out of Newport, the
decision to shutter the office strikes many observers as misguided. "It's
sad and it's shocking, really," says Elliot Krieger, spokesman for the
state Department of Education and a former Newport bureau chief for the
Journal. "That's like the New York Times without a Washington
bureau. It's unbelievable."
The two-person bureau was closed Friday, January 4, and insiders believe the
decision was driven by longstanding concerns about sales of the Journal
in Newport. Deputy executive editor Carol J. Young mentioned the closing almost
as an afterthought in a January 9 article on a rotation of the statewide staff,
but she added, "Just as we don't need sleek race horses to get stories out of
Scituate [the approach used during a murder arraignment in 1894], we no longer
need a satellite office to cover Newport." Young and executive editor Joel P.
Rawson declined requests for comment from the Phoenix.
Although Newport will presumably be covered out of Bristol, the loss of the
Newport bureau comes as the latest in a series of steps by Belo-backed managers
to consolidate the paper's news operation. More than 90 employees at the
newspaper, representing a collective 1600 years of experience, took a buyout
that was offered to cut costs late last year.
Citing a post in Newport as essential to an understanding of the state,
observers are flabbergasted by the closing of the bureau. "They're putting
business considerations ahead of important news considerations," says Tony
Lioce, a former Newport reporter for the Journal, who's now assistant
features editor at the San Jose Mercury News. "It's insane. It would be
like if the Mercury News stopped covering San Francisco because we don't
sell as many papers as the Chronicle."
As a strikingly beautiful place with colorful characters and jagged contrasts
between rich and poor -- not to mention a prominent role in the Revolutionary
War, the slave trade, and the underground railroad -- Newport represented a
highly desirable assignment at the Journal. "You couldn't walk out of
the office without coming back with five stories," Lioce says, recalling when
the bureau was located on Thames Street.
Tim Schick, administrator of the Providence Newspaper Guild, sees the
situation as part of a vicious circle in which the Journal, an early
adapter of the concept of using suburban bureaus to report statewide news, is
shrinking from its historic commitment. "I don't think the Journal
was committed to putting the resources into these communities [Westerly,
Woonsocket, and Newport] as necessary to compete for news coverage," he
says. "If you don't compete on a news basis, you can't compete to get the
circulation penetration. The lack of penetration then justifies the decision
[to close bureaus]."
Speculation was also swirling in the newsroom about whether the
Journal, which has exhibited a growing tendency toward self-censorship
under Belo, would publish a piece about the Newport bureau by political
columnist M. Charles Bakst. Bakst expects it to run, adding, "My column is
purely a reminiscence."
Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]phx.com.
Issue Date: January 17 - 24, 2002