Providence's Alternative Source!

Newport closure triggers reporter's departure


The Providence Journal's decision to close its Newport bureau has already taken a toll. The closure prompted Jerry O'Brien, the well-regarded bureau manager and 2000 winner of the Journal's $5000 in-house reporting prize, to abruptly leave the paper. "The closing of the Newport office helped me bring into focus the desire I've had for a while to try something new and try a new challenge," such as teaching, says O'Brien, 50, a 14-year veteran. "I don't know why that office was closed, but that sort of brought it to a head for me."

Since the Newport bureau was a satellite of the East Bay office in Bristol, O'Brien was able to remain insulated from the morale problems that have engulfed the Journal since the Dallas-based Belo Corporation acquired the paper in 1997. "I was trusted to work hard, and for me, the other changes at the paper didn't really hit home until it was announced that the office was being closed," he says. "Then my thinking became, `It's time to go.' I have to say, looking back, I'm really glad I had the chance to work there. I loved working for the Journal. I was given a lot of help from a lot of really good people."

O'Brien, who had been reassigned to a bureau in Somerset, Massachusetts, is the latest in a stream of reporters and photographers who've left the Journal as a bitter dispute between management and the Providence Newspaper Guild has intensified over the last two years. The ranks were thinned further with a buyout late last year. Coming with the January 4 closing of the two-person bureau in Newport, perhaps the state's best-known community, O'Brien's departure doesn't bode well for the paper's direction.

"Jerry's a very talented reporter, and the fact that he would leave under this sort of situation shows both his dedication to covering the Newport area and his belief in the philosophy of comprehensive local news reporting that the Journal once advocated," says Guild administrator Tim Schick. Joel P. Rawson, the paper's executive editor, declined to comment.

It might be just a coincidence, but it's worth noting that the Journal used an Associated Press version of a significant story in Newport -- a Navy man becoming the first person in the state to be charged with assault with intent to murder based on sexual conduct -- on January 10, less than a week after the closing of the Newport office, before dispatching a staffer to follow the case in court the next day. Schick was unfamiliar with the circumstances, but he adds, "In general, when you reduce your reporting staff, you have fewer people to assign to first-day coverage. Generally, with the reductions in force, it's likely that we will see more using of wire copy rather than the Journal assigning its own people."

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]

Issue Date: January 18 - 24, 2002