Providence's Alternative Source!

The persistence of memory


Beyond reporting the news, newspapers serve as vital sources of institutional memory. This helps to explain why last week's death of Brian Dickinson, a remarkable figure in Rhode Island journalism, was recognized with a lengthy front-page obituary in the Providence Sunday Journal. As the May 5 obit noted, Dickinson, 64, "stirred thousands of readers with his masterful, elegant columns long after Lou Gehrig's disease left him with the control only of his eyes." The irony is that by having deleted the byline of Brian C. Jones, the outspoken former staffer who wrote most of the piece, the Journal denied another part of its own institutional history.

A newsroom printout of the obit prepared by Jones, who was among more than 90 Journal employees who took a buyout last fall, is extremely close to the published story. A note on the obit by reporter G. Wayne Miller, who updated the piece in late April, says, "No Jones byline, per TEH, and I did too little to warrant one." Thomas E. Heslin, the Journal's metro managing editor, didn't return a call seeking comment, and executive editor Joel Rawson declined to comment.

Jones, who reported for the Journal for 35 years and has since become a contributor to the Phoenix, was a dedicated activist with the Providence Newspaper Guild, which remains embroiled in an extended contract dispute with Journal management. He was a staunch opponent of the Belo Corporation's 1997 acquisition of the Journal, calling it "a tragedy" that would result in a reduced commitment to local journalism.

Although Jones was among those taking part in a wildcat byline strike prior to his departure from Fountain Street, policy dictated, he says, that reporters had to indicate their lack of desire for a byline for each story and he didn't make such a request with the Dickinson obit. The deletion of Jones's byline also seems spiteful since the Journal recently printed, with a byline, a months-old story by S. Robert Chiappinelli, another of the veteran reporters who took the buyout last year. "To me, it seems petty," says Jones. "It seems like because I wrote it, they left off my name . . . It hurt, not having my name on it."

In other developments at the Journal:

* The National Labor Relations Board has consolidated new complaints by the Guild against management, including allegations that veteran reporter Karen Lee Ziner was assigned to the night police shift as retaliation for a protest petition circulated on her behalf. Colleagues signed the petition after Ziner was taken off a domestic violence case last summer (see "ProJo editors cave on reporter after subject complains," This just in, August 2, 2001).

Guild administrator Tim Schick says an NLRB hearing will be scheduled to consider the new allegations. A hearing on 45 previous alleged violations of federal labor law by management concluded in March, and Schick expects the NLRB to make a decision on those some time this fall.

* The paper is losing two more talented staffers. Legal affairs reporter Jonathan Rockoff, who joined the Journal from law school as a two-year reporter-intern in 1995, is leaving this week to join the Baltimore Sun, where he'll cover the vast Baltimore County school system. "It's just a great opportunity," says Rockoff, who reported on much of the woes of the Providence police in recent years. "I've been at the Journal for seven years, which is a long time in this field. While I haven't done everything that I wanted to, I feel that I've done enough, and it's time for a new challenge."

Deputy financial editor Bob Wyss, a 28-year veteran, will also be leaving, taking a teaching job later this year in the journalism department of the University of Connecticut at Storrs. "This has been an aspiration of mine of all of my career -- to teach," Wyss says. "It's just a great, great opportunity. I'm disheartened by the [contract] dispute and upset that it's continuing," but it's a secondary issue in terms of his departure. Working at the ProJo has "been a great time, most of the time."

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]

Issue Date: May 10 - 16, 2002