Providence's Alternative Source!

Rampage makes for a difficult self-examination at the Journal


Management at the Providence Journal seemingly did all the right things after Carlos Pacheco's workplace rampage claimed three lives, including his own, on Saturday June 8. Citing the loss, publisher Howard G. Sutton offered comforting words to distraught workers and relatives at the Journal's production site on Kinsley Avenue, a short drive from the downtown headquarters, where the attack began. Stress counseling was made available to anyone who wanted it. Divided in recent years by a newsroom dispute between management and the Providence Newspaper Guild, the Journal, it appeared, was united in grief.

But even with a lengthy next-day report in the Providence Sunday Journal, some familiar hallmarks of management were obvious; particularly the growing aversion to self-scrutiny that developed after the Dallas-based Belo Corporation bought the Journal in 1997. The Associated Press and Boston Globe, for example, reported that Robert Benetti, the first man shot and killed by Pacheco, was Pacheco's supervisor. The Journal, though, merely noted that Benetti was "a supervisor," and human resource officials wouldn't clarify the matter for the paper's own reporters, says one insider.

By the morning of Monday, June 10, a memo circulated by city editor Sue Areson instructed employees not to answer media questions and instead to refer comment to Scott Baradell, Belo's vice president for corporate communications, who quickly flew in to Providence to handle the situation. A call to executive editor Joel B. Rawson was referred to Baradell, who didn't return a call seeking comment as the Phoenix was going to press.

Part of the newspaper's internal stance, such as the unwillingness to make Pacheco's personnel file available to Journal reporters, might be understood in the bureaucratic context of concerns about privacy and legal liability. But other actions -- one source says Journal reporters were told not to contact the family of Charles Johnson, a production employee injured in the attack -- are clearly at odds with the newspaper's mission. "I think it's just hard for a newspaper to cover itself," says one reporter, adding that it would be more honest, of course, for the paper to cite a lack of comment from managers in relevant departments rather than leaving holes in the story.

The motive for the attack by Pacheco, 38, a 20-year employee who worked as an inserter, remained unclear. Several reports indicate that the gunman had complained of being teased at work and pushed to join Local 64 of the Teamsters, which represents some of the workers at the production plant. But as Tim Schick, administrator of the Providence Newspaper Guild, asked, "If that's the case, why did he shoot a supervisor?" It seems more like a personality conflict and that Pacheco had other demons as well.

Still, the question of strife and a union-related motive lingered in the background. In a sidebar on Sunday, the Journal quoted Patricia Bogacz, Pacheco's sister-in-law, as saying, "He loved it up until, I guess, three years ago, when there was a big dispute that started going on." It remained unclear, however, whether the dispute was specific to the production facility, related to the ongoing feud between Belo-backed managers and the Providence Newspaper Guild, or something else entirely.

Under the old regime, the Journal was inconsistent when it came to reporting news involving the paper, but that practice has grown worse under Belo. Although the paper reports on technical problems involving companies like Cox Communications, a serious snafu with the circulation system went unreported a few years ago. Belo's dubious $40 million investment in the failed :CueCat computer peripheral got almost non-existent coverage. And although papers like the Washington Post report on their own internal conflicts, the Guild-management dispute has gone virtually unmentioned in the Journal.

It may well be that Carlos Pacheco's lethal rampage was completely unrelated to union issues at the newspaper. Even with the Journal's lackluster record on news involving the paper, it could get up to speed in telling the full story. The disturbing thing is that if some shibboleth -- union issues or something else -- was a factor, we might never read about it in the paper that ought to own the story.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]

Issue Date: June 7 - 13, 2002