Providence Journal Has Shrunk Far More Than Ever Reported Before

Friday, May 05, 2017
GoLocalProv News Team and Kate Nagle

The decline of newspapers is not new, nor are stories about layoffs at the Providence Journal, but what has not been reported before is the size and scope of the decline of the once proud Providence Journal.

The numbers are astounding.

The Providence Journal now has about 20 reporters, according to John Hill, head of the Providence Newspaper Guild, which is down from staffing of reporters and editors at close to 300 back at the height of the paper in the 1980s, according to sources.

Back then, the paper was locally owned and considered one of the best small market newspapers in America. Now, it is one of the hundreds of newspapers owned by media conglomerate GateHouse Media.

The number that may be even more representative of the decline is that of the Guild, which is now down to less than 100. According to Hill, in the 1980s, the total number of reporters, photographers and pre-pub staffing in the Guild was around 500.

“In that heyday, one of the big bureaus had ten or so,” said Hill. The Providence Journal closed the bureau offices around the state approximately fifteen years ago.

Top Management Leaves

The Journal’s parent company — GateHouse Media — recently offered buyouts and Deputy Executive Editor Peter Phipps; City Editor Jack Khorey; Business Editor John Kostrzewa; and long-time reporters Karen Lee Ziner and Gregory Smith all took the offer.  Executive Editor David Butler retired and did not take the buyout. 

Butler, Phipps, and Khorey were the three top editors in the newsroom. "Their duties are being chopped up and handed out to some of the survivors," said Hill. 

John Hill, heads the Providence Newspaper Guild. Photo: Twitter
State House Coverage Cut Too

The Providence Journal’s State House Bureau has been cut by 75 percent in the past month.

In the 2016 legislative session, the staffing included Katherine Gregg, Jennifer Bogdan, Patrick Anderson, and Alisha Pina, but now after a couple of reshufflings, only Gregg is assigned to the State House. 

Pina quit the Projo to take a state public relations job and this week it was announced that both Bogdan and Anderson were being reassigned.

The cuts are not expected to slow. GateHouse Media’s parent company New Media Investment Group registered a weak first quarter performance, the stock has sunk to nearly a 52-week low, and on the quarterly investor call admitted that the company was only realizing 10 percent of its first quarter revenue from digital. The stock closed at $13.55 on Thursday down 31 percent from the 52 week high.

"It's another instance of GateHouse's short-sighted quarterly mindset that [is] just making the paper smaller and more poorly equipped to fulfill the fantasy goals of coverage and ad sales that the company throws out to make outsiders think they have a plan," said Hill.

New York Times Company
Digital Success - Elsewhere

By contrast, the New York Times Co. announced on Wednesday that while their print ads declined by 17.9%, their digital ads increased to 38 percent and their digital subscribers increased to 2.2 million. The New York Times' shift to a digital strategy garnered the attention of super investor Warren Buffett. 

In a sweeping interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box in March, Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway said that while he owns 31 newspapers, he believes only two or maybe three will continue to operate.

The most celebrated American investor said, “…there are only two papers in the United States that I think have an assured future because they have a successful internet model to go with their print model, and that's The [Wall Street] Journal and The New York Times. And I'm not saying it'll even be easy for them,” said Buffett. He also mentioned that the Washington Post could also survive. 

The implications for the changing media landscape are profound — the Providence Journal, which has claimed the position as the oldest continuously printed newspaper in the country, has seen its daily circulation drop to about 55,000. 

The company is rumored to be considering more layoffs.

Updated May 31, 2017

Editor's Note: A previous version incorrectly had Butler as Managing Editor and taking the buyout; it has been corrected to state he was Executive Editor and that he retired. 

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