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Providence Journal Has Shrunk Far More Than Ever Reported Before

Friday, May 05, 2017


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. 


Related Slideshow: Where the Former Projo Stars Are Today

Take a look at where the top Providence Journal writers and reporters from the 1990s and 2000s are now reporting. UPDATED April, 2017

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Christopher Rowland

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Rowland covered Providence City Hall (among a number of assignments) during his Projo years. 

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Starkman previously was an editor at Columbia Journalism Review, Wall Street Journal and GoLocal. Starkman was part of the investigative team in 1994 at the Projo that won a Pulitzer.

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Tom Frank


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Philip Terzian

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Wall Street Journal

Jennifer Levitz

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She was a pitbull State House reporter at the Providence Journal and has made a mark at the New England office of the Wall Street Journal. 

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Washington Post

Kevin Sullivan

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Once the State House reporter at the Providence Journal, today at the Post, Kevin is a longtime foreign correspondent who has been based in Tokyo, Mexico City and London, and also served as the Post’s Sunday and Features Editor.

He won a Pulitzer for international reporting with the Post in 2003, along with Mary Jordan, for their "exposure of horrific conditions in Mexico's criminal justice system and how they affect the daily lives of people."

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NY Times

C.J. Chivers

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Pulitzer Prize winner in 2017.

Chivers is a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, where he "contributes to the Foreign and Investigative desks of The Times on conflict, politics, crime and human rights from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, Georgia, Chechnya and elsewhere on a wide range of assignments."

His assignments are far from his political coverage in Providence City Hall and the State House.

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Boston Globe

Cynthia Needham

Boston Globe

Today she serves as the political editor at the Globe and oversees coverage of the State House, City Hall, and Massachusetts politics. She was a political and State House reporter at the Providence Journal.

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Steve Peoples

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Peoples has become a top political reporter and the lead on Presidential coverage at the Associated Press. In 2012, he covered the Mitt Romney campaign.  After he left the Providence Journal he covered politics for Roll Call and contributed to GoLocal.

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Ken Mingis

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