Inside scoop: the Providence Journal

Last March, the Providence Journal laid off 74 staff members to meet cost-cutting demands from its Dallas-based parent company, A.H Belo Corp. This was the fourth round of workforce cutbacks in six months to hit Rhode Island’s largest newspaper — 22 staff members took voluntary buyouts the previous September, 31 employees were laid off in October and 20 part-timers and supervisors were laid off in December.

At the time, Howard Sutton, president, chairman, publisher and CEO of the Journal Co. told his paper, “It’s always difficult to reduce your staffing levels through [layoffs], but it’s necessary to ensure the future of the franchise. We remain committed to our mission of being the premier news and information provider for the state of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.”

On Monday night, LedeObserver went to the Journal newsroom and found a lifeless collection of empty desks, dark computer screens and a lone Web producer.

This, the producer said, is what happens when 12 percent of a newspaper’s staff is given the pink slip, the main server is outsourced to another state and the printing press loses one third of its own employees to cutbacks:

The paper goes to bed between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. because the few advertisers who still invest in the paper want it distributed by a certain time the next morning to maximize the advertisements’ effects. Any news occurring after 11 p.m. goes online-only and many of the late sports games never make it into the print edition of the paper (during this year’s baseball playoffs, this angered the Red Sox fans who wanted to read about their team in the Journal — though with a reported 18.8-percent drop in circulation for the newspaper in the last six-month period, how many fans this actually angered is unclear). And when the back end of the Web site acts up, which the producer said it does frequently, he must call the Dallas company that operates the server before he is redirected to an office in Colorado whose staff members usually don’t know how to help. There is no security officer at the front desk. And no elevator operator.

But the Web producer said it isn’t all bad news. The Journal recently hired someone who writes new code for the Web site and three new copy editors because the six it had before wasn’t enough to meet the 11 p.m. filing deadline. And even if it’s always two-thirds empty and palpably Eeyorish, the newsroom can still get hectic, he said.

Even so, it wasn’t hard to hear the death rattle, especially when the only other noise was the sound of the sports reporters playing catch.

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