The ProJo's openness is a mixed bag

The Providence Journal's Mike Stanton yesterday continued his good reporting on Operation Dollar Bill, the federal probe of State House influence-peddling. As Andrew notes at Anchor Rising, the timing was very appropriate, given how this is National Sunshine Week.

The ProJo has long played a vital role by unearthing important information in Rhode Island, particularly wrongdoing by public officials, and by aggressively fighting for the public's right to know.  

One such example was the paper's scrutiny of the aftermath of the February 2003 Station nightclub fire. On Tuesday night, URI was slated to host a panel discussion, featuring Joel Rawson, the Journal's executive editor, and reporter Paul Edward Parker, among others, about efforts to obtain information about the disaster.

Considering this public-minded concern for openess and access to public information, the unwillingness of top ProJo managers to speak with the press (the Phoenix in particular) is more than a tad ironic. Yes, freedom of speech includes the freedom not to speak. But as Rhode Island's most vital news organization, the ProJo -- like any significant business -- is a legitimate topic for journalistic coverage.

Other newspaper people recognize this basic concept. When I wrote about the relationship between the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Globe (whose corporate parent, the New York Times, owns a chunk of the Sox) Globe editor Marty Baron and the paper's publisher made themselves available to talk with me.

I've become inured to the consistent lack of comment over the years from publisher Howard Sutton and General Manager/Executive VP Mark Ryan. Rawson (who has the courtesy to have his assistant call me back with a "no comment") talked with me a few times after I took up the ProJo beat in 1999, but has mostly opted not to talk. I wouldn't even be remarking about this, but one former ProJo scribe recently reminded me of the contradiction.

What's the explanation? Certainly, there was a lot of tension during the bygone Guild-management standoff, but that's been over for years. These are only guesses, but you have to wonder about the role played by provincialism and the corporate hierarchy, in both Providence and Dallas. Regardless, the ProJo seems to maintain two standards: one for itself, and one for everybody else.

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