The Sunday ProJo on a hot streak

Returning to town from a recent trip, N4N picked up a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer during an airport layover in that city. It was a Saturday edition, not always a newspaper's best effort, and the Inquirer, a great paper not that long ago, seemed dull and uninspired.

So it was reassuring upon our return to Rhode Island to find another strong run of outstanding in-depth reporting in the Sunday ProJo.

Tom Mooney and Tracy Breton offered a deep look at the state's most recent murder mystery -- the unsolving slaying six years ago of Dr. Hani Zaki in his College Hill home.

Ed Fitzpatrick had something even better: a long followup to his comprehensive series on the challenges and triumphs of recovering drug addict Tania Cabral. This represents what newspapers can do best: writing about complex social issues in a way that does justice to their difficulty and importance. Although the takeout covered three pages, it was hard not to tear through it from start to finish. To his credit, Fitzpatrick also offered valuable context by following up on his series a year after it its publication. To me, the totality of this work is reminiscent of Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, one of the best nonfiction books I've read.

Kathy Gregg, meanwhile, continues to bird-dog the Carcieri administration's use of private contractors, and its reluctance to provide information about some of the related questions.

The daily ProJo, however, continues to seem quite thin at times -- a situation that metro editor Sue Areson seemed to take up in a February 23 memo about a new approach to the daily news meeting:

The simple goal is obvious – to have great stories well-displayed on every section front. Beyond that, we want to:

n      Allow for more in-depth reporting on topics that we know are in the news – everything from weather to school-test results to what’s coming up in the General Assembly.

n      Do a better job of coordinating stories with the visual components necessary for a strong centerpiece display.

n      Reduce the one-day-turnaround stories that we have relied upon too frequently.

n      Build up a reserve of well-reported stories. This will give reporters, photographers and editors greater deadline flexibility.


We will not cut back on breaking news coverage; if news breaks, we will respond in force – as we have always done. Any planned centerpiece bumped by breaking news can be used as secondary art or it might be held for a day.


One of the driving forces behind this switch was the valid criticism from reporters that we editors rely too heavily on jump-and-run assignments that crop up at a morning meeting and expect a one-day turnaround. Reporters also said, in meetings with Tim and me, that we could do a better job by reviewing press releases in advance and assigning stories based on topics rather than people at their dog-and-pony shows.

The hurdles facing newspapers are obviouly not about to go away. The ProJo's parent Belo Corporation recently reported an 11 percent first-quarter decline in revenue from its newspaper group. Yet by continuing to emphasize high-quality reportage, the Journal, I'd like to believe, can maintain and perhaps even expand its audience.


Speaking of the ProJo, kudos and congrats to Meaghan Wims, a former reporter-intern at the Journal, who has been hired back there from the Daily News of Newport. Meaghan interned for me about five years ago and she is a fine reporter and a terrific individual.


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