John Mulligan, the Providence Journal's Washington reporter, bids adieu with a lovely column in today's paper. And his departure raises an important question: will the paper replace him?
Management at the paper is always tight-lipped, so it's hard to know. But newsroom sources say they'd be surprised if the broadsheet, struggling financially, kept the Washington bureau going. And so far, editors have not posted the job in the newsroom.
Without a fine-grained feel for the newsroom budget, it's hard to know if keeping the bureau afloat is a viable option. But the fact that Mulligan has remained in the job until now - and would have held it for the foreseeable future, presumably, had he not decided to step down - suggests the paper still has some options.
And if the ProJo closes the bureau anyway, as it appears it might, it would sting.
I should say that I don't think the paper has made particularly good use of that bureau in recent years. Mulligan's byline was too scarce. There were stories - of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's rise as spokesman of the left, of freshman Congressman David Cicilline's navigation of the Democratic establishment - that were not fully told. And the paper should have put Mulligan and his considerable skills to work writing news analysis - putting Washington happenings in context - once or twice per week.
But having a presence in Washington was still important; it is still important. Rhode Island has always had an outsize impact on national politics - from Pell and Chafee to Reed and Whitehouse. And telling that story is essential to telling the Ocean State's larger story.
If the ProJo doesn't replace Mulligan, a state already suffering from the decline of its major daily will suffer still more.