Driving to work today, I was listening to a bit of the Dennis & Callahan Show on sports talk station WEEI. The hosts were talking quite a bit about the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. And I wasn't surprised. They often sprinkle their sports talk with right-leaning chatter about news and politics. A big event, like this one, can mean a wholesale shift away from sports for 10 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour.
For the sick, small tribe obsessed with Rhode Island politics, it's hard not to be preoccupied with the 2014 governor's race. The story lines are just too irresistible: Governor Chafee's uphill fight for re-election; the increasingly personal schism between the independent governor and a likely opponent, Democratic Treasurer Gina Raimondo; a possible clash of the titans in the Democratic primary, between Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras; the intriguing potential of Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a Republican whose friendship with Taveras goes back years.
The discussion in the comments section under providencejournal.com stories is often filled with invective - directed at the politicians and accused criminals featured in the stories (sometimes one-in-the-same) and, often, at the Providence Journal itself.
Well, starting today, the newspaper is launching a new bid to clean up the conversation - and push it out into the social web.
Central Falls votes for a new mayor today, in a race of stark contrasts: James Diossa - the young reformist, son of Colombian immigrants - and Joseph P. Moran II, the former police chief with long ties to former Mayor Charles Moreau, headed to prison on fraud charges.
Diossa is the heavy favorite after garnering 59 percent of the vote in a runoff November 6.
The election was, of course, sweet vindication for the New York Times blogger Nate Silver. He called all 50 states in the presidential race correctly, struck a blow for math, and made Joe Scarborough look more than a little silly.
But today, at a lunchtime talk at Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy & American Institutions, another numbers man - Michael Dimock, associate director of research for the Pew Research Center - laid out a compelling two-part critique of Silver and other poll aggregators like Simon Jackman of the Huffington Post.
If you want to get a sense for what the Providence Journal too often is - and what it could be - look no further than today's front page.
First, the good. Below the fold is a great little piece by Mike Stanton: a fun, colorful portrait of David Boies, the super lawyer brought in by Treasurer Gina Raimondo to defend the state's landmark pension reform bill.
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.
Governor Lincoln Chafee has a habit of going out on a limb. Last year, he pushed for a doomed expansion of the state sales tax. His refusal to turn over murder suspect Jason Pleau to federal authorities, fearing they might seek the death penalty, seemed like a legal longshot from the start. And his stubborn insistence on calling the State House spruce a "holiday tree" - two years running now - remains deeply unpopular.
The Museum of Modern Art has taken some lumps for acquiring video games Pac-Man, Tetris, SimCity, and Myst (Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers, among others, are up next). But RISD President John Maeda, a pioneering digital artist in his own right, defends the move in a new column in Wired magazine. From the piece:
Talk radio station WPRO's new web site gets points for its clean, navigable feel. But for this critic, its focus seems misplaced.
The homepage presents as a well-ordered rundown of the state's news. But with its small staff, the Cumulus-owned station can't hope to present anything like a comprehensive report. As I write, featured stories include a short piece on singer-songwriter Jeffrey Osborne's appearance at a homeless shelter and an effort, in Coventry, to save a tradition that has Santa riding around town on a fire truck every holiday season.
I've got a wide-ranging cover story in the current issue of the Phoenix on the Providence Journal's failing business model and lackluster journalism. I've received more email on this piece than any in memory - a sign, I think, of both the widespread dissatisfaction with the paper and the broad hope that it will do better.
The "fiscal cliff" may be front-and-center in Washington right now. But there is another interesting battle underway - over the use of the filbuster in Senate. And Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed could play a pivotal role in its outcome.
The filibuster, of course, allows the minority party to spike legislation favored by the majority.
Lincoln Chafee's appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor" to discuss the "holiday tree" controversy was, as predicted, a mistake. O'Reilly's shtick is better suited to the Foxitude, of course. And Chafee's chief argument - equating the recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public school to the installation of a Christmas Tree at the State House - fell flat.
Governor Lincoln Chafee has never been known for his political acumen. But today's handling of the "holiday tree" lighting was clever.
Chafee, of course, attracted national attention last year - much of it unflattering - when the local media latched onto the administration's decision to call the State House Christmas tree a "holiday tree."
The recent wave of buyouts and layoffs at the Providence Journal makes it clear that the paper is in something like a crisis: its advertising revenue and circulation plummeting at alarming rates, and no evidence of a significant shake-up in the offing on Fountain Street.
I take on that crisis in a cover story in this week's Phoenix