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Buyout count at ProJo up to 16

 

With a deadline of 5 pm tomorrow for accepting the latest buyout at the Providence Journal, 16 staffers have so far accepted the deal, says Tim Schick, administrator of the Providence Newspaper Guild. Schick declined to identify the individuals, although political columnist Charlie Bakst has prevously indicated that he is among those who are leaving.

In announcing the buyout, the Dallas-based Belo Corporation and ProJo publisher Howard Sutton said that Rhode Island's statewide daily was looking to cut between 35 and 54 jobs, which included some in advertising positions.

Schick says it remains unknown if the newspaper and its corporate parent would accept fewer than 35 buyouts, and whether layoffs based on a lack of seniority might follow.

Metro columnist Bob Kerr and political reporter Scott MacKay are among those who've said they're considering the buyout, which is not thought to be particularly generous. "If there's going to be a rush, tomorrow's going to be the day," says Schick. He expects ProJo managers to take a step back, look at the buyout results, and to not make a sudden determination on the next step.

Here are my thoughts on some of the top questions, in no particular order, facing the post-buyout Journal:

1. Will it maintain the political columnist and metro columnist positions? Few details have been forthcoming about this even to insiders, yet it would be a significant retreat if the ProJo were to eliminate the high-profile role most recently held by Bakst, and if Kerr were to leave, by him as well.

2. What will it cover and how is it going to cover it? The Journal's scope has diminished in recent years, so will it maintain the status quo -- covering the biggest stories and throwing resources at major stories -- or go in a different direction?

3. Is the women's initiative a waste of resources? The ProJo is sinking some big bucks, reportedly seven figures, into its forthcoming Web-heavy "In Her Shoes" feature initiative. Is this a smart way to bring readers to projo.com, or a boondoggle while the newspaper is cutting its news resources?

4. How does the balance in coverage between print and Web go forward?

5. What happens to the photographic staff, where some of the best shooters are among those with the least seniority?

6. Does the ProJo trim its resources for the State House and its investigative team? The former seems less likely; I-team member Paul Edward Parker has done a share of business stories in recent months.

7. To what extent will the buyout turn off readers? We've already seen the ProJo publish a number of letters to the editor decrying the amount of published material from the New York Times and other out-of-town sources.

8. Which stories will go uncovered in the ProJo, which once took pride in covering Rhode Island like the morning dew?

Stay tuned.

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