MacKay takes ProJo buyout; fires parting shots


Scott MacKay, a lyrical writer and a guy with a deep and broad knowledge of Rhode Island politics, is taking the buyout at the Providence Journal. MacKay, who would presumably be a leading contender if the ProJo were to continue the political column being vacated by the retiring Charlie Bakst, is very disenchanted with the paper, as he makes clear in the following statement.

MacKay had been with the Journal for 24 years. His last day on the job will be September 12. Most recently, the ProJo abruptly ended his temporary role as a replacement for the vacationing Bakst. But as MacKay tells it, the steady, slow decline of the Journal influenced his decision.

MacKay intends to take some time off to travel with his wife, Dr. Staci Fischer, dig in to the reproachful pile of books on his nightstand, and seek new  opportunities.

"I have had a fine career at the Journal," said MacKay. "My byline has appeared in the Journal nearly 4,800 times since I arrived. More than 1,050 of those stories were featured on Page 1.

"The Journal has given me the opportunity to cover it all -- from pedophile priests to presidential elections. I've covered murders, fires, the Bristol July 4th, endless town council meetings, parades, primaries, funerals, inaugurations, hurricanes, snow storms. And I have had a front-row seat at events that have shaped Rhode Island in the past quarter-century, including the banking crisis of the 1990s, Sen. Claiborne Pell’s last U.S. Senate race, numerous gubernatorial campaigns, the exciting 2006 Senate race and, most importantly, the state’s changing social, economic and political landscape and population patterns.

"I had the grand good luck to have worked for Jim Wyman and Joel Rawson, two of the best newspaper editors New England has ever produced. Both Joel and Jim steered this newspaper with energy and integrity and the knowledge that the Journal was as much a public trust as a business.

Along the way I was blessed to have worked on the Channel 12 Newsmakers program with host Jack White, the best investigative reporter and one of the most principled human beings in this state’s history. I also taught 'Media and Politics' for three semesters at the University of Rhode Island and have lectured on politics at classes and seminars at URI, Harvard, Brown, Bryant, Rhode Island College and the political seminar program started by Darrell West at Central Congregational Church in Providence. More recently, it has been my honor to participate in the weekly 'Political Roundtable' program on WRNI, the state's National Public Radio affiliate. All Rhode Islanders who care about intelligent and interesting news should open their minds and wallets to WRNI.

"Times have changed. The newspaper industry is in decline and the present cutbacks were probably inevitable at some point," said MacKay. "As is the case with many other employees here, I do believe the situation in Providence was made worse by an incompetent management in Dallas that frittered away millions on the hapless :Cue-Cat, blew millions more on a circulation scandal and wasted more money and resources waging a foolish four-year Jihad on the Providence Newspaper Guild.

"Now the management is cutting back on journalists. At the same time, the newspaper is launching an expensive (more than $1 million, I’m told) marketing web site to appeal to women readers, the so-called In Her Shoes women’s initiative."

"The emphasis has been on the web site, which would be fine if the same standards applied to the web as those that govern the newspaper. If one sends a letter to the editor commenting on a story, that person must sign his or her name. Abusive language is not permitted."

Yet MacKay points to two "ridiculous examples of how the standards of the Providence Journal have dropped," including "a racist comment published [as a comment] on our web site after the death of Eileen Slocum." The other, also a blog comment, was made (and later deleted) about a local athlete. 

"This is the kind of thing Joel Rawson used to warn about. Since his departure, the newspaper has apparently diluted its standards to the point where none should call it journalism."

That's overly harsh, IMHO. The Journal continues to perform an important journalistic function, and it will remain Rhode Island's most important news organization even after the buyout. Yet the willful departure of a reporter such as MacKay tells a lot about the direction of the once-proud daily.   

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