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A decade in alt-journalism in RI: 1999-2002

 

Here's Part I in a look back at a few of many, many stories over the last 10 years:

In 1999, Hillary Clinton fanned fears about school violence, Derick Hazard's supporters made a case for wrongful imprisonment, Providence Place landed in the capital city, and the Providence Police Department still hadn't adopted community policing:

The streets around the Mount Hope Learning Center form the kind of neighborhood that desperately needs a strong partnership between residents and law enforcement. Although the pocket of poverty on the generally affluent East Side is little more than a mile from the carefree shops and cafes of Thayer Street, it's flecked by boarded-up homes and often plagued by young toughs who peddle drugs at the crossroads of Camp and Cypress streets. It's this kind of lawlessness that causes the bulk of law-abiding residents to keep their fears to themselves in quiet frustration, rather than calling the police.

In 2000, critics counter-attacked when Fort Thunder came under the gun, Linc Chafee benefited from the Licht-Weygand battle, Sheldon Whitehouse tried to overcome the political limitations of the AG's office, Johnnie Cochran came to town, and community activism brought results after the friendly-fire shooting death of Cornel Young Jr.:

Members of minority groups in Rhode Island have long complained, often in relative isolation and to little effect, about police harassment, racial profiling, double standards and the like. But Young's death, like no event in recent memory, transformed the landscape and raised the prospects for meaningful progress.

As highlighted by Governor Lincoln Almond's use of an executive order on Thursday, April 6, to create a 15-member commission on race and police-community relations, recognition has spread through the state's political leadership that these concerns transcend race and can no longer be easily dismissed or ignored. As put by state Senator J. Clement Cicilline (D-Newport), one of the legislators who met with minority leaders, Almond and Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse to plan the commission, "We need to recognize that we have a serious problem with racism, and we're not addressing it."

In 2001, a grassroots coalition was scrutinizing redistricting, Critical Mass flared in Providence, efforts were on to kill Providence nightlife, Buddy experienced a reversal in fortune, and Belo laid an egg

Belo, which bills itself as the nation's ninth largest media corporation, was far from alone in its grand expectations for Digital:Convergence's signature product, the :CueCat -- a bar code scanner that attaches to computers -- and related software that can link televised "cues" with particular destinations on the World Wide Web. Belo plans to sink $37.5 million into the venture, and other backers include such heavyweights as Coca-Cola, Forbes, NBC, Parade, Wired, Young & Rubicam, and RadioShack.

But since being unveiled, the :CueCat has become one of the most ridiculed products of the Internet era. From wired.com to salon.com, technology writers have slammed the device, describing it as an ill-conceived white elephant that speaks more to the commercial aspirations of marketing types than the practical concerns of media consumers. Because each :CueCat has a unique identifying number, it raised the hackles of privacy advocates. And the Providence Journal received unwanted national exposure last fall when it delayed publication of a column in which Walter S. Mossberg, a Warwick native and respected technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, concluded, "For now, the :CueCat isn't worth installing and using, even though it's available free of charge" (see "Disappearing ink," News, November 23, 2000).

In 2002, the Ethics Commission climbed back, Richard Egbert and Richard Rose prepared to square off over Plunder Dome, the media took it all in, and David Cicilline emerged as a new sensation in Providence:

Mobbed by jubilant supporters as he ascended a temporary stage near the Roger Williams Park carousel at about 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 10, Cicilline expressed thanks and paid homage to the grassroots foundation of his populist campaign. "People told us we couldn't do it, we couldn't win," he said, beaming and bearing the imprint of a lipsticked kiss on one cheek. "We demonstrated with the power of the people, we can do great things in this city."

As festive Latin music blared and boosters sprayed Champagne into the crowd, a buoyant feeling of optimism and accomplishment spread through the hundreds of white, Latino, and black Cicilline supporters, and people like Patrick Lynch, a Democratic candidate for attorney general, and US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy clambered aboard to share the stage with this new force in Providence politics. Drawing reference to the lead of a Providence Journal profile that backers saw, perhaps unfairly, as a veiled attack, Cicilline said his election proved indeed that an openly gay, Jewish, Italian-American man could become mayor. "This election marks a new beginning in Providence," he said, likening his campaign to an incredible journey, and Cicilline extended his congratulations to the campaigns of Paolino, state Senator David V. Igliozzi and former representative Keven A. McKenna, who lagged behind, respectively, with roughly 10 and three percent of the vote.

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