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The ProJo's Youth Problem

The Providence Newspaper Guild's leadership has sent a letter to Providence Journal management suggesting the union might be willing to accept concessions, such as temporary paycuts, to avoid layoffs at the paper.

The move came after management offered buyouts and suggested that job cuts will be in the offing if there aren't enough takers.

It's unclear if the higher-ups - let alone the union rank-and-file - will accept the kind of cuts that would be required to stave off layoffs. But the letter underscores what's really at stake here: the ProJo could be on the brink of losing young talent it can't afford to shed.

A number of quality young reporters - Ben Gedan, Cynthia Needham, Dan Barbarisi, Steve Peoples - have left the paper in recent years. And if layoffs hit, more will depart; the union contract, after all, says job reductions are determined by seniority.

Losing more young talent would be "horrific," says John Hill, a reporter who serves as president of the union. "The people who would go out the door are the people you build the future on," he says.

The truth is, the paper has not made great use of that talenTt to date. One need only look at its backward web site to appreciate just how dated is its approach to journalism. And I can't say I have great confidence that the paper will shift gears; its culture of top-down management is deep-rooted.

But if its younger reporters disappear, the chances for a more vital approach to journalism seem greatly diminished. That, I would argue, bodes ill for the paper's long-term viability. And it's not good for Rhode Island's creaky democracy.

 

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