The ProJo's Innovation Problem

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. And the piece makes several references to the Boston Globe, which is doing everything that the ProJo is not: innovating, doing smart things on the web.

I discussed the Globe model, in the course of my reporting, with Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern and author of the Media Nation blog. We spoke of the investments the paper has made in experiments of various kinds: an online radio station, an onsite media lab. He made an interesting point: the Globe, in theory, could have invested that money in a dozen more reporters. And in an age of shrinking newsrooms, our first instinct might be to support that alternate course. But as Kennedy said, "that's really not an investment in how they become a sustainable business moving forward."

Indeed, newspapers need to turn out quality journalism if they're going to succeed; that's a central point in my forthcoming piece. But doing what they're doing now - a little better - won't keep them afloat.

So, while ProJo staffers and media watchers wring their hands about all the staffing cuts on Fountain Street, perhaps we should all be a little more concerned about the fact that the paper doesn't have the money - or, it seems, the vision - to invest in new things.

The money problem probably won't be solved anytime soon. The vision problem, though, is fixable. And there are some things the paper coud do at relatively low cost. I'll let my cover story do the talking there.

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