'Times' scribe rebuts Belo chairman on 'ProJo' "exodus"
by Ian Donnis
Chris Chivers, who left the Providence Journal in 1999
for a reporting job with the New York Times, has lent an unexpected
boost to his former colleagues, taking Belo Corporation chairman Robert W.
Decherd to task for downplaying the role of poor union-management relations in
hastening a wave of newsroom departures from the Journal.
Using its Web site, www.riguild.org, the Providence Newspaper Guild, which
represents hundreds of reporters and other employees at the Journal, has
tracked a growing "exodus" of 57 news workers in the last two years -- a
situation attributed by the Guild to poisoned morale and a lengthy contract
stalemate with the Belo-owned Journal. But during Belo's annual
shareholders meeting in Dallas in May, Decherd described the turnover as normal
attrition unrelated to the union-management standoff.
This characterization clearly troubled Chivers, a prodigy hired by the
Journal out of graduate school at Columbia University, who went on to
win a prestigious Livingston Award, which recognizes outstanding work by
journalists under 35, before moving on to the Times. In a June 24 letter
to Decherd, Chivers acknowledged being unfamiliar with the previous rate of
attrition on Fountain Street, but added, "There can be little doubt, all these
months and farewells later, that the recent climate has accelerated the
resignations of many of the newsroom's journalists, and warned off potential
applicants as well."
Ultimately, Chivers wrote, "I chose to apply to a more prominent newspaper not
just because I sought other opportunities, but also because I took the measure
of the Providence Journal and saw worrisome signs of short-sightedness.
And like many of the paper's readers and alumni, I have come to fear that the
current exodus, as it has been called, undermines the spirit of a remarkable
Skip Cass, a Belo spokesman in Dallas, didn't return a call seeking comment.
But Chivers's letter clearly heartened his former colleagues. "I'm glad someone
who moved on has stepped forward to let the corporate masters know what they
think," says Guild administrator Tim Schick. "It's not all just better
opportunities that people are moving forward to. It just goes to reaffirm our
belief that there's an underlying dissatisfaction with the rank and file about
how they're being treated by management."
Ian Donnis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.