[Sidebar] July 19 - 26, 2001

[Features]

'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 place."

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 idonnis@phx.com.

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