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AS THE PROJO TURNS
Buyouts cut deep on Fountain Street

BY IAN DONNIS

At a time when most media companies are cutting spending, the Providence Journal is looking to fill a number of jobs. More than anything else, though, the situation stems from the extent to which a recently implemented buyout has thinned the paper's journalistic resources.

More than 90 employees took the buyout -- more than twice the number anticipated by management -- including 52 members of the Providence Newspaper Guild, says Guild administrator Tim Schick. "I think the large number of people that left confirmed people's suspicion that there's a great deal of dissatisfaction," he says, referring to how union-management relations have soured since the Belo Corporation bought the ProJo in 1997. Employees over 62 stood to benefit most from the buyout, which was offered to those over 55. But the average of departing Guild members is 60, begging the question, Schick says, of why they chose to leave. "This was in many people's view a way out of a very bad situation," he says.

Those taking the buyout include some of the Journal's most experienced staffers, including city editor Andy Burkhardt; reporters Randall Richard, Doane Hulick, Robert Leddy, Ronald Cassinelli, and Brian C. Jones; arts writers Bill Gale and Jim Seavor; food editor Donna Lee; sportswriters Bud Barker, Robert Dick, and Ed Duckworth; and photographers Bill Daby and Mike Kelly.

In related news, Mike Herzog, a member of the Journal's four-person investigative team, is leaving the paper after five years to teach computer-assisted reporting at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism. "This is really just an incredible opportunity to be teaching at one of the best journalism schools in the country," Herzog says, adding that internal strife wasn't a factor in his decision.

About 60 staffers had previously left Fountain Street over the last two years -- a move described by management as normal turnover and by the Guild as a vote of no confidence. Although most of those vacancies were filled, the Journal implemented a hiring freeze earlier this year. After the paper lost a cumulative 1603 years of experience just among the Guild members who took the buyout, the question now is whether Belo will reinvest in the Journal or allow it to lose its luster as one of the better medium-sized dailies in the country.

Through an assistant, Joel Rawson, the Journal's executive editor, declined to comment. Schick says the Journal has posted about 30 job openings in the Guild, but he remains pessimistic about the paper's direction under Belo. "My fear is that the Journal is going to become another New Haven Register," he says, citing how the Journal Register Company cut resources after buying the Register. "I think that's what's happening. Other than the Boston Globe, the Journal used to be premier paper in New England. I see it becoming just another regional newspaper with nothing exceptional about it."

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@phx.com.

Issue Date: December 13 - 19, 2001