The 'middle class squeeze' comes to Fountain Street

As The ProJo Turns
By PHILIP EIL  |  October 1, 2014

The ProJo protest.

The Providence Journal ran a 209-word story titled “Newspaper Guild Protests Job Cuts, Transfers” on page A5 of its September 26 edition. The story laid out the basics of the previous day’s lunch-hour picket outside the paper’s headquarters: the “signs with slogans such as ‘My R.I. job matters’”; the fliers that “noted recent layoffs at the Journal and criticized plans to shift some positions early next year to a GateHouse design center in Austin, Texas”; the musical accompaniment by members of the What Cheer? Brigade marching band; the worries of longtime Guild President, John Hill (“We are very concerned about LMG/GateHouse’s plan to cut as many as 40 jobs in January and February”), and subsequent response from interim Journal publisher Bernie Szachara (“We’ll choose to respect the bargaining process and defer to conveying our issues there as much as possible”).

But, you can’t say a whole lot with 209 words. We’re already up to 151 in this article. So we thought we’d fill out the picture a bit.

The September 26 article didn’t mention how precipitously the Providence Newspaper Guild’s numbers have dropped in recent years, due to repeated rounds of layoffs, buyouts, and premature retirements. As recently as the mid-2000s, the Guild represented more than 400 reporters, photographers, and other staffers at the ProJo. Now, after 22 layoffs during September’s Belo-to-GateHouse ownership transition, that number hovers around 140. While GateHouse recently posted four editorial jobs online, including sports writing and investigative reporting positions, Hill tells us, “adding four and subtracting 40 is still lousy math.”

The article also didn’t mention that the “about 85 members and supporters of the Providence Newspaper Guild” included 85-year-old retired ProJo reporter and former Guild president, Jack Thompson, who covered news and politics at the paper in the 1960s and ’70s. Marching in the picket with the aid of a cane, Thompson said that it’s “a disgrace, the way they’re treating these people.” The paper used to be considered one of the ten best in the country, he said. “I don’t think that’s the case anymore, but it’s still a good paper. And it’s gonna be a hell of a lot worse when they lose these people.”

The article didn’t mention that, during the protest, workers from the coffee-and-wieners joint across the street, Coffee King, joined the picket. Or that, toward the end of the hour, a white 18-wheeler marked “TEAMSTERS LOCAL 251 RHODE ISLAND” rolled down Fountain Street, blaring its horn for most of the length of the Journal’s block. Or that, at various times, members of the crowd chanted, “Providence Journal, what do you say? Workers rights are here to stay!”

The article didn’t mention that the bright green fliers handed out by picketers (“The 22 layoffs already created a newsroom that doesn’t reflect our great diversity. We now have one reporter of color and not one writer who speaks Spanish fluently,” read one of its bullet points) ended with a call to action: “Support the Providence Newspaper Guild by writing Letters to Kirk Davis, CEO, of GateHouse Media, Bernard Szachara, Providence Journal Interim Publisher; and Ali Zoibi, Director of Labor Relations, GateHouse Media. Send them to 75 Fountain St., Providence, RI, 02902, and send a copy to us.”

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