Change coming to Providence Journal Editorial Page

Apr 3, 2013

Bob Whitcomb, the ProJo’s witty and intellectual editorial page editor, who is 65, will be stepping down in at  the usual  retirement age for top executives at the newspaper.

Whitcomb does a fine job for many reasons, not the least of which is the wide variety of opinion and subjects that grace the editorial and op-ed pages every day. He is one of those rare ProJo people with a wide background in newspaper editing and reporting; he even served as an editor in Paris with the International Herald Tribune.

A Dartmouth grad, Whitcomb has a fine cant detector and an appreciation for good writing. He was very much the political centrist and a voice of reason in a fractured media era. And he understands New England politics well. While he would be the first to say that the cemeteries are filled with indispensible people, he will be sorely missed.

At a time of  economic difficulty for the print journalism business, Whitcomb was able to maintain high standards in the editorial department, which along with sports, has survived the cutbacks at the ProJo better than some other departments, especially news.

If publisher Howard Sutton chooses Whitcomb’s replacement in the chain-of-command, then the position will go to Edward Achorn, the deputy editorial page editor. Achorn is a fine writer; `On Politics’ is especially fond of his baseball research and writing. But he is much more the ideologue than Whitcomb and his fairly hard right political views are not in the Rhode Island mainstream. But that isn’t his biggest drawback. The problem with Achorn is that he too often relentlessly flogs the same issues to the point of tedium and boring predictability. How many columns do we really need  that make the same point, such as the hiring of one prominent labor leader’s son to a State House job or his recent obsession with the master lever?

If publisher Sutton is considering others to run what is still the most important opinion outlet in Rhode Island, two other editorial voices deserve consideration: Froma Harrop and M.J. Andersen. They both have experience as reporters in Rhode Island; Andersen in local news and Harrop in the business section. Few journalists anywhere are as fluent in public policy, and especially health care policy, as Harrop. She is a fresh and unpredictable voice. And no one currently at the newspaper writes with Andersen’s eloquence and range.

It would be good for the newspaper that if Achorn does get the top spot, as ProJo sources expect, that the editorial page consider balancing his conservative take on local politics with a liberal writer.

Hopefully, Whitcomb will have more time in retirement to write and it would be wonderful to see his columns grace the pages of the ProJo.