ProJo continues to bleed readers

Apr 30, 2013

From the eagle eye of WPRI’s premier blogger, Ted Nesi, comes word that won’t surprise any regular reader of the Providence Journal, Rhode Island’s flagship newspaper. The once robust news outlet continues to hemorrhage readers, which inevitably leads to a drop in advertising as businesses find other ways to reach customers.

``The Journal’s print circulation on Sundays – the most lucrative edition  of the week for most newspapers – totaled 109,516 copies, down by 12,763 since March 2012, the Alliance for Audited Media, formerly the audit Bureau of Circulations, reported Tuesday morning,’’ wrote Nesi.

The newspaper sold an average of 79,244 weekday editions between Oct. 1 and March 31, a drop of 6,252 from a year earlier and 45 percent fewer than September, 2007, Nesi says.

As is the case for newspapers across the nation, the ProJo has been losing print readers for years to competition from electronic sources. But the ProJo, despite a flashy advertising campaign, has also been dropping electronic readers too, which is a bad sign in the 21st century world of diverse news sources.

According to the audit, the ProJo web site,, had 1.05 million unique visitors as of March 31, down from 1.2 million in the six months ended Sept. 30. Unlike the Boston Globe, for example, the ProJo has almost no digital subscribers. The Globe has 73,524 digital editions; the ProJo less than 2,000.

Both the Globe and the Journal newsrooms are under new managers. In Boston, Brian McGrory, a distinguished political reporter with extensive Washington, D.C. experience, is the new executive editor. He was the newspaper’s metro editor and arguably the best newspaper columnist in New England. The new managing editor is Chris Chinlund, who also covered national politics, was a Neiman Fellow at Harvard, and has held a slew of editing positions in a distinguished career that began as a Vermont reporter. This team has led coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings that will probably win a Pulitzer.

The ProJo’s new executive editor is Karen Bordeleau, who took over yesterday from Tom Heslin, who retired early for medical reasons. Bordeleau is a strong manager but lacks any significant reporting experience; there is no sentence she has ever written that any seasoned journalist wishes he/she had.

The Sunday paper presents Bordeleau with a serious challenge. There is way too much desultory wire copy that bears no relation to anything happening in Rhode Island or nearby Massachusetts. And there are far too many incremental monotonies and one-step-closer institutional notebook dumps that do little to move ongoing issues further. When is the last time you read, for example, an insightful political analysis piece? Or in depth stories about Rhode Island’s urban neighborhoods? Why is there a style blog but no blogs from the newspaper’s stable of experienced political, medical or education writers?

But the biggest hurdle for the newspaper is the vicious cycle; plunging circulation means declining advertising revenues, which leads to fewer resources to hire journalists. The ProJo has many great reporters, but not nearly so many as just a few years ago. The newsroom, with few exceptions (Brian MacPherson and Tim Britton, who anchor the ProJo’s fine Red Sox coverage) is very white and very old. It was once an axiom that the best young reporters in Rhode Island worked for the ProJo. That is no longer the case, mainly because the newspaper isn’t replacing retirees and laid-off journalists with young talent. Which in the long run is the Journal’s biggest challenge.