Projo reporters’ union will march to protest lower pay, use of freelancers

The Providence Journal's headquarters on Fountain Street in Providence. (photo: WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The union that represents Providence Journal reporters is organizing a march Thursday in front of the newspaper’s Fountain Street headquarters to protest lower pay and other policy changes under its new ownership.

In a news release, Providence Newspaper Guild President John Hill said Journal employees have “been working under imposed conditions since September 2014,” when Gatehouse Media, a newspaper chain, took over the paper. Gatehouse has been buying up papers at a rapid clip, and its local holdings also include the Fall River Herald News and the New Bedford Standard-Times.

Hill said the Journal is down to 16 news reporters due to layoffs and buyouts. “For a comparison in the early 2000s, the West Bay and Blackstone Bureaus had about a dozen reporters each,” he said. (The Journal has additional editorial employees who are not news reporters, such as sports reporters, features writers and columnists.)

The union also said the paper’s employees haven’t received a raise in nine years, but executives have received bonuses. Pay for new hires has been cut 30%, step increases for current and new employees have been eliminated, and work is being outsourced or moved, according to Hill.

“And now,” Hill added, “major developed news projects, once the trademark of the Journal news staff, are being assigned to freelancers” – apparently alluding to a front-page story in Sunday’s edition about Electric Boat that was written by an outside contributor.

Janet Hasson, The Journal’s publisher, responded in a statement that argued the paper’s leaders have had little choice. “Business conditions everywhere in journalism today are challenging, and it’s unrealistic to think we can continue to run The Journal the way we did in decades past,” she said.

“We are striving to find new sources of revenue, such as our ThriveHive digital marketing arm, to support the journalism that is so important to Rhode Island,” she continued. “Controlling costs is also a necessary part of surviving in today’s media marketplace.”

The Journal’s circulation was about 72,000 on Sundays and 56,000 on weekdays as of June, according to a report filed with the Alliance for Audited Media. That was down from roughly 88,000 on Sundays and 67,000 on weekdays two years earlier.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

An earlier version of this story said Gatehouse Media was backed by a hedge fund; its parent company is externally managed and advised by a hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group, but not directly owned by it.