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News you WON’T read in the ProJo

June 15, 2012

The Providence Journal, the state’s largest newspaper and the local arm of the Texas-based Belo Corporation,  has long called in editorials for non-profit institutions in the capital city to pay more to support city government. This has led the newspaper to support Mayor Angel Taveras’ efforts to get more payments-in-lieu of taxes from Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, Providence College, Women& Infants Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital.

What the ProJo’s news and editorial staff is not telling its readers is that the newspaper’s corporate side is looking for about $5 million in tax rebates from cash-strapped city government.

In documents filed in Rhode Island Superior Court, the ProJo contends that the city has established  real estate assessments that are too high on both the newpaper’s properties on Fountain Street, which houses the editorial and advertising offices, and the production plant on Kingsley Avenue, where the ProJo and other regional newspapers are printed.

The city and lawyers for the ProJo have been in private negotiations on the issue for weeks now. The talks have entered a period of particular urgency because a trial has been scheduled for next week in Rhode Island Superior Court before Judge Patricia Hurst.

“We’re still negotiating,’’ said Tim Eskey, the lawyer for the ProJo. “I can’t say anything more.’’

Mayor Taveras spokesman, David Ortiz, declined comment when asked recently about the negotiations, which aren’t public. Jeff  Padwa, Providence city solicitor, also declined comment and referred questions to Ortiz.

So far this is all hush-hush, but if the matter goes to trial in open court, one would think the newspaper, which is notoriously secretive about its business, would have to assign a reporter to cover it. While the ProJo is great at poking its nose in everybody’s else’s business, it has never been good about covering its own. (The paper is a public trust when it wants open records and poses as a government watchdog but has never been particularly open about its own interactions with government. That “truth’’ stuff only goes so far). For the ProJo it has always been do as we say, not as we do. The lawsuits have been laying around the public files at the Superior Court for many months with nary a word in the newspaper.

If the newspaper gets it way on this one, well, maybe Brown should just send its payments in lieu of tax checks to Belo headquarters in Dallas.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Rick Quiles permalink
    June 15, 2012 6:07 pm

    I just re-pledged to NPRRI this am thanks to you, Scott, and Ian. Thanks for telling it like it is and giving us the ‘behind closed doors’ perspective. Dont sell out! Stay true! Cheers!

  2. Patrick permalink
    June 15, 2012 6:15 pm

    “The Providence Journal, the state’s largest newspaper and the local arm of the Texas-based Belo Corporation has long called in editorials for non-profit institutions in the capital city to pay more to support city government. This has led the newspaper to support Mayor Angel Taveras’ efforts to get more payments-in-lieu of taxes…”

    Wait, you’re assigning cause and effect here? “This has led…” So you believe Angel Taveras read the editorial in the Journal and said “Hey, now that’s a good idea!” I bet the mayor would find that pretty insulting.

    “the ProJo contends that the city has established real estate assessments that are too high…”

    I don’t see the inconsistency here. The Journal is being consistent in calling for people to pay what they owe, no more, no less. Why’s that a problem?

  3. June 15, 2012 6:38 pm

    I leave it to the court to determine who is correct here. May main point is why doesn’t the state’s largest newspaper cover this important issue.

  4. Patrick permalink
    June 15, 2012 6:48 pm

    Scott, I understand you’re a columnist, not an unbiased writer, but if your main point is the lack of coverage, why throw in the extra daggers that distract from your point? The question of coverage is fair. The other stuff just convolutes it.

  5. June 15, 2012 7:28 pm

    You have a valid point. I could have made my case merely by mentioning the journalistic cover-up, which hardly befits such an important news outlet. Even in its much diminished form, the ProJo is still the leading media outlet in our little state.

  6. Mark Schwager permalink
    June 16, 2012 12:46 am

    There is good info in your commentary, but also some venom. In the spirit of full disclosure, you may want to let your audience know something of your prior employment relationship with the Journal.

    • June 18, 2012 2:14 pm

      Mark,
      In the spirit of full disclosure: I was a ProJo reporter from 1984 until 2008 when I took an early retirement buyout. At the Journal and Bulletin I covered a variety of beats, including the State House, Providence City Hall and served as the bureau manager for East Bay news.
      No venom is intended. But I do recall a similar effort by ProJo management in the mid-1980s to lower the assessment on the Biltmore Hotel, which at the time was owned by the newspaper. I wrote about it and there were no repercussions. (That was under a different ownership). It is also a fact that the ProJo had many more reporters in those days and we had more time to dig into the crevices of state and city government.
      If you are looking for venom, try being a labor leader in this state and having Ed Achorn’s Tuesday column with yer morning coffee.

  7. John permalink
    June 16, 2012 1:06 am

    The Providence Journal, or at least its management/editorial page, gave up objectivity and fair play long ago. It is reprehensible they would shake down Providence in this manner.

    • Patrick permalink
      June 16, 2012 1:22 am

      John, what is “shake down”? If you go to the store and buy something marked $5 but the clerk mistakenly charges you $6, are you going to ask for the dollar back? Or would that be “shaking down” the store?

  8. Debbie permalink
    June 16, 2012 5:20 pm

    Scott, do your Journal friends know why they are running an ad that promotes the stock tables (see page B-3 of today’s paper) when in fact the Journal hasn’t published the stock tables in years? Seems self-defeating to me.

  9. Joe permalink
    June 18, 2012 8:05 pm

    Just reread your column after reading Patrick’s criticism, but I don’t agree with his point. Seems to me you said it was the ProJo’s call for non-profits to pay more in taxes that “led the newspaper to support” Tavares’ efforts to wrest more in payments-in-lieu-of-taxes. Seems perfectly logical to me and has nothing to do with Tavares himself.

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