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AS THE PROJO TURNS
Pulitzer hopes come up short
BY IAN DONNIS

Anticipation coursed through the newsroom of the Providence Journal in the days before the announcement of the latest winners of the Pulitzer Prize on Monday, April 5. Early rumors even suggested that the ProJo, a finalist in the public service category for its voluminous coverage of the February 2003 Station fire disaster, was about to claim journalism’s top honor.

In the end, however, the public service Pulitzer went to the New York Times for a workplace safety series that — even though the Journal offered detailed and oftentimes excellent reportage on the aftermath of the devastating fire — represented a more enterprising and revealing collection of work. The ProJo comprehensively (and excessively, in the minds of some) examined different facets of the nightclub disaster. Still, some staffers see the precipitating event — a storm of stupidity of sorts, in the form of cheap, highly flammable soundproofing and indoor pyrotechnics — as quite different from the political skullduggery that the Journal often excels in exposing. "If there was a weakness, this was an easy ass-kick," says one insider. "Do you really think we moved the story?"

Executive editor Joel P. Rawson, who declined to comment to the Phoenix, hailed the paper’s coverage. "We must keep our perspective," he said in an April 6 news story in the Journal. "One hundred people died, and scores more suffered terrible injuries. There are people among our neighbors who will grieve forever. Those people, and all of our readers, deserved the very best we could do. They, and you, can be assured it was the best I’ve seen this newspaper do in my 30 years here."

Meanwhile, after four years of labor strife at the ProJo ended with the approval of a new Providence Newspaper Guild contract in December, the prevailing mood on Fountain Street has become decidedly more mellow – something that should aid the newspaper’s ongoing reportage. Guild administrator Tim Schick says things are very quiet, adding, "It’s been a long time since it has been like this."


Issue Date: April 9 - 15, 2004
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