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Projo/Belo Lobbies for Tax Credits, Fails to Disclose $13M Deal

Friday, December 13, 2013


The Providence Journal editorials came fast and furious with each one lobbying for passage of historic tax credit legislation before the RI General Assembly this past session. The only problem was the Providence Journal and its parent company, A.H. Belo, failed to disclose to legislators or the public that they would apply for millions in tax credits from the state of Rhode Island if the program was reinstated. The program that the paper called “good for the Rhode Island economy” would deliver millions in tax subsidies to the Dallas, Texas media company valued in excess of $3 billion dollars.

Now, The Providence Journal's $13 million project is poised to receive up to 25% of the project cost in historic tax credits - supported by the taxpayers of Rhode Island. The application is one of the finalists and top state officials say the next steps are mostly ministerial.

"The Providence Journal should have said -- repeatedly -- that it was in line to profit from the re-institution of this tax credit. Failing to do so is a tremendous breech of the public's trust," said Professor Michael Scully of Roger Williams University.

Common Cause, Rhode Island's leading public disclosure organization, raised questions about the Providence Journal's activities. "I think it raises a legitimate question, which is, "Did the editorial board know what the business side was doing? I don't know. But it begs the question," said John Marion, Executive Director of Common Cause.

The historic tax credit program had been cancelled years earlier due to abuse and its adverse impact to the state's budget. The Providence Journal editorials called for action and passage of the historic tax credit legislation to help revive the economy.

Editorials Urge Passage, Fail to Disclose

In one editorial entitled, "Revive the Historic Tax Credits," the Providence Journal Editors wrote, "We think she’s (Sen. Paiva Weed) right. If Rhode Island seeks a relatively cheap, easy, swift and proven way to boost its economy, the program should be renewed in some form."

Beyond the editorials there were a dozen articles written by reporters Katherine Gregg, Randy Edgars and Paul Grimaldi - all citing the positive impact of the tax credit program. None of the news articles or the editorials disclosed that Dallas-based A.H. Belo/Providence Journal would seek millions from taxpayers.

"Without knowing the specifics of the Providence Journal situation, I can't comment on the particulars. But in general, a news organization should be careful to disclose whenever it has an interest in any issue that it is reporting or commenting on. That's a matter of basic journalistic ethics," said Dan Kennedy, Assistant Professor of Journalism, Northeastern University.

Taxpayers on the Hook for Millions in Tax Credits

As Ian Donnis of WRNI was first to report, Belo/Providence Journal are poised to sell their building on Fountain Street and then lease back a portion of the building. The Providence Journal/Belo's motivation for the sale of the building is more clear with the unveiling in this article of the millions in state backed tax credits that could flow to the new owner.

Moreover, A.H. Belo has been prepping the Providence Journal for sale for the past year. In the past 12 months, the Dallas-company has realized staff reductions of greater than 50 news positions through two rounds of layoffs and buyouts.

The Dallas media company announced in early December that the Providence Journal is for sale.

Efforts by GoLocal to reach publisher Howard Sutton have been unsuccessful. In addition, questions poised to Ed Achorn, editor of the editorial page were not answered.

Related Slideshow:
Rhode Island’s Changing Media Landscape

Radio, print, television and digital- the faces in Rhode Islands's media has changed drastically over the past months... Let's take a look at some of the biggest moves:

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Phil Marcelo

After a seven year stint reporting for the Providence Journal's state house bureau, Phil Marcelo left the paper to take a reporting gig with the Boston office of the Associated Press.

Hailing from Long Island, New York, Marcelo came to ProJo in 2006, and covered everything from regional news, to Providence City Hall and the Statehouse. Marcelo's departure was first reported by WRNI's Ian Donnis.

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Julie Tremmel

Formerly a nightly news reporter for WJAR, Tremmel was fired from the "Team You Trust" after two clips, one of her performing on-air handstands, and the other offering tips on what to do during a bear attack, went viral.

The video became an internet sensation, but long-time Channel 10 newsman Jim Taricani called Tremmel’s antics “a smudge on our station's reputation.”

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Jim Taricani

A long-time staple of Channel 10’s news team, Taricani announced plans to retire after over three decades with the station. 

Taricani has won 5 regional Emmy awards, an Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism and a Prestigious Yankee Quill Award from the New England Newspaper Association.

He was convicted to six months in prison in 2004 for refusing to reveal a source, and is the youngest person ever to be inducted into the Rhode Island Hall of Fame.

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John DePetro

WPRO talk show host has come under fire for comments he made on air regarding women. Leading union organizations have called for DePetro to be fired. 

Most recently, he has been on announced suspension.

DePetro apologized for his comments.

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Helen Glover

Former star of the reality show Survivor, turned talk radio show host is out. Helen Glover departs and is replaced by radio Veteran Ron St. Pierre, who only months earlier was let go by 630 WPRO. St. Pierre is a radio Hall-of-Famer and former top sports anchor on WPRI-12.
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Mike Stanton

Mike Stanton, the remaining reporter from the Providence Journal's once storied investigative team, is leaving Fountain Street for a teaching job at the University of Connecticut.
Stanton, who was part of the team that won the Providence Journal's last Pulitzer and is the author of the "Prince of Providence," the Buddy Cianci expose, departs leaving the Projo without an investigative reporter. 
Prev Next

Dean Starkman

GoLocal named Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Dean Starkman as a contributor and editor-at-large.
"Dean Starkman has a tremendous track record in financial, media, and investigative reporting. His work at the Wall Street Journal as a reporter and as an editor and writer at Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), coupled with ground-breaking investigations of public corruption for The Providence Journal, is unsurpassed in the region," said Josh Fenton, Co-Founder and CEO at GoLocal24, the parent company to GoLocalWorcester.com.
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Karen Bordeleau

Karen Bordeleau takes over for Tom Heslin as Executive Editor for the Providence Journal.
Before joining the newspaper in 1996, she worked at the Kent County Times and the Woonsocket Call. 
She is a graduate of Northeastern University and a Rhode Island native.
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Bob Whitcomb

Bob Whitcomb has been the editor of the editorial page of the Providence Journal since 1992 and Vice President since 1997. 
His book, "Cape Wind" unveiled the business and political story behind Jim Gordon's effort to build a wind farm off of Cape Cod.
Prior to being a powerful voice at the Providence Journal, Whitcomb served as Financial Editor at International Herald Tribune.
He is slated to leave later this year according to RI NPR.
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Tom Heslin

Managing Editor of the Providence Journal, Tom Heslin, is retiring. 
Heslin who has been a journalistic leader of the Journal since the 1990's, led the paper's team the one their last Pulitzer Prize in the early 1990's and had to implement a series of staff cuts during the past decade.
Widely respected by journalists, Heslin has recently suffered from health issues.
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Tara Granahan

The former co-host to the morning drive show is now Buddy Cianci's sidekick and co-host on the 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm drive time show on WPRO AM.
Granahan has had a host of assignments at WPRO and is the only woman on air at WPROAM. 
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Connie Grosch

She was the star photographer for the Providence Journal for better than a decade.
Her State House/Political photos made her one of the most influential members of the Providence Journal staff. 
In late 2012, the Providence Journal let her go as part of the latest cost cutting ordered by the home office in Dallas.
In January, she was named press secretary to U.S. Congressman David Cicilline (D-1). She just announced she was leaving the Congressman's staff to return to photography.
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Gene Valicenti

The co-host of Channel 10's 6:00 pm news is now doing double as the host for WPRO's 6:00 am to 10:00 am morning show.
Previously, Valicenti lost his 11:00 pm slot on WJAR.
Prev Next

Andrew Gobiel

The former WLNE 6 TV reporter, served as co-host of morning drive with Tara Granahan, but the Valicenti hiring left no room for Gobiel.
No word yet on where Gobiel has landed.
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Jennifer Jordan

One of the top Providence Journal reporters is leaving not only Fountain Street, but also journalism. 
She was one of the guild members with the least longevity - more than 10 years.
She leaves for Boston-based Opportunity Nation - a not-for-profit.
Prev Next

Fred Campagna

The former ABC 6 Meteorologist left in the summer and launched his own digital weather platform.
Fred Campagna's new gig is titled, RightWeather.
Prev Next

Ron St. Pierre

The new guy at WHJJ - he takes over the morning show from the departed Helen Glover.
For decades, Ron St. Pierre has been a key player in the media industry in both local television and radio.
St. Pierre handled sports at WPRI TV, hosted morning drive at WPRO AM, and most recently, was Buddy Cianci's co-host in the afternoon.
(Photo: Alan Levine, Flickr)

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Johnny cakes

According to the Economic Progress Institute at RI College, tax credits have reduced state revenue by 197 million over a six year period. And this is only a small part of how corporations write the tax laws to lower their effective rate.

I can only imagine what our 9.2% “official” unemployment rate would be if we didn’t grant these giveaways to profitable companies. The GA only knows how to tax us and give it to them. And the candidates, god bless them, talk about the need for more public/private “partnerships” - which means the risks are socialized and the returns are privatized.

What a deal! The Journal goes easy on Fox and Paiva-Weed and they shamelessly get a cut of the action. And as they get on the dole, and feed at the trough, they continually downsize their workforce. And when they figure out how best to spin it, they will say they didn’t do anything untoward and that they simply played by the rules.

And all this is done as they lecture us about how hard they have worked to get to where they are

Jim D

The State removed the tax credit for homeowners who are forced to spend a lot of extra money for their home maintenance because they are in an HDC zone. But for businesses the credit has been re enabled.

Reagan Republican

Never a dull moment here in RI!

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