PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Journal President and Publisher Janet Hasson said Tuesday she will step down, creating more uncertainty at Rhode Island’s paper of record as it faces new competition from The Boston Globe.
Hasson, who was appointed publisher by GateHouse Media in 2015 after the company bought The Journal from A.H. Belo, served in the job for four years. Being publisher of The Journal was historically one of the most powerful and influential positions in Rhode Island.
“It has been an honor for me to serve as the Journal publisher — my goal has always been to serve the readers and community by preserving journalism during this very difficult time in the industry,” said Hasson, a 35-year veteran of the news industry. “However, it’s time for me to pursue other opportunities and personal goals.”
The new publisher, Peter Meyer, will take over May 1, but Hasson will remain for the rest of that month to ensure a smooth transition, GateHouse said.
The Globe in recent weeks has signaled an effort to lure digital subscribers away from The Journal, hiring WPRI 12’s Dan McGowan, The Journal’s Amanda Mikovits and former Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick. Executives at The Globe, controlled by Red Sox owner John Henry, believe the Providence paper’s diminished resources and shrinking staff have opened up an opportunity.
The Journal did not explicitly reference The Globe’s Rhode Island expansion in its article on Hasson’s retirement. But Meyer, the new publisher, said in the article he “would double down to protect our turf” and insisted he was “up for a good fight.”
“We’re not about to cede Providence coverage or Rhode Island coverage to anyone,” said Meyer, who is publisher of the Cape Cod Times and like Hasson a regional executive with responsibility for other papers in the area.
GateHouse said Meyer will now oversee its operations in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine, and he will be moving his office to the Journal newsroom on Fountain Street.
“This change will advance a long-term strategy to leverage the power of our New England brands to drive revenue growth and produce outstanding journalism for the communities we serve,” Bernie Szachara, GateHouse’s president of U.S. newspaper operations, said of Meyer’s appointment.
Like most newspapers, The Journal has been struggling with declining print circulation in the digital era.
The Journal’s paid print circulation was about 38,000 on weekdays in the three months ended March 24, down from about 45,000 a year earlier and over 100,000 a decade ago, Alliance for Audited Media reports show. The paper also reported about 5,000 digital subscribers.
Word had spread earlier in the day that Hasson was calling an all-hands meeting of Journal staff to make an undisclosed announcement, spurring speculation she would be leaving or announcing more layoffs. Asked earlier in the day if he had any news to share, Alan Rosenberg, the paper’s executive editor, told WPRI 12: “Not at this time.”
John Hill, a former Journal reporter who is president of the Providence Newspaper Guild union, said he was surprised by the news. Hasson had been a less familiar presence than previous publishers because she had responsibility for other papers in the area, not just The Journal, he said.
“We wish her well,” Hill told WPRI 12.
Hill said members of the union, which represents about 85 news and advertising employees, would like to see Meyer “take the time to learn Rhode Island, what its readers want to read, what its advertisers want to advertise in, and try to adapt the company’s strategy to the markets that exist.”
“Now you’re in a competitive situation, and you’re hoping that the people who own the paper are going to invest in that fight, and one of the ways you do that is in keeping the people you have and maybe adding some people so that you can improve content, you can improve ad coverage,” he said.