The Providence Journal, nicknamed the ProJo, is a daily newspaper serving the metropolitan area of Providence, Rhode Island and is the largest newspaper in Rhode Island. The newspaper was first published in 1829 and is the oldest continuously-published daily newspaper in the United States. The newspaper has won four Pulitzer Prizes.
The Journal bills itself as "America's oldest daily newspaper in continuous publication," a distinction that comes from the fact that The Hartford Courant, started in 1764, did not become a daily until 1837 and The New York Post, which began daily publication in 1801, had to suspend publication during strikes in 1958 and 1978.
The paper's history has reflected the waxing and waning of newspaper popularity throughout the United States.
The beginnings of the Providence Journal Company started on January 3, 1820, when publisher "Honest" John Miller started the Manufacturers' & Farmers' Journal, Providence & Pawtucket Advertiser in Providence, published twice per week.
By 1829, Miller demand for more timely news caused Miller to combine his existing publications into the Providence Daily Journal, published six days per week. The first edition of the Providence Daily Journal appeared July 1, 1829. In the next few decades the paper was sold to new owners several times, until by 1863 it was owned by George Danielson and Henry B. Anthony. The latter would go on to serve as Governor of Rhode Island and United States Senator.
Editor George W. Danielson joined the paper on January 1, 1863, and served as editor until his death in 1884. Danielson immediately launched an evening edition, called the Evening Bulletin. By July 1871, the Journal had grown large enough that it moved to larger quarters at the Barton Block. During the Danielson and Anthony years, the paper was known for it strong support of the Republican Party, known by the nickname "The Republican Bible". After Danielson's death, the paper became less partisan, and by 1888 declared its political independence.
In 1885, a Sunday edition was added, making the publication schedule seven days per week.
In 1872 the first diner in America, a horse-drawn wagon serving hot food, was founded to serve the employees of the Providence Journal. The Journal dropped "Daily" from its name and became The Providence Journal in 1920. In 1992, the Bulletin was discontinued and its name was appended onto that of the morning paper: The Providence Journal-Bulletin.
The War Years
Before American entry into World War I, Journal publisher and Australian immigrant John R. Rathom attempted to stir up public sentiment in favor of the war against the Central Powers. He frequently published exposés of German subversive activities in the United States, claiming that the Journal had intercepted secret German communications. By 1920, it was revealed that Rathom's information was supplied by British intelligence agents. Still, Rathom remained editor until his death in 1923.
Starting in 1925, the Journal became the first in the country to expand coverage statewide. It had news bureaus throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, a trend that had been inaugurated in 1925 by then-managing editor Sevellon Brown. Bureaus in Westerly, South Kingstown, Warwick, West Warwick, Greenville, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Newport, Bristol/Warren, Attleboro and Fall River were designed to make sure that reporters were only 20 minutes away from breaking news.
In 1937, the only competing Providence-based daily, the Star-Tribune, went bankrupt and was sold. The Providence Journal company bought it and kept it running for four months, then shut it down.
The paper also had a variety of regional editions, which it called zones, that focused on city and town news. The system produced an intense focus on local news typically seen only in small-town newspapers. For example, everyone who died in the Journal's coverage area, rich or poor, received a free staff-written obituary.
Post-war to Today
Chief editorial writer George W. Potter won the Providence Journal's first Pulitzer in 1945 for a series of essays, and the entire editorial staff won in 1953 for local deadline reporting.
In the 1990s, rising production costs and declines in circulation prompted the Journal to consolidate both the bureaus and the editions. (The paper, in an attempt to raise revenue, began charging for obituaries on January 4, 2005.) The editors tried to reinvigorate the coverage of city and town news in 1996, but competition from the Internet added fuel to the decline. The paper's last Massachusetts edition, for example, was published on March 10, 2006.
On Oct. 10, 2008 the paper stopped publishing all of its zoned editions in Rhode Island and laid off 33 news staffers, including three managers. Even during the Great Depression, the Journal had not terminated news staff to cut costs.
The next few years included an extensive campaign to make the Internet version of the paper profitable. The Journal aggressively marketed its news on the web, pushing to get detailed stories onto its website, projo.com, before competing radio, television and other print outlets. But circulation continued to decline and online advertising failed to compensate.
On Oct. 18, 2011 with circulation down to about 94,000 on weekdays and 129,000 on Sundays (down from 164,000 and over 231,000 in 2005), the Journal renamed its website providencejournal.com, a move which meant that most of the previously Internet links to its content no longer worked. It also began implementing a system to require online readers to pay for content. Interactive images of its newspaper pages were initially available on personal computers and the iPad for free. The paywall was put in place on February 28, 2012. The new website was part of a larger rebranding project by Nail Communications which also included a campaign entitled "We Work For The Truth". The rebranding failed to stem the circulation decline.
Throughout most of its history, the paper was privately owned. After the Journal became publicly traded and had acquired several television stations throughout the country, it was sold to the Dallas-based Belo Corp in 1996. Belo also owned several television stations. The company later split into two entities and one—A.H. Belo—took control of the newspapers.
On Dec. 4, 2013, A.H. Belo announced that it was seeking a buyer for the Journal, including its headquarters on 75 Fountain St. and its separate printing facility. The company said it wanted to focus on business interests in Dallas. Workers were not surprised because the announcement came after the company sold one of its other papers, the Riverside Press-Enterprise in California.
A.H. Belo announced on July 22, 2014 that it was selling the paper's assets to New Media Investment Group Inc., parent company of Fairport, N.Y.-based GateHouse Media, for $46 million. By then, the Journal's Monday through Friday circulation had dropped to 74,400, with an average of 99,100 on Sundays. Its website was getting 1.4 million unique users on an average month. The sale was completed on Sept. 3, 2014, as several employees, including widely respected columnist Bob Kerr, were told they would not be transferred to the new company.
Bernie Szachara, senior vice president for publishing and group publisher at Local Media Group, a division of GateHouse Media, assumed the title of interim publisher, succeeding Howard G. Sutton. On Feb. 27, 2015, Janet Hasson was named president and publisher of the Journal. (The GateHouse Media news release announcing the appointment  incorrectly reported that Hasson was the paper's first female publisher. That distinction belongs to Mary Caroline Knowles, who was publisher from 1874 until 1879.) The paper reported the following October that its average daily paid circulation for the past year, including electronic copies, had dropped to 70,600 with 89,452 on Sundays.
The Providence Journal doubled its newsstand price to $2.00 in the spring of 2015. It was $3.50 Sunday.