Pronovost hits one out of the park

Never thought I would write those words, but Cape Cod Times editor Paul Pronovost has given me good reason to.

Paul PronovostTwo months after Pronovost was promoted to the top managerial post in the newsroom by publisher Peter Meyer, Pronovost has shown why Meyer made the right call in promoting him.

This is how Pronovost began his column on Sunday - "When a reader this fall questioned the fairness of an article on a sensitive topic, it confirmed something I've believed for a long time.

"The newspaper needs an ombudsman.

"The story was about a demonstration outside a Sandwich church, where the protesters, a group supporting same-sex marriage, were angry that Catholic bishops urged parishioners to support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage," Pronovost wrote.

"The reader pointed out how the story gave the protesters more attention than the parishioners. Indeed, she was correct. And there were several reasons for the inequity, some justifiable, some less so. It was exactly the sort of issue a good ombudsman could dissect to the benefit of both the paper and its readers."

While I was surprised by Pronovost's announcement, my initial reaction didn't last. Ombudsmen aren't often found at papers the size of the Times, which sells roughly 50,000 copies daily. But it is part of the newsroom culture of the Times that the paper, like the region it covers, is considered a place apart.

News coverage aside for the moment, this ethos is clearly shown by the frequent sheer beauty of the paper.  Steve Heaslip is one of the best news photographers in the country, bar none, and sets a high standard for his colleagues. Heaslip's artistry is rivaled by that of Jim Warren, the force behind most of the paper's graphics.

While other papers of comparable size have copy editors, the Times has copy editors and page designers - and that type of depth  reaps tangible benefits.  Back when I worked at the paper, my relatives often received copies of stories I wrote - and almost always it was when the photos and graphics were good.

While I've criticized the paper's coverage, particularly of Cape Wind, no fair-minded observer can conclude that the overall product, month in and out, is a poor one. Would the Times be a better paper if Cape Cod had a second daily? Almost assuredly, yes. Is that going to happen? Not that I can see. More likely, its future competition will come from sites like this.

Pronovost's decision could be interpreted in some circles as a sign he lacks confidence in the paper's coverage. But I don't think that is what's happening here. What I believe is motivating my former colleague, a newsman I worked with for three years and came to know fairly well, is an abiding interest in making the Times the best paper it can be. And if that means bruising a few egos along the way - and most newsrooms don't lack for them - so be it.

In case anyone is wondering if  writing this post was my not-so-subtle attempt to express an interest in the position - no, it wasn't. I'm not interested, the Times isn't either, say to say, and my advocacy of the Cape Wind project renders the question moot.

I can't help but wonder, however, if the scrutinizing presence of the local denizens of the blogosphere played a role in Pronovost's decision. I'd like to think it did. 

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