The year was 1986. Business newspapers were becoming a hot segment of the journalism market. Rhode Island had two business fortnightly newspapers and a third paper, a weekly called Providence Business News (PBN), was just starting up.
Today, 10 years later, Providence Business News is the sole survivor of that once hot market. Finishing up its first decade as "Southeastern New England's largest business newspaper," PBN is still around and going strong, having solidified its position in the state's marketplace by sticking with its original goal.
An editorial in that first issue in May, 1986, said that the newspaper "will try to provide for Rhode Island and Bristol County, Mass., the same sort of coverage that the Wall Street Journal provides the nation and, in a different market, the Financial Times of London provides Europe."
The newspaper's owners -- Robert Bergenheim and his son, Roger -- are no strangers to the field. The two had started Boston Business Journal, where Robert was publisher and Roger was general manager. Providence seemed a likely extension of that market. Roger came to Providence as the newspaper's publisher, a post he still holds.
"We saw a niche that wasn't being filled," says Roger. "There was nothing in a weekly format. Also, we wanted to cover more hard-news; the other papers were running mostly feature stories."
But Bergenheim was also savvy enough to realize that, for several reasons, only one of the three papers could survive. "For one thing, advertisers don't like dual buys," he says. "For another, competition tends to evolve into price wars."
In a year in which the paper is celebrating the end of its first decade of operation, Bergenheim looks back with pride. "We are very well respected in the business community," he says. "We break stories every week that are not picked up in the dailies."
As a result, Bergenheim describes advertising revenues as "very healthy," while circulation has leveled off at a respectable 11,000 in sales and an estimated 35,000 in overall readership.
While the newspaper is the major source of revenue, the company has several sideline businesses. For one thing, it publishes an annual Book of Lists which is a compilation of all the lists the news staff compiles during any given year. These are lists such as "largest automobile dealerships" in the state, or "top private companies." The book is also sold on disk (either Mac or DOS) to be accessed by computer.
Other publications include special supplements such as a Health Care Resource Guide, a legal Resource Guide, and the Small Business Administration's (SBA's) "Salute to Small Business" throughout the year.
Special issues of the newspaper promote the state's top private companies, or offer (both commercial and residential) real estate guides, while each weekly issue carries a special "Focus" section which concentrates on a particular aspect of the state's economy.
Another area of potential revenue for the company is electronic publishing on the Internet and the World Wide Web. PBN was a leader in publishing its news electronically, starting on the Internet in 1994. Today, most of its news articles -- minus syndicated material, but including calendar material and executive moves -- can be accessed through the World Wide Web (at http://www.pbn.com).
Additionally, says Bergenheim, the newspaper is investigating the possibility of posting its advertisements electronically as a value-added feature for advertisers.
The company produces such materials as a First Night Guide for the city's New Year's Eve celebration, and a guide to the Newport Music Festival for its own readers.
The company does all this with a staff of 24 employees.
Many of the ideas which the newspaper uses in its section come from an association of about 100 similar newspapers called the Network of City Business Journals. Bergenheim says the Network coordinates national advertising for the group.
Another group effort comes from the Association of Area Business Publications, which conducts seminars for publishers, editors and advertising managers. Also, the newspapers exchange subscriptions with each other and get new ideas by reading each others' work.
Still in all, some judgment is necessary: "What works in New Orleans won't necessarily work in Providence," says Bergenheim.
On the editorial side, the newspaper's small but dedicated staff of reporters tirelessly works to uncover breaking business news. Editor Frank Prosnitz is only the paper's third editor. Under his direction, the paper has garnered numerous awards for journalism, including the Frank Graham Spotlight Award (1992, Fund for Community Progress); awards for Best Investigative or Analytical News Story or Series, Best News Story, and Spirit of Rhode Island awards (1993, 1994, Rhode Island Press Association).
In 1995 the paper won the SBA's Media Advocate of the Year Award for its work in serving as an advocate for small business in Rhode Island.
During a recent office renovation, Roger Bergenheim paused for a moment to reflect on his work. "I have a job that's really fun," he said. "This is an interesting job -- you're informing your fellow CEOs on what's happening in the business, political and economic areas of the community. I can't imagine doing anything else."