Over the past 24 hours, Rhode Island Public Radio and The Boston Globe reported that longtime columnist Bob Kerr was called into a conference room in the Providence Journal’s Fountain Street bunker-like headquarters and informed of his dismissal and the details of his severance package. The more than 43 years of impeccable journalism and commentary produced by one man and cherished by thousands of readers across Southern New England dissipated in ten minutes, merely a formality than an expression of gratitude or thanksgiving.
The flame kindled by Kerr for so long was extinguished, snuffed out by money-hungry pirates in the name of cost-cutting measures imposed by a faceless bunch of cowards devoted to profiting from the most shoddy tactics the industry has seen. In the name of the almighty dollar, Kerr was crucified on the cross of economic prioritization by a gang of hoodlums known as Gate House Media, an entity more devoted to increasing profits and shareholder prowess than to preserving the legacy of the nation’s oldest, award-winning daily newspaper. A newspaper which Kerr, widely admired as the heart and soul of the paper, helped to usher into the 21st century.
A century that has turned its back on real journalism.
Kerr pounded the pavement. He talked with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. Everybody. Making an effort to make a difference through his eyewitness accounts of inequality and oppression, Kerr’s potent, brilliant prose struck a chord with millions of readers for over 40 years, 13 of which I have known him and counted him as one of my best friends.
And now he is gone.
As appalling as this is, and as tears are being shed by his readers and fans, people like me, who have been the subjects or readers of Kerr’s work, are recoiling in disbelief as we ponder how our lives were touched for the better by this old school gumshoe who was always on the hunt for an eye-catching story that resonated with the everyman. His ability to articulate complicated issues in a fashion that his readers would understand was unparalleled. His uncanny tact and wit elicited stories from those amazing individuals that would normally go untold.
The homeless Vietnam vet.
The single mother afraid of the unjust surveillance of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families gestapo.
The immigrant who knew no English but made it to an Ivy League school for his undergraduate degree and then went to Yale Law.
The musicians that held benefits for hurricane victims and the kids looking for their birth parents.
The sick. The downtrodden. The weary. The poor. The unjustly maligned.
Perhaps Gate House Media is not the only party to blame. Could the world really be moving to a darker place? A web-centric, 140 character blurb insta-news portal culture devoted to liking and disliking, up voting and down voting, complete with anonymous cruel comments from creeps lurking behind their keyboards clearly acting in cowardice and not disclosing their true identities?
The newspaper is the quintessential organ of a community, especially in a city-state like Rhode Island. Bob Kerr was the heart and soul of the Journal. But now, in favor of this dystopian systemic witch-hunt of dismissals and terminations for the economic gain of few, the prioritization of profit as opposed to purpose threatens the telling of these stories that will now go untold. It threatens the stability of the public forum. It undermines actual journalism and promotes a culture of gossip and profit-driven, watered-down journalism.
I am not advocating for a luddite society. But on the same token, I am not arguing for our community to surmise that this immature, irrational behavior by a corporate alien is plausible or acceptable in the least. At the end of the day, we, as a readership, control the profits.
Unsubscribe from the Journal. Help Gate House realize that they are the gates of journalistic hell, and they have snuffed out the flame of one of the most prolific, talented, and brilliant journalists and social commentators the world has ever seen.
I am angry. I am appalled. I hope you are too. We lost a friend. We lost a voice for the voiceless. We lost a true advocate for social justice and never again will we know one as prudent, empathetic, and locally hyper-vigilant as the great and incomparable Bob Kerr.
He never stopped caring.