WPRI political and economic reporter Ted Nesi may be one of the best known names in televised news in Rhode Island, but he’s very worried about the future of state and local journalism.
“I’m not worried about the Washington Post, I’m not worried about the New York Times, I’m not worried about CNN, but frankly I’m especially worried about statewide newspapers and our local community newspapers. They really are the backbone of how we know about our communities,” said Nesi. “Without local newspapers, without reporters sitting in at local council meetings, talking with community members, highlighting what’s going on at the school committee, I think we’re going to lose a lot, and we already are.”
At a luncheon meeting of the Warwick Rotary Club held at the Radisson Hotel last Thursday, Nesi served as a guest speaker and touched upon issues affecting Rhode Island in a wide ranging question and answer session with Rotary members. Dominating the discussion were his views of the role of the media and how news and reporting has changed over time.
Citing newspapers such as this one, along with other publications such as the Valley Breeze, Nesi questioned the uncertainty surrounding the futures of such companies and the impact that will have on Rhode Island communities. He asked that Rotary members support their local news both as readers and as active community members, calling the situation a “civic emergency,” and stressed buying print forms of news or consuming reports through local web pages.
“I worry, for all the talk about fake news or bashing reporters nationally. It’s almost noise to me compared to whether there will be reporters at council meetings and doing the reporting that lets us know about our own communities,” he said. “We spend so much time hearing about national news, but what happens at the State House, what happens at City Hall sometimes matters more than what happens in Washington for our day-to-day lives.”
Nesi’s message to the Rotarians also focused on the tone of politics, which he believed has become more “negative, nasty and hostile.” He stated that one reason for such negativity may come from a lack of ongoing participation in civic groups, such as the Rotary. He hoped that such groups might spark a turnaround in American life.
“Not as many people seem to be participating in groups like this, where if I interviewed all of you I’d find almost as many political opinions as individuals sitting here. When you meet your neighbors and fellow voters in places that are away from politics, away from online, and face to face, I think that people develop a little more trust and I think some of that is what we need so much,” he said.
Nesi felt that last year’s election was essentially more of the same, as the only major office that changed hands was that of the attorney general with the election of Peter Neronha. He said change in that office could be interesting, as Neronha is a well-respected lawyer who is looking to make an impact and shake things up.
“A prosecutor who wants to look can usually find something in Rhode Island. So we’ll see what Peter Neronha digs up on that,” said Nesi.
While the faces of the state’s major politicians are familiar, Nesi said that the amicability at the State House is different this year. He cited Governor Gina Raimondo’s more emphatic win with a higher vote total.
“Politicians, when they get more of a mandate they feel a little more confident and comfortable and the other politicians get nervous. She is on a little stronger political footing going in. Now that may dissipate quickly depending on how someone uses their political capital.”
Nesi also called the state House of Representatives a “house divided,” more so than he has ob-served during the last several years. He said there are very different points of political views under the same branch that may lead to tensions.
“I almost think of it like we have three political parties there. You have the Democrats aligned with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and the leadership, who are generally more moderate or conservative Democrats. Now we have this breakaway group of 19 or 20 Democrats who call themselves the Reform Caucus, and a lot of them are more progressive,” said Nesi. “Then you have the official opposition with the Republicans.”
Touching upon education, Nesi said that area is one he plans to scrutinize in detail during the next year as there is much energy in the state surrounding the need to improve school facilities and to close the gap with Massachusetts’ standards. He cited the state’s “zigzag” approach towards standardized testing, and the state’s propensity to change tests frequently, as a challenge for students.
When it comes to the state of the economy in Rhode Island, Nesi felt that the state is, as always, pushed around by the national economy, but that the outlook now appears to be positive. With low unemployment, Nesi believes that affordable housing remains an issue along with the possibility of low job growth in the future.
“There’s been a lot of jitters about a downturn or a recession, but we haven’t really seen that with the data,” said Nesi. “The government shutdown is over for now, which will probably help with consumers feeling confident. Earnings have been fairly strong compared to some of the expectations from Wall Street. I might be wrong, but I think that we might be on a little stronger footing than people are saying.”