Great expectations

Why ConvergenceRI has thrived and survived for 10 years

Photo courtesy of Richard Asinof

At the beach in Little Compton, riding the waves with my son and our black lab, Buddy, in tow.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 9/12/22
A quiet morning at the beach provided ConvergenceRI a time to reflect on what has been accomplished in 10 years of publishing – and the challenges ahead.
Which news reporter covering the Governor’s news conference Monday will ask labor leader Michael Sabitoni about his arrest for driving under the influence in July? What is the current status of finding a permanent replacement for the position of Secretary at RI EOHHS? What is the best polling measure to come up with the metrics around how angry women are regarding the Supreme Court decision on abortion, and how that will influence their vote?
Tracy Breton, a former Pulitzer Prize winning reporter with The Providence Journal, unloaded on the newspaper in a story in the Los Angeles Times, saying: “The Journal doesn’t even try to portray itself as the watchdog newspaper for the state anymore."
The problem with the Gannett ownership is the debt equity financing through which the ProJo was purchased, making it impossible for the newspaper to ever make a profit, resulting in the continued demise of the reporting staff. Instead of bemoaning the loss of journalistic prowess, the other news media could do better to report on the problems of debt equity financing – as well as to acknowledge the innovative approach of news platforms such as ConvergenceRI. Ten years of surviving and thriving in this marketplace is worth a story – in places like Rhode Island Monthly and in the Providence Business News, as well as on Newsmakers on WPRI.

PROVIDENCE – It has been nearly 10 years since I launched ConvergenceRI, on Sept. 23, 2013, with the intent of creating a vibrant, digital news platform, delivering accurate, in-depth reporting on the convergence of health, science, innovation, technology, research and community, writ large.

In a world of disrupted media, with debt-financed, private equity-owned TV and newspapers, hospitals and nursing homes, ConvergenceRI has survived and thrived, building up networks of engaged communities.

The secret sauce has always been to focus on truth-telling, to provide in-depth reporting not available anywhere else in the market, to break down the artificial silos in news coverage, and to place great value in telling and sharing personal stories.

The format includes three sidebars, published with every story: delineating the facts, asking: “Why this story is important?” detailing the context of the story, with: “The questions that need to be asked,” and finally, capturing the nuance behind the story, with: “Under the radar screen.” Simple, eloquent, thought-provoking devices, fit for quick reading on the internet. Some readers say that they read the sidebars first, then delve into the stories.

The value, of course, is not just for the CEOs who subscribe to the content, but the accrued value if they share the content with their employees, because they trust and believe in their employees.

The next 10 years
The biggest disappointment, if it is a disappointment, is the current lack of readership by many of the other news media reporters in Rhode Island. Oh, they know who I am, for sure, and I suspect that many of them do actually read ConvergenceRI on a regular weekly basis – even if they never acknowledge it.

At news conferences, I often get the quick “Kramer wave” perfected as part of “Seinfeld” shtick – the wave that feigns acknowledgement. I do not take offense, because I know, despite running a lean operation, with few resources, I regularly out-report the other news organizations when it comes to health care, when it comes to innovation, and when it comes to research.

Sources trust me with information – they know that I will never reveal sources, and that the reporting is accurate, and that I get the story right.

For sure, there are some leaders in the corporate world and their communications flaks who get upset with me for not reprinting news releases verbatim, or for not swallowing big horse manure pills alleged to be facts. So it goes.

The art of the interview
Time and again, it is the art of the interview – the long-form of journalism, which readers of ConvergenceRI find most valuable, so they tell me. The willingness to let people talk and share their stories, at length, to explain fully what they are doing, is refreshing for the readers, who marvel continually at what they learn after reading the stories.

For instance, the in-depth interview with Buff Chace, co-founder, and Michele Jalbert, the executive director of the Providence Resilience Partnership, laid out in great detail the need to conduct a risk analysis for the greatest threats facing Providence the coming age of climate urgency, so as to prioritize investments. Without that kind of scope, we are left out in the floods when deluges of rain threaten to turn our highways into rivers. Blaming it on Mother Nature is no longer an acceptable solution.

Or, take the most recent deep dive, printing the recommendations that the Senate legislative commission released on Sept. 2 toward the reformation and reshaping of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services. It’s only the agency with the largest budget in state, attempting to preserve the human safety net that has been so badly frayed by COVID and a decade of denial, refusing to raise Medicaid rates.

A time of reflection
This past Saturday, I spent the morning at the beach in Little Compton, sitting on a beach chair, calmly watching the tide roll in and out, attempting to let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go, as a way of practicing restorative exercises. Not Pilates or Yoga, but simply allowing my thoughts to drift in whatever direction they wanted to go.

I recalled the delight of going to Olga’s when it was still a roadside stand next to Walkers Farm, ordering corn pesto pizza, and miniature fruit pies. And, riding the waves with our black lab, Buddy, and my son, in tow. [See first image.] We used to pretend that we could see Paris across the Atlantic Ocean, but the distant land shape was, in reality, Martha’s Vineyard.

I closed my eyes and recalled marveling at the light on the drive to the beach, which refracted and reflected from two different bodies of water. If my legs were working better, I would have walked along the edge of the water, but that is no longer possible.

After my morning at the beach, my friend questioned me about what I was working on, and I tried to explain the looming difficulties around Medicaid, where more than one-third of the state is now insured through the federal insurance program, creating a permanent underclass in Rhode Island, and despite the plans put in place for value-based payments, the folks doing the work -- the community health centers, the small practitioners, and even the big hospital systems, cannot afford to keep going, given the poor rates of return or promised shared savings that will never arrive. Essentially, state governments, through their Medicaid programs, are functioning as a private insurance company, with terrible rates.

The contract for the Managed Care Organizations in Rhode Island, insurance firms that manage care delivery for four-fifths of the Medicaid patients, is said to be worth some $7 billion over the next five years, beginning on July 1, 2023. Currently, the three MCOs are UnitedHealthcare, Tufts Health Plan, and Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island.

What if, I asked out loud, that each of the roughly 350,000 people enrolled in Medicaid were given that money instead – $200,000 a person over five years, or $40,000 a year – which would enable them to purchase private insurance and a helluva lot more. Talk about the reinvention of Medicaid and disrupting the status quo.

The federal government would never allow it, my friend responded, speaking common sense to my disruptive question.

Dozing off
On Monday night, the Emmy awards ceremony will be broadcast. The Hulu production of “Dopesick,” the TV-series version of the book written by reporter Beth Macy, is up for 14 awards. This past week, the Venice Film Festival awarded its grand prize to a documentary by Laura Poitras, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” a film focused on the efforts by artist Nan Goldin to hold the Sackler family accountable for its role in the opioid crisis.

The tide is turning, a sea change is occurring. How will it be reported in Rhode Island? Which politician running for office in 2022 will sponsor a viewing night of “Dopesick” in Rhode Island? Or attend Rally4Recovery?


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