The Providence Journal Co., taking a giant step beyond mere hometown boosterism, is using its corporate treasury to shore up the city's ailing convention center project.

The company's front-page announcement late last month that it is joining with a public agency to build a new downtown hotel and renovate an existing one was greeted with skepticism in the newsroom, where reporters questioned whether the paper's dual role would affect their coverage of the project.

"Conflicts of interest are like drunk driving -- you don't know how impaired your judgment is," says columnist Brian Jones. "There's been very little critical coverage of the convention center. I've never read anything that questioned in a detailed way whether it was a viable project."

Reporter John Castellucci, who has been covering the issue, said no one has tried to tinker with his stories. But, he said, "you do feel a certain amount of pressure because you're an employee of an organization that's investing heavily in this. It'd be foolish to say I don't feel some pressure."

Journal-Bulletin Publisher Stephen Hamblett did not return calls this week about the company's $20 million investment, but he told the Boston Globe that it was "about 90 percent a civic-minded decision and 10 percent a pure business decision." Castellucci, however, notes that the company will benefit from the use of $10 million in tax-free bonds.

"I don't anticipate any problems with the coverage," says Executive Editor James Wyman. "There's a long-standing tradition of newsroom independence here at the Journal-Bulletin." While "the paper feels it has some obligation to make commitments to downtown's well-being," he says, "we will treat it like any other story."

43rd Street Shuffle Adam Clymer, a top editor at the New York Times, is returning to Washington, although colleagues say it is not entirely by choice.

Staffers say the well-liked Clymer, once the Times' chief political correspondent and political editor, has been doing a solid job as senior editor in charge of the Sunday and Monday papers. But they say he found himself on the short end of a management shuffle after less than a year in the job.

The chess game began when the Times decided to elevate Gerald M. Boyd, a highly regarded former White House correspondent who has also served as deputy national editor and deputy metropolitan editor. Boyd was named metropolitan editor, making him the highest-ranking black in the news operation.

Then top management decided to give Clymer's weekend job to John Darnton, who is widely credited with improving the paper's coverage of social and poverty issues in his four-year tenure as metropolitan editor.

Clymer was shifted to the newly created post of assistant Washington editor for congressional coverage. He could not be reached for comment, but friends say he has told them he is angry about the way his reassignment was handled.

"He should have been treated better," one staffer says. "It's a mega-step backwards," says another.

Managing Editor Joseph Lelyveld says Clymer "is going to be filling a very vital role in the Washington bureau. Everyone admires Adam and he's been very important to the paper and he'll continue to be very important to the paper."

Footnote: In other media shake-ups, Michael Oreskes, one of the Times' two top political correspondents, has returned to New York as deputy metro editor, and Paul Taylor, who was The Washington Post's lead political reporter for the past two campaigns, has opted to cover family and social issues. Taylor says he was "eager for a change," noting that "politics has been a little brain-dead over the last couple of years."

Inquiring Minds Reed Irvine, who makes a career of castigating the liberal press as head of Accuracy in Media, has been accused of stifling dissent at his own newspaper, the Washington Inquirer.

Irvine has refused to run columns by Jon Basil Utley, AIM's treasurer, that harshly criticize President Bush's Persian Gulf policy, according to Utley and others at the paper. Utley is a member of the Committee to Avert a Mideast Holocaust, while Irvine supports the use of nuclear weapons against Iraq.

Reached at his McLean home, Utley says his Inquirer column "used to run every week for years. When I submit things now, I have trouble getting in. They would not run my pieces critical of the president." One column was published as a scaled-down letter to the editor.

Irvine says the Inquirer is the "organ" of the Council for the Defense of Freedom and "doesn't pretend to be an independent newspaper that takes all sides of all issues." Still, he scoffs at suggestions that he excluded Utley, "a friend of mine," for ideological reasons.

In fact, Irvine says, he was "appalled" to find that 12 of the 14 columns the paper has run on the Persian Gulf since August -- 10 of them by Patrick Buchanan -- have criticized the administration's gulf policy. There was no need to run the Utley columns, he says, because "Mr. Utley's views on this were being more than adequately represented in the paper" by Buchanan and columnist Allan Brownfeld. The Inquirer board voted to support the decision on Utley's columns.

Utley's strong feelings on the issue are suggested in a recent ad by his committee, which describes "a fumbling president's fantasy that he's a kind of preppy Churchill taking on an imaginary 'Hitler.' "

Brownfeld, an Inquirer board member, says, "I believe in all opinions being presented and debated and all the things we say we're for." But, he says, "Reed Irvine simply said we're not going to print this. ... I saw a great deal of irony in that and pointed it out."

All-Purpose Headline Award

"Options for Overall Strategy Await Bush's Consideration" -- Los Angeles Times, Dec. 18.