Providence's Alternative Source!

Investigative team back to full strength


The Providence Journal's crackerjack investigative team has seemingly been spared the strife and cost cutting at the paper in recent years, focusing instead on the denouement of the epochal saga involving former mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr. And it's good news that the four-person unit has been restored to full strength with the recent addition of Paul Edward Parker, a 15-year Journal veteran, as the team's specialist in computer-assisted reporting.

The filling of the position, which had been vacant since Dave Herzog left in December 2001 to take a job with the University of Missouri School of Journalism, represents an important step after the Journal trimmed its staff by 94 people -- including 26 from the news side -- through buyouts last year. But although the filling of the job from within can be seen as a positive thing, some staffers are irked by the way in which the job search, according to several sources, was restricted to applicants from within New England. One source calls the limitation "another example of how shortsighted cost-cutting moves have weakened a once-great newspaper; now they're chipping away at the Journal's pride and joy."

The Journal had previously limited the search for new reporter and intern hires to New England (see "Sinking feeling," News, March 8, 2002) -- an apparent attempt to cut costs by not having to pay lodging for those coming to town for interviews. Tim Schick, administrator of the Providence Newspaper Guild, although unsure if the limitation remains in place, was of two minds about the hiring of an internal candidate for the investigative team. "It's great that people on the inside have the first crack and opportunity, so they can advance from within," Schick says. "Looking more generally at hiring practices, when you look at newsrooms, it's a national job market and if you restrict yourself to a particular region, you're not going to attract all the good candidates that are out there."

Parker says he was unaware of any geographic restriction on the search. Joel Rawson, the Journal's executive editor, declined a request for comment, maintaining ProJo management's practice of not speaking with the Phoenix. Another source, also indicating that the job search was restricted to New England, praised Parker's work for the Journal and predicted that he'll emerge as a strong part of the investigative team.

At a time when the Journal strikes long-time observers as thinner and less substantial than in the past, the Pulitzer-winning investigative unit remains a particular source of substantial reportage. A case in point is Mike Stanton's ongoing seven-part series on the life and times of Cianci, who last week started serving a 64-month sentence in New Jersey following conviction on one count of racketeering conspiracy. For devotees of Providence politics, it doesn't get much better than Stanton's sweeping narrative (a preview of his forthcoming book, due to be published next year by Random House) -- from Cianci's rise as an anti-corruption candidate to the rich anecdotes, including one about a woman exacting revenge on her mobster boyfriend by surreptitiously urinating in his Italian wedding soup.

The Journal was also an early pioneer in computer-assisted reporting in the 1980s, thanks to the use of computers by Elliot Jaspin, now systems editor for Cox Newspapers, to examine government statistics.

Given the quirky quality of many things in Rhode Island -- not to mention the plentiful targets for investigative reporting -- it's no surprise that the newest member of the Journal's investigative team is keen to get going. "I'm glad to be here and looking forward to tackling some exciting projects," says Parker, who hired by the paper out of college, has since worked in a handful of assignments, most recently the bureau in Somerset, Massachusetts, and whose experience includes using spreadsheets and building front-ends for databases.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]

Issue Date: December 13 - 19, 2002