Investigative Ace Stanton Leaving the ProJo

Aug 5, 2013

Mike Stanton, who has spearheaded a lot of the Providence Journal's investigative reporting for more than two decades, is leaving the paper to pursue other opportunities.

In a tweet Monday afternoon, Stanton says he's leaving the ProJo to teach and write at the University of Connecticut. "Will always treasure my time here - the stories & scoundrels, but more important, the great friends," he added.

Stanton began his career at the Journal as a sportswriter. His big break came, as he told me in a 2003 interview for the Providence Phoenix, when Tom Heslin asked him to help with the paper's coverage of the Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corporation (RISDIC) crisis in the early 1990s. Stanton was part of the team that won the ProJo's most recent Pulitzer Prize -- in 1994 -- for exposing corruption in the Rhode Island court system.

In the time before the rise of the Internet sparked further buyouts and other cuts at the ProJo, Stanton was front and center in the paper's four-person investigative team (along with Bill Malinowski, Tracy Breton, and computer-assisted reporting whiz David Herzog (now with the Missouri School of Journalism; he was later replaced by Paul Edward Parker).

Stanton and Malinowski broke a lot of big stories through the wane of Buddy Cianci's second tenure at Providence City Hall, foreshadowing much of the testimony preceding Cianci's 2002 conviction in US District Court on a single count of racketeering conspiracy. Stanton also authored The Prince of Providence, the authoritative biography of Cianci's time in public life.

Not coincidentally, Cianci, before his conviction, once told Stanton during a College Hill news conference to go play in traffic. Meanwhile, Stanton felt the need to respond via a letter to the editor after Cianci was recently interviewed in the New York Times Magazine.

As Stanton told me in 2003, Buddy wasn't too happy about the reporter's plans for an unauthorized bio:

When he found out that I had a book contract, he called the publisher of my newspaper, Howard Sutton. I don’t think he had any clear plan in mind — he was just angry and upset — and he told Howard that he didn’t think this was appropriate, that I should be doing this. He wanted Howard, basically, to tell me not to do it. It wasn’t really any clearer than that. And Sutton, basically, told him what should be clear to anyone reasonable — that journalists write books about people they cover all the time.

Woodward and Bernstein wrote a book about Nixon.Philadelphia Inquirer reporter wrote the book about "Black Hawk Down," which evolved from a series that he wrote for his newspaper. So there was really nothing inappropriate about it. And beyond that — it was just the usual dance between an author and a politician about access and cooperation; him not wanting me to know certain things or have certain people talk to me; being hot and cold with personally, but I wouldn’t say it was anything serious and some of it was expected — the kind of inherent adversarial relationship that you have between a politician and a journalist

At UConn, Stanton will succeed another former reporter for the ProJo, Wayne Worcester, who retired in May (Former Journal scribe Robert Wyss is also on the journalism faculty at UConn). Via Twitter, Stanton says he plans to continue making his home in Rhode Island.

In a reflection of his sharp and dry wit, Stanton was a regular contributor to the Providence Newspaper Guild's annual Follies. He wrote a song for this year's show set to the tune of the Kinks' "Lola," about state Treasurer Gina Raimondo. Stanton wrote to let me know that only one of his songs didn't make the cut.

In recent years, the efforts of the reporters once detailed to the investigative team have become more diffuse. Yet Stanton has zeroed in on some of the top stories in the state with characteristic detail and research, like big Sunday takeouts on Edward "Ted" Siedle or how Raimondo increased the state pension fund's stake in hedge funds.

After Raimondo helped shepherd an ambitious and once-unlikely pension overhaul through the General Assembly in 2011, Stanton wrote a finely etched portrait of the role played by Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. It had all the hallmarks of Stanton's work, being revealing and well-written. If readers invariably split in letters to the editor on whether the story was too hard or too soft (the Senate president herself displayed a framed copy in her third-floor Statehouse office), that was just further evidence of how Stanton had written it like a pro -- down the middle, with the complexity of real life and real people.

This post has been updated.