Ed Fitzpatrick – Submitted photo

Let’s begin with the road you traveled to becoming a reporter. When and why did you first become interested in journalism?

I first became interested in journalism when I was growing up in Greenville, R.I. My grandmother lived with us, and she would read The Evening Bulletin in the living room, devouring stories about former Providence Mayor “Buddy” Cianci and other politicians while calling out “You’re not going to believe this!” 

I could tell Rhode Island politics was a rich topic, and I was lucky enough to end up covering politics in a state that former Providence Journal reporter Elliot Jaspin once called “a theme park for journalists.” 

When I was a kid, I was more interested in the sports section than local news. And I became a publisher, of sorts, when I hand-wrote a newspaper called The Grogan Bulletin, poking fun at then-Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan. My father, who worked for the phone company, Xeroxed copies of the paper, and I sold it to my buddies at school for 25 cents. I doubt it posed much of a threat to the Journal in terms of circulation.

Did you have a mentor or mentors along the way?

When I studied journalism at Syracuse University, I got to meet William Zinsser, author of the book “On Writing Well.” I might have saved my parents a lot of tuition money if I’d just read that book because it provides so much practical advice and wisdom about journalism.

Zinsser came to Syracuse to speak to the campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and I picked him up at the airport. Other speakers had come to campus full of know-it-all bluster and coarse arrogance. Others had been downright boring. Zinsser, by contrast, took an interest in the students he met, brimming with curiosity and class, dry wit and plainspoken wisdom.

While I’ve often fallen short of his example, I’ve kept his book on my desk for the last 38 years. Coffee stains and yellow highlighter mark the pages. The inscription reads, “For Ed Fitzpatrick. Thanks for the ride. William Zinsser, Syracuse, Dec. 6, 1986.”

You are a graduate of Syracuse University, as are the distinguished journalists Mike Stanton, recently featured here, and Carol Young, a storied editor at The Providence Journal who is now retired. What is so special about Syracuse?

Well, the weather is sure special — if you like snow. It snowed for 30 straight days my freshman year, and ever since I’ve maintained that anything less than six inches of snow is a dusting.

But while it’s fashionable these days to question the value of journalism school, I think the Newhouse school of journalism provided me with a solid basis for a career in daily journalism. At an early age, I gained a deep appreciation for the First Amendment and journalistic ethics. I studied the key legal cases and precedents that build the basis for the press freedom we enjoy today. And we got out in the field, covering news on campus and in the surrounding city. I wrote for the school newspaper, The Daily Orange.

As a magazine journalism major, I spent a lot of time figuring out how to structure a story, how to organize all the information reporters collect, and how to use descriptions and quotes and anecdotes to keep people reading. We examined the architecture and methods of great pieces of journalism, such as “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” by Gay Talese. I read and re-read “Up in the Old Hotel,” by Joseph Mitchell.

Plus, you couldn’t just major in journalism. A professor told me I needed to write about something, so I should have a double major. After growing up reading about Rhode Island politics, political science was a natural choice.

After graduating from Syracuse, you began your career at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y., and went from there to The Saratogian newspaper, also in New York, and then to the Times Union in Albany, N.Y., and the Hartford Courant. Give us an overview of those years.

I started my career at The Post-Star in Glens Falls, a small paper mill city in Upstate New York. While the paper was small, I soon had big responsibilities, covering City Hall and doing investigative pieces that shook up the local political and business communities. As a young reporter, it was exhilarating to watch the press roll and feel the wet ink of an expose about a local businessman who had convinced a lot of the rich folks in town to invest in Texas oil wells. And I vividly remember flying in a canary-yellow open-cockpit single-engine plane with a councilman to view pollution in the Hudson River.

I covered City Hall in Schenectady, became the city editor at The Saratogian, and wrote enterprise and investigative stories at the Albany Times Union. At the Hartford Court, I covered the state prison system, which was so crowded at the time that inmates were being shipped out of state. I took a trip to Big Stone Gap, a coal-mining town in the heart of Appalachia, and interviewed Connecticut inmates about the racial taunts, stun guns, and rubber bullets that they said made the Virginia prison “hell.”

After the Courant, you came to The Providence Journal, where you were an award-winning reporter and political columnist at the same time I was there. Can you give us a summary of the issues you covered?

As a kid, I delivered the Providence Journal and the afternoon paper, the Evening Bulletin, riding a brown banana-seat Huffy from Benny’s. So it was a dream come true to write for the Journal. I still remember walking into the Fountain Street newsroom for the first time, with the broad two-story windows and the oversized photos of Ted Williams, Muhammad Ali, and McCoy Stadium.

I began in the Johnston bureau, which has since closed, and my first beat included Burrillville and the Central Landfill. In the course of a single day, I wrote about how Louie Vinagro, a pig farmer who was running for mayor, had punched a state environmental official, and that night I wrote about how then-Mayor William Macera had stepped out of school committee meeting to get some fresh air and then was found in a car by the Central Landfill that the police said reeked of marijuana. 

In other words, it felt good to be back in my home state.

I went on to cover the State House and the courts, and I spent eight years as the Journal’s political columnist. Along the way I got to work with some great reporters, including the late Bill Malinowski and Bill Reynolds. I learned a lot from them about reporting and writing, but more than anything I enjoyed watching their reactions as news broke about a crooked politician, a stupid criminal, or some other bizarre only-in-Rhode Island moment. I can picture Reynolds standing in the newsroom with a you-gotta-be-kidding-me grin on his face, providing a one-word reaction with an emphasis on the first syllable: “Outstanding.”

What about some of the politicians you profiled?

Journalism is a great job in part because it gives you a key to get into rooms and ask top leaders questions. You can follow your curiosity and help hold public officials accountable to the public they serve. So it has been a privilege to interview members of Congress, governors, and mayors over the years.

But one of the journalists we studied at Syracuse was Jimmy Breslin, the New York City columnist who famously wrote about the man who dug the grave for President John F. Kennedy. So I tried to follow Breslin’s example when former Providence Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci died.

Here’s how that February 2016 column began: “At St. Ann Cemetery on Monday morning, a driving wind whipped a small American flag planted in front of a headstone marked “Cianci.” “It’s an honor being here and seeing it — being involved,” said dump truck driver Anthony Iafrate as he helped prepare the grave of Providence’s longest-serving mayor, Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. “I think he was a great guy.” But Cianci was also a guy who went to federal prison for running a racketeering enterprise at City Hall. “Who am I to judge?” Iafrate said.

You left The Journal in 2016 to become the director of media and public relations at Roger Williams University. That put you on “the other side” of the news, as it were. What did you learn that would serve you in your current position?

I joke that I learned how much I hate meetings. But on a serious note, I learned how important it is for public relations professionals to know their audience and to connect what’s happening at their institution with what’s in the news.

So, I saw reporters would want to speak to a faculty member in the law school, for example, who might have insights about a breaking news story that dealt with criminal justice. But reporters might not be aware of that local expertise unless a release went out providing a comment and offering a way to connect quickly with a professor on deadline.

I saw how local colleges such as Roger Williams, Salve Regina, Brown, Bryant, URI, RIC and others are filled with subject matter experts who would often have valuable insights, context, and information to offer to journalists. That input can help broaden and enrich a wide range of stories, but that resource often goes untapped.

So let’s get into your current position as a staff writer for The Boston Globe covering Rhode Island. Give us a breakdown of your beat.

For five years now, I have been part of a great Globe Rhode Island team that works out of the CIC space in the Wexford Building at 225 Dyer St. in Providence. I focus a lot of my coverage on the State House, including the legislature, and Rhode Island politics. I also cover local communities such as Central Falls, and I’m the most likely guy to write about running or other endurance sports.

I am the host of the Rhode Island Report podcast, which won an award for best podcast from the New England Newspapers & Press Association. I’ve been lucky enough to work with talented producers such as Megan Hall and Scott Helman. And we just completed our 150th episode, talking to my colleague Amanda Milkovits about  her compelling coverage of the troubled St. Mary’s Home for Children.

You are part of an eight-person Globe team that covers Rhode Island. What does the group cover? Who are the other members?

One of the joys of working at Globe Rhode Island is that we have such a good team. I was one of the original three reporters along with Dan McGowan and Amanda Milkovits. Dan has changed the Rhode Island media landscape with his daily newsletter, Rhode Map. And Amanda  has done some incredible investigative work. One fun fact is that Amanda and I started on the same day at The Providence Journal in 2000 and then started on the same day 19 years later at the Boston Globe.

Since then, the Globe Rhode Island team has grown to include an All-Star cast of reporters including Alexa Gagosz, Brian Amaral, and Steph Machado, in addition to our talented editor, Lylah Alphonse, deputy editor Maria Caporizzo, and digital and audience engagement editor Carlos Muñoz.

Tell us about the Rhode Island Report podcast.

I am the host of the Rhode Island Report podcast, which just won an award for best podcast from the New England Newspapers & Press Association. I’ve been lucky enough to work with talented producers such as Megan Hall and Scott Helman. 

We just completed our 150th episode, talking to my colleague Amanda Milkovits about her compelling coverage of the troubled St. Mary’s Home for Children. We talk about all things Rhode Island, including a lot of political coverage. But the most listened-to episode was a discussion with Thom Jones, a dialect coach for Hollywood stars, about “How to talk like a Rhode Islander.”

Rhode Island Report is totally free. You can follow the podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and other podcasting platforms.

And the Rhode Island Food Club.

Alexa Gagosz is a bright, hard-working young reporter who launched a food and dining newsletter in 2022, and it’s now been upgraded to The Globe Rhode Island Food Club

Alexa tended bar in Boston for years, but she retired her cocktail shaker when she joined the Globe three years ago. She has been amazed by the food ecosystem here, and her newsletter highlights the people who are behind our plates, the experts who craft our drinks, and the places that are under the radar but deserve the spotlight.

You are on the board of the New England First Amendment Coalition (along with Mike Stanton and others). Ocean State Stories is a member of NEFAC. What are some of the top issues concerning the coalition currently?

The New England First Amendment Coalition serves a vital purpose here in Rhode Island, fighting to protect the five freedoms of the First Amendment and battling to defend, promote and expand public access to government.

In Rhode Island, the group this year is advocating for legislation that would update and strengthen the state Access to Public Records Act. The bill would make 47 changes to the current law, including a reduction in copying costs, more free search and redaction time, and the ability to waive all fees when requests are made “in the public interest.” 

The Access to Public Records Act hasn’t received a substantial update since 2012, and the proposed legislation would add provisions for new technology such as body-worn police cameras. The importance of public records came into sharp focus recently when media outlets requested documents regarding the Washington Bridge and ended up being charged various amounts. And that underscored the fact that public records are important not just to journalists but to the public that needs access to information about important matters such as that bridge.

A bit of the personal. You are an avid runner. Tell us about that passion.

I run to stay sane, or at least sane-ish. I’ve run seven marathons, including three Boston Marathons. In 2013, I crossed the finish line on Boylston Street 41 minutes before the bombs went off. My wife had been in the stands across from the first blast, but, thankfully, she was meeting me when the explosions echoed off the John Hancock Tower. I ran the Boston Marathon again in 2014 and live tweeted that inspiring experience for the Providence Journal.

I still run most days and just completed the Run Through the Pines Half Marathon in Carver, Mass. But my favorite race is the Grog and Dog Jog — a triathlon, of sorts, that involves running a mile, guzzling a beer, and wolfing down a hot dog. “It’s easily the greatest event that has ever happened in the state of Rhode Island at any time — or easily the worst idea ever,” Wild Colonial Tavern owner Maurice Collins said. “One or the other.”

What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

Panic early. In other words, don’t wait until the last minute to get rocking. Whatever task you have in front of you, get after it right away. Give yourself the time to do it well.

That advice applies in all of life but especially in daily deadline journalism. If you fart around and then panic at the last second, you will end up with a story with your byline on it, but it’s going to be lousy, and no one will want to read it – not even you.

But if you begin making calls and doing research right away, you will assemble the ingredients for a solid story. And if you give yourself the time to rewrite (which is the essence of writing), you will end up with a well-told tale that will draw in readers and keep them reading until that well-crafted kicker. 

And what advice would you have for someone who is interested in becoming a journalist, in whatever media?

In 2010, William Zinsser gave a graduation speech at Deerfield Academy, recalling that he wrote a book titled “American Places” about his pilgrimage to 16 iconic sites, including Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, and the Alamo. He said that a student once asked him if he wrote the book “as a series of discrete entities” as “an overarching vision.” 

“You know the kind of question it was. I thought, give me a break!” Zinsser said. “Finally I said, ‘You know, I’m just trying to have an interesting life.’ ” 

And that’s what I would tell someone who is interested in becoming a journalist: It’s a great way to lead an interesting life. 

You get to ask questions, learn new things, hold the people in power accountable, inform, entertain, challenge. It’s creative and practical and important to the functioning of a healthy democracy. It’s demanding and stressful, and you’ll never get rich doing it. But it beats making widgets. And I wouldn’t know how to make a widget, in any case.