As a car enthusiast and former mechanic, Tony DePaul probably seemed like a good choice to take on one of two new automotive beat jobs at the Providence Journal. But when DePaul, an almost 20-year ProJo veteran, felt that editors were stripping the interesting stuff from his car stories, he abruptly decided to leave the paper.
DePaul says he didn’t apply for the automotive position, in part because of the view among reporters “that the corporate suits wanted to get some advertiser-friendly copy into the new automotive section and onto the Web site.” Informed by executive editor Joel P. Rawson that the assignment was his, DePaul writes in an e-mail, “I explained why I hadn’t applied, [and] he said the publisher had assured him that Advertising wouldn’t meddle and we’d be free to do journalism (such as it is these days).”
Taking this message “with a grain of salt,” DePaul says he told Rawson, “I’d go into it with a good attitude and give it a fair try, which is what I did. I went over there [to features], did the assignments they handed me, but in just a few weeks, I knew it was time to go. Nowhere in the equation did I see the interests of readers being served.”
In particular, says DePaul, “The stories were getting worked over pretty hard on the desk. All the interesting technical details were getting taken out because nobody on the desk understood them, so I guess my assignment was to write about cars for an audience that doesn’t know a thing about them. And stylistically, as soon as I tried to have some fun with this writing (I mean, this wasn’t exactly journalism any more . . . ) [features editor] Phil Kukielski would start turning it into gray newspaper fodder.”
Rawson declined to comment on DePaul’s departure. Kukielski didn’t return a call seeking comment.
DePaul, who was previously assigned to covering the West Bay, was well known for maintaining a lengthy one-man byline strike during a previous labor conflict at the ProJo. “Tony’s a very principled individual and also one who has the luxury of being able to make a principled decision in terms of where he is in life,” since his children are out of school, says Tim Schick, administrator of the Providence Newspaper Guild. “Tony has always led by example. While some people might grumble about not liking things at the Journal, and then not do anything, Tony was always ready to put his money where his mouth was.”
Guild president John Hill calls DePaul’s departure “a loss for the paper. He was one of the best writers. They never played to his strengths and let him run. As a Guild guy, he was an absolute rock, one of those guys who could be passionate without being overbearing. He was just great. I’m sorry to see him go on a whole lot of levels.”
In a note to colleagues sent on April 7, his last day at the ProJo, DePaul says the realization that he wanted to leave came a day earlier as he rode to work on his Harley-Davidson.
Although the editing of his car stories started to make the feature assignment seem “pretty tedious,” DePaul wrote this week in an e-mail during a trip to Maine, “I’ve always had creative outlets outside the newspaper, so the clunky editing didn’t bother me too much. I left mainly because I didn’t like being transferred to the features desk and made to write puff pieces about things that aren’t very important to Rhode Islanders in the big scheme of things.”