Jim Hummel and freelance videographer Mike Rossi, a fellow ...

hummelreport.com

Jim Hummel and freelance videographer Mike Rossi, a fellow ...

Jim Hummel and freelance videographer

Mike Rossi, a fellow Channel 6 alum.

58 RHODE ISLAND MONTHLY l APRIL 2011


You don’t mess around

WITH JIM

Fed up with TV journalism, investigative

reporter Jim Hummel took his act solo —

and online. The Hummel Report has

broken big stories and gotten people

fi red, and people oft en leave any room he

enters. But can this new model succeed?

BY PAUL E. KANDARIAN / PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAT O’CONNOR

RHODE ISLAND MONTHLY l APRIL 2011 59


In Jim Hummel’s world, there are

two ways to do things: the easy way

and the hard way. Either works fi ne for

Hummel. Just so long as he gets the story.

Hummel spent thirteen years as a Providence

Journal reporter, and another thirteen

as an investigative reporter for Channel 6

doing, among other things, “You Paid For

It” segments. Now he’s on his own with

The Hummel Report, a website devoted to

uncovering government waste and corruption.

The easy way he gets his story: public

employees or elected offi cials come clean

with him. The hard way: he shoves a camera,

mic and evidence in their faces.

He seems to enjoy the latter. “I just had

a question,” Hummel says in a report on a

female worker at Colt State Park living rent

free in a state-owned caretaker’s home.

Her response is a curt “I’m not talking to

you” before she hustles into a nearby car.

The department soon orders back rent

paid and fi ve DEM workers are disciplined.

Or consider The Hummel Report on

conflicts of interest regarding the Block

Island harbormaster. He asks the town

manager about it and she politely says, “It’s

nothing I want to talk about on camera

because it involves a personnel issue.”

The harbormaster resigns several

months later.

In another, Hummel breaks a story about

Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau

getting a free furnace for his house from a

contractor who does business with the city.

He tries the hard way by ambushing the

mayor at his car, but Moreau quickly pulls

away. But later, the guy relents and they do

it the easy way, in a taped sit-down interview.

When our intrepid reporter asks about

the furnace, Moreau says he paid the contractor

$4,000 — in cash.

“Paid him cash,” Hummel intones, a bit surprised.

“Do you usually pay people in cash?”

60 RHODE ISLAND MONTHLY l APRIL 2011

“Well,” Moreau answers, “the guy did

the job, that’s what I paid him.”

A state-ordered receiver later demotes

Moreau to an advisory position, taking

over his duties. The Rhode Island Ethics

Commission launches an investigation into

the furnace issue, and the FBI and state

police start probing corruption in Moreau’s

administration. The Providence Journal

and TV stations report on it, citing The

Hummel Report.

The easy way or the hard way, Hummel

appears to be getting results. And that’s his

bottom line.

“I realize not every story has an impact,”

Hummel says of the at least once-weekly, sixminute

stories he’s done since founding the

Report in October 2009. “But we’re at the

point now that when we report something,

people pay attention. It’s gratifying.”

T

he Hummel Report, a business

awaiting non-profi t certifi cation,

is actually a three-pronged reporting

endeavor. Hummel also does shorter versions

of the report on WPRO radio and longer

written ones for Motif magazine. It came into

being after Hummel left Channel 6.

His departure was prompted after Global

Broadcasting bought the station and

immediately hired former Providence mayor

and convicted felon Buddy Cianci to do his

own show.

“They needed to make money and took

the sensational route,” Hummel says, his

voice more than a little tinged with a note

of disgust.

He’d always been proud of the product

that Channel 6 turned out, a third-ranked

station that Hummel says “was not third

rate.” But after that, sensationalism led to

iffy stories, he says, including one he claims

was basically fabricated.

For a guy devoted to uncovering lies, it

was too much.

“I didn’t know what to do and my wife,

Wendy, said, ‘If you stay, they’ll drag you

down,’ ” Hummel says. “I had twins, I was

married, I had a mortgage, but I said, ‘I’m

getting out.’ ”

He talked to the station general manager

and told him he was leaving. When, the

manager asked. “When this meeting is

over,” Hummel said.

He had a three-month non-compete contract

and figured he’d have ninety days to

enjoy boating in Barrington, where he lives.

Three months turned into nearly a year

and a half.

“It was September 2008, an economic

meltdown,” he says. “I could have been

Edward R. Murrow himself and not gotten

hired by anyone.”

To avoid the appearance of being fi red

by the station, Hummel followed the advice

of friend Dante Bellini, vice president of

Providence communications agency RDW

Group, and notifi ed local TV and radio to

say why he left. Then he began to think

about how to stay in the business, feed his

family and do what he loved.

“Dante and I had lunch in March 2009

and he texted me later and said, ‘I got it. Do

what you do on the Internet. ’ ”

Hummel got together with Bill Felkner,

founder of the non-profi t watchdog agency

Ocean State Policy Research Institute. A

partnership was struck; The Hummel

Report’s website has a database of public

information and documents maintained

and provided by OSPRI.

Hummel needed cash to kick off the

venture, and turned to Cranston businessmen

John Hazen White Jr., and Alan

Hassenfeld, former leader of Hasbro. Hassenfeld

found donors and White kicked in

$30,000 seed money.

Hummel was up and running. The

first report was October 2009, about a


Woonsocket cop on disability for thirteen years, costing

the city more than a million bucks.

“I think it took a lot of balls to do what Jim did,”

Bellini says. “I told him that in my opinion, there was

a great opportunity to fi ll something missing in the

marketplace, to bring to bear his writing and investigative

talents, but package it as TV on the Internet

and radio.

“He’s done a really good job, he has a unique, oldschool

style,” Bellini says. “Is he always 100 percent?

No. But he’s right more than he’s wrong, and that’s half

the battle.”

The Hummel Report relies on public support, in part

through The Hummel Club, which people can join for

$96 annually and get exclusive access to production

notes, early-story notifi cations, bloopers and Hummel

Tweets. It also takes outright donations, giving rise to

objectivity questions.

“We do not take donations from elected offi cials

and I really don’t know who donates — Felkner

handles it,” Hummel says. “I don’t want to be concerned

about who we’re doing stories on. I’ve had politicians

and retired politicians wanting to donate and we’ve

said no.”

“The most important thing I told Jim is I do this with

no strings attached,” Hassenfeld says. “You have a job

to do and we have to make sure there’s separation. If

you want to do a story that says I have two left feet, you

do it. I want him to be independent and not beholden

to anyone, not that he ever would be.”

“Absolutely none,” Felkner says about any infl uence

he or others have on Hummel’s work. “I usually get

“ Apparently, I assaulted

him with the First

Amendment.”

notice on Tuesday about what he’s doing (new reports

air Thursdays). There’s been concern about him hooking

up with a guy who runs a think tank, but we made it

clear, we’ll help his site but have nothing to do with

his stories.”

Understandably, not everyone loves Hummel, including

former North Kingstown School Department

Superintendent James Halley. When doing “You Paid

For It,” Hummel found the school department used

$10,000 of special education money to fund an administrative

retreat for school offi cials that bought steak,

lobster and booze. The Department of Education

launched a probe and found the district guilty of misspending

nearly a quarter of a million dollars, effectively

forcing Halley’s buyout by the school board. The report

won Hummel an Edward R. Murrow Award.

When confronting Halley one night, Hummel shoved

his foot in a door to keep Halley from slamming it in

his face. Halley claimed Hummel hit him and fi led a

report with police that was never substantiated.

Jim Hummel covers his own perspective on things.

I wonder why you’re highlighting him,” Halley says.

When asked if the report was inaccurate, he answers,

“Yes.”

“Basically he’s a yellow journalist, a muckraker,”

Halley says calmly. “He reports parts of things in ways

that push his agenda. He smeared me and slandered me.

I was a public offi cial, so there was nothing I could do.”

Did he sue Hummel — who claims he’s never been sued?

Halley says, “No.”

Halley says Hummel “jumped in front of me and asked

me to answer questions, and I | | CONTINUED ON PAGE 85

RHODE ISLAND MONTHLY l APRIL 2011 61


You Don’t Mess Around With Jim

| | CONTINUED FROM PAGE 61

said no, so he put his foot in the door,”

which led to the assault allegation that

police never pushed.

“Apparently, I assaulted him with the

First Amendment,” Hummel says in

response.

T

his may shock those who think

Hummel knows so much about

Rhode Island, he must be a

native. He’s not, but he came here as a

toddler in 1965. Born in LaGrange, Illinois,

outside Chicago, Hummel moved to

Barrington with his parents, both now

deceased. His father, Charles E. Hummel,

was working with the InterVarsity

Christian Fellowship at the former Barrington

College. He’s lived in town ever

since, save for attending high

school in Grafton, Massachusetts,

when his dad took a job

there, and then the University

of North Carolina. He returned

to Barrington in 1986. He never

left again.

In high school, a teacher said

the affable student was a good

writer and a people person and

should pursue journalism. He

did, at UNC, where he majored

in that and political science. He

was elected editor-in-chief of

The Daily Tar Heel, the university

paper. But his greatest

teacher was at home.

“My dad was a great writer,

he was drilled in fundamentals

and loved the craft of writing,”

Hummel says of the man who

wrote The Galileo Connection, a 1986 book

linking science and Christianity. “He would

gather up my school newspapers in his

travels and grade them. His lesson was

you’re always learning and if the day comes

you think you’re God’s gift to writing, that’s

the day you hang it up.”

Hummel applied to the Providence

Journal. The day after he was elected editor-in-chief

at UNC and had been up all

night celebrating, the paper offered him

a summer internship.

“I was all croaky,” Hummel says with

a laugh. “They probably thought ‘Is this

the guy we want to hire?’ ”

After graduating, he came back and

started his career at the ProJo.

“I covered every meeting in the state,

I learned the nuts and bolts of reporting,

I learned budgets, government,” he says.

“I got a four-year head start at UNC, but

more than anything, I really learned at

the Journal.”

He left in 1995 to take the Channel 6

job, which was risky, since “people said I

could eventually retire at the Journal. I

said that’s why I’m leaving. I don’t want

to be covering the Warwick City Council

in thirty years.”

He became a TV reporter and landed

the “You Paid For It” gig, which had been

dormant for years. Elwin Hart, then news

director, gave the assignment to Hummel

with orders that he take his time, uncover

meaty stories and not worry about how

often he could produce them as long as

they had heft.

“ He’s the envy

of local media.

We’re lucky to have

someone like

him. He breaks

news and

others follow.”

Hummel’s a long way from his old

Barrington stomping grounds, including

Barrington Middle School, which he

attended and where his kids go now. He

marvels at all the houses built around it

since his time there. Which raises the

question: If Barrington wrongdoing came

up, what would he do?

“I don’t like doing stories in my own

backyard, but if it’s juicy, we won’t ignore

it,” he says. “I’m not seeking it out, and if

it’s a real conflict, I wouldn’t do it. The

fl ip side is the subject will be my wife’s

second cousin’s father in law. Rhode

Island is pretty small.”

Hummel and I drive past the house of his

youth near the Carmelite Monastery. >>

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As a kid, he got a kick out of seeing nuns,

in full habit, on Barrington Beach, sometimes

near pot-smoking college students.

His neighborhood is the source of many

warm childhood memories, most notably

boating with his dad; one of Hummel’s

proudest possessions is a photo on the wall

in his basement work space of the two of

them on their Pearson 26. Hummel has

the boat now and sails with his family.

“My dad was a school administrator

in the sixties — hard times, lots of stress.

The boat was his escape,” Hummel says.

“I guess it’s mine, too.”

Hummel could have tried a career

move to Boston or New York, but stuck

to Rhode Island to raise his twins, Alexandra

and Cameron, now thirteen, with

his wife. His schedule allows him to make

their sporting events, see them off to

school in the morning and just be there

when they need him.

“When I was young, I said, ‘I’ll never

sell my motorcycle, never go to Disney,

and never have a minivan,’ ” he says with

a laugh as he tools around in his Toyota

Camry with a keychain bearing his kids’

photo. Wendy, who works in the radiology

department at Rhode Island Hospital,

has the minivan.

“Well,” he adds, “we had kids, and that

all fell like dominoes.”

Hummel’s visual fear factor

is pretty low. He’s slender,

not terribly tall, and unassuming

looking with a cherubic, ruddy

face that belies his fi fty-one years. He

played hoops at Barrington Middle,

mentored by math teacher and coach

Scott Telford, now admissions director

at St. Andrews.

“We used to call him Opie,” Telford

says, referring to redheaded Ron Howard’s

character from the old Andy Griffi th

show. “He had the same characteristics,

bubbly personality.”

Hummel still has the red hair, albeit with

a bald patch atop and, according to Telford,

hasn’t changed much otherwise.

“He’s an undying optimist,” Telford

says. “I remember him as an investigative

reporter and thinking that fit his

personality. He was going after unscrupulous

people, but he’s more than upbeat

about it.”

He’s the last guy you’d think you

should be afraid of. But if you’ve done


something wrong, or if Hummel thinks

you have, be afraid — particularly if

he’s holding a mic and accompanied by

long-time friend and videographer

Mike Rossi, who freelances for Hummel

now after working with him at

Channel 6.

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done,

but a lot of times just seeing Jim scares

people,” Rossi says. “They look, say ‘oh,

shit,’ and they’re gone. I’m not kidding.”

At the Seaplane Diner on Allens

Avenue, where Hummel and Rossi stop

for coffee one morning — without

camera or microphone — three city

employees had just gotten their breakfast.

One was about to take a bite, saw

Hummel, then got up, tossed money on

the table and left.

“The eggs were still hot,” Rossi says.

“The guy probably didn’t do anything

wrong. But that’s a burden for Hummel.

People pass judgment and don’t know

him. They know what they see on TV and

think maybe he’s coming after them.”

Hummel’s mantra, Rossi says, “is if you

didn’t do anything wrong, you’ve nothing

to worry about. But if you did…”

Hummel is noted for ambushing subjects,

but in reality, he says, he does

so maybe two times out of every ten

stories — only when the facts are on his

side and he knows his victim will try

lying his way out of it. The camera catches

it all, every wince, every nervous look,

every eye twitch. It makes for good video,

and Hummel uses it.

“I realize I sometimes create that

tension,” says Hummel. It means he

sometimes gets shoved or even swung at,

but he takes it in unapologetic stride. “I

chalk it up to the nature of what I do.”

His on-air demeanor is strong, more

methodical, slow, as when he appears on

radio WPRO with John DePetro. Between

live broadcasts, DePetro lauds Hummel,

whom he had on daily when Hummel was

reporting non-stop on Operation Plunderdome,

the scandal that landed Cianci

in prison.

Hummel’s doing a great job, he’s the

envy of local media,” DePetro says in a

break. “We’re lucky to have someone like

him; he’s someone usually found in a

much larger market. He breaks news and

others follow.”

These are not good times for the

media. Print journalism is viewed as a

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88 RHODE ISLAND MONTHLY l APRIL 2011

communication dinosaur, and TV news

departments are greatly reduced, leaving

fewer reporters to air shorter, less

substantive stories. Hummel hopes to

ride the Internet wave to a long-lasting

career doing what he loves.

What he’s doing is unusual, says

Jim Taricani, long-time reporter for

WJAR-TV, where Hummel had applied

after leaving Channel 6 but found

no work.

“It’s a really interesting model, and

Jim’s the fi rst one to do it around here,”

Taricani says. “This way of doing

investigative reporting outside a mainstream,

traditional news organization is

interesting and, for the most part, he’s

made it work.”

Taricani, himself an award-winning

investigative reporter, realizes Hummel’s

connection to OSPRI raises objectivity

questions but says, “There’s no evidence

that Jim’s their messenger boy. He’s a

professional, he wouldn’t do anything to

ruin his reputation.”

In short, Taricani says, “Jim has broken

good stories, he does good journalism.

In the long run, we might see more of

this than less.” The industry is changing,

he adds. People like Tim White, Channel

12’s investigative reporter, and

Taricani may be out of a network job at

some point. “I don’t know how long it’ll

last. And the public still likes investigative

reporting.”

At a Rehoboth selectmen’s

meeting one night Hummel

is doing a story, one

that would later scorch WPRO’s airwaves,

about a local official who was

allegedly found curled up one night in

someone’s driveway in East Providence

after attending a nearby function — apparently

addled by a combination of

drink and a prescription painkiller

he’d taken earlier. Hummel talks to

one selectman, trying to get answers,

microphone in his face, Rossi leaning

in with the camera.

Later another selectman, friendly

to Hummel, at least on the surface,

tells him, “There’s a lot going on in

this town, but I just can’t talk about it

right now.”

That doesn’t matter to Hummel. The

easy way or the hard way, you get the

feeling he’s going to fi nd out. apple

Copyright 2011 Rhode Island Monthly Communications, Inc

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