Jim Hummel and freelance videographer
Mike Rossi, a fellow Channel 6 alum.
58 RHODE ISLAND MONTHLY l APRIL 2011
You don’t mess around
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
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
The easy way or the hard way, Hummel
appears to be getting results. And that’s his
“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.”
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
“They needed to make money and took
the sensational route,” Hummel says, his
voice more than a little tinged with a note
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
“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 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
“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
“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
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
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,
“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
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
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
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
him. He breaks
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,
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
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
“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
“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
These are not good times for the
media. Print journalism is viewed as a
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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
“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
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
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