Listen to my latest appearance on John's show, where I have been a guest several times. Thanks again, John! 'Til next time.
Listen to my latest appearance on John's show, where I have been a guest several times. Thanks again, John! 'Til next time.
One year ago today, I left The Providence Journal, where I had been a staff writer since 1981. I soon transitioned into the director of OceanStateStories.org, a new non-profit media outlet based at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center, where I had been a visiting fellow for several years.
|Last day at The Providence Journal: Nov. 4, 2022.|
After weeks of planning with Ocean State Stories co-founder
Jim Ludes, Pell Center executive director, and a great staff at Pell, we launched
Ocean State Stories on Feb. 7. Since then, we have published at least one major story and one Q&A every week – 40 weeks without interruption as of this
|Jim Ludes, left, and me at my Pell Center desk.|
We have formed partnerships with print newspapers – notably John Howell’s Warwick Beacon, Cranston Herald and Johnston SunRise – and partnerships with other online media outlets including ecoRI News, RINewsToday and East Greenwich News. We offer all of our content for free to our partners, and they in turn offer theirs for free to us.
We publish every story and Q&A in both English and Spanish. I write many of our stories, with the rest provided by a growing corps of freelance writers – some well-established and others still journalism students in college. We pay for their work and I mentor the students and other young freelancers.
To see the types of stories we write, visit our mission page.
Along the way, we have become members of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Online News Association, the New England First Amendment Coalition, the Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets (ANNO), and LION Publishers (Local, Independent, Online News).
All of this is possible thanks to the support of generous individuals and organizations who see our model – one similar to many others across the U.S. – as a big part of the future of news in an era when many legacy newspapers have disappeared and others, barely staffed, have become ghost papers. Our gratitude to all of our supporters today and in the future.
Our plan for Year Two is to grow – stay tuned for details of that!
I also must mention another initiative based at the Pell Center: Story in the Public Square, the multiple Telly-winning national PBS TV and SiriusXM show that has just been renewed for a 12th season. It starts in January. Since beginning weekly production in January 2017 as a show seen only regionally on our flagship station, Rhode Island PBS, we now are in more than 86% of the nation’s television markets with nearly 500 weekly broadcasts nationally – and we have taped more than 300 guests, including journalists, filmmakers, editorial cartoonists, scientists, musicians, advocates, bestselling fiction and non-fiction authors, poets, academics, still photographers, physicians, public health experts, actors, and Pulitzer-Prize winners.
A shout-out to our great team at Rhode Island PBS, led by Chief Content Officer Jan Boyd and Production Manager Cherie O’Rourke!
In closing, let me express my hope that in all the work that flows from the Pell Center, we have helped advance the public good. That was the aim of the late Senator Claiborne Pell, for whom the center is named, and it’s ours, too.
I will be speaking and signing copies of “Unfit to Print: A Modern Media Satire” on just four occasions. First will be the evening of Wednesday, October 11, at a free wine-and-cheese event at the Pell Center in Newport, R.I. Sign up here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/unfit-to-print-tickets-699816248237?aff=affiliate1
After that, I will sign at three geographically diverse independent bookstores that I support and encourage all readers to do likewise!
The bookstores and dates:
-- Thursday, October 26, 6 p.m., Books on the Square in Providence.
-- Saturday, October 28, 3 p.m., Barrington Books in Barrington.
-- Thursday, November 2, 6 p.m., the New Stillwater Books location in West Warwick.
And the reviews of "Unfit" are here!
-- Kirkus Reviews
"In Miller’s satirical novel, a failing columnist at an imperiled newspaper gets unexpected help in resurrecting his career.
"In director Billy Wilder’s searing film Ace in the Hole (1951), a disgraced journalist lands a job on a small Albuquerque, New Mexico, newspaper and waits for a story he can hype that will return him to the big time. Here, Nick Nolan, a former Pulitzer Prize–nominated social justice columnist for the Boston Daily Tribune, has only one month—12 columns—to turn his click total around, or the bean counters at SuperGoodMedia who just bought the centuries-old paper will banish him to the suburban beat. His fortunes change when he writes a column about Amber Abbott, an 8-year-old in a persistent vegetative state, whose mother—Nolan’s former lover—claims that the Virgin Mary speaks to her daughter. The story goes viral, attracting thousands of new subscribers, and the paper’s new publisher demands that Nick stay on top of the story. As the new owners institute rules promoting “good news,” Nick finds himself in thrall to the clicks his story generates—until he meets Benjamin Franklin in a diner. Yes, it’s the historical Benjamin Franklin, who offers his help. “You’ve hit a low point,” he says, adding, “I am here to help you and hopefully others in a profession that was so dear to me.”
"While reader mileage will vary on the introduction of this fantastical element, the author’s anger at the state of journalism is palpable and will speak to readers who, like Nick, see Seymour Hersh and Maggie Haberman as heroes. Satire is heightened reality, but this book too often reads like grim nonfiction, with its click-bait headlines (“She Hid Under the Bed To Spy on Her Husband but Instantly Regretted It”) and odious hedge funds buying up community newspapers, only to decimate these former pillars of the community. Still, Miller is fighting the good fight, and unlike Ace in the Hole, his tale offers a sense of hope.
"A novel that illuminates what the author calls 'a sickening reality' but could use more dark humor."
--Sandeep Jauhar, New York Times bestselling author of My Father’s Brain:
"G. Wayne Miller’s 'Unfit to Print' is a scathing satire about how greed and profiteering have led to the demise of American newspapers. Read this irreverent novel to understand what’s wrong with journalism today."
-- Berkley Hudson, a journalist for 25 years including at the Providence Journal and the Los Angeles Times; author of O.N. Pruitt’s Possum Town: Photographing Trouble and Resilience in the American South; and emeritus associate professor of the Missouri School of Journalism:
“Read All About It! Ben Franklin Dreamscape Reveals Cures for What Ails American Newspapers! G. Wayne Miller’s ‘Unfit To Print: A Modern Media Satire’ creates wacky caricatures in a layered, funny and painful world of journalistic horrors and fiddle faddle, tempered by examples of bold investigative reporting. Miller entices us to grapple with crucial 21st Century issues of a free press, democracy, and the public’s need and right to know the stories essential to our common well-being and, perhaps, even our survival.”
-- Padma Venkatraman, award-winning author of The Bridge Home and Born Behind Bars:
“Unfit to Print is easily the best Miller book so far -- and I've read more than a few of this author's works. I truly enjoyed this engaging and entertaining satirical story, which like all important satires is also a terrifying and tragic commentary on our current media culture and politics.
"Underlying the sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic plot are two vital questions: what is considered ‘news’ today and how do we distinguish fact from propaganda? Written by a dedicated leader in the field of news media -- a journalist for four decades, most as a newspaper staff writer -- and a prolific storyteller who has experimented with many different genres, Unfit to Print is a work of fiction built on a substantial foundation of fact.
"This book will make you laugh, and think, and perhaps, spur you to act to save and enhance the quality of local journalism.’’
--Vanessa Lillie, bestselling author of Little Voices and Blood Sisters:
"Do not miss Unfit to Print by G. Wayne Miller where he turns his expert journalistic pen toward the Fourth Estate and provides an unflinching, deeply entertaining, and often satirical take on our modern media."
-- William J. Kole, longtime AP foreign correspondent and author of THE BIG 100: The New World of Super-Aging:
"America's newspapers are in a mess of their own making so preposterous it falls under the broad heading of 'Can't make this sh*t up.' How fitting, then, that G. Wayne Miller's UNFIT TO PRINT is such a deliciously farcical take. Miller's ingenious 21st book deserves a 21-gun salute."
|William J. Kole|
-- Chip Scanlan, award-winning journalist, former director of The Poynter Institute’s writing programs and the National Writer’s Workshops, and author of of “33 Ways Not To Screw Up Your Journalism” and other books:
"In 'Unfit to Print,' G. Wayne Miller delivers a biting satire of our contemporary newspaper industry, unraveling the media frenzies that have come to define our age. Artfully holding up a mirror to its flaws, contradictions, and unexpected hilarities, Miller's critique is trenchant, wittily inventive, and irresistible. This is more than just a satire—it's a clarion call for introspection amidst the chaos of headlines.”
-- Mark Thompson, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and former Time magazine correspondent:
“EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL OF IT! Veteran newspaper reporter and columnist Wayne Miller has hunt-and-pecked at the carcass of the American newspaper industry in his bittersweet romp. This novel will send shivers of schadenfreude and sorrow through any ink-stained wretch or newspaper reader, past or present. Not to mention those concerned with the need to keep tabs on the current crop of miscreants and scoundrels overlording America — as well as those ‘reporting’ on them. Read it and weep, despite the laughs.”
-- Dante Bellini Jr., filmmaker whose credits include Ken Burns Here & There and Demons and Dragans: Mark Patinkin’s Cancer Journey:
“ ‘Unfit to Print’ is an outrageous spin on the newspaper industry right now. Maybe the whole media ecosystem, actually.
“G. Wayne Miller gives us a front row seat in what appears, at first glance, a farce. Then you realize, it’s actually not. And that’s both the joy and horror of this brilliant novel.
“The characters are richly drawn from Miller’s long, distinguished career as a newspaper reporter and that makes all the difference. He intimately knows their dreams, joys and sorrows. And their strengths and inadequacies.
“And he knows the pain and frustration when the bean counters and MBAs start calling the plays.
“Unfit to Print is a cautionary tale that we may already be too late to learn from. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun to read!”
|Dante Bellini Jr.|
-- Mike Stanton, New York Times bestselling author and University of Connecticut Journalism professor:
"G. Wayne Miller’s wickedly fun skewering of vulture capitalists and clickbait grifters paints a darkly satiric picture of the decline of journalism. But he also pens a love letter to American journalism and offers a road map for restoring local news – and our democracy."
-- Mark Silverman, retired editor and publisher of The Detroit News, former editor of The Tennessean at Nashville, and a former corporate news executive:
"In 'Unfit to Print,' award-winning journalist G. Wayne Miller uses satire to show the real-life damage to local communities caused by profit-obsessed companies that decimate newsrooms and reduce newspapers to bare shells of themselves, filled with pap and lacking substance. His fiction resonates in today’s world where democracy is challenged by an absence of crusading and honest local journalism."
" ‘Unfit to Print’ is a witty, zany and outrageously effective take on the state of print journalism today. G. Wayne Miller's latest plants him squarely in the turf of fellow newspaper men Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry for whom no topic is too sacred to skewer. Miller writes what he knows in penning a tale that's one part cautionary tale and two parts laugh out loud, sidesplitting fun."
-- Tom Nichols, author and Staff Writer at The Atlantic:
"Unfit to Print is a story that will stay with you, much as Ben Franklin's ghost gleefully haunts its hero. Only a real, old-time newspaper reporter could give us a satire - and a parable- about the demise of old-time newspapers and the damage their vanishing has done to American life. Wayne Miller is that reporter."
-- Llewellyn King, Executive Producer and Host of "White House Chronicle" on PBS:
“I have long admired G. Wayne Miller's writing. Now he has written a book, ‘Unfit to Print: A Modern Media Satire,’ that seems almost written just for me. It deals with the decline and fall of regional and local newspapers: how, as they were bleeding to death, hedge funds swept in and stripped what was left, firing staff and producing pamphlets in the place of newspapers. Miller knows this too well from his own experience.
“But Miller is a storyteller as well as a witness to history. So here he delivers a fantastical satire, bringing in, via the dreams of the protagonist, none other than Benjamin Franklin to excoriate the money people and to lament the damage their greed has done to democracy.
“This is a must-read for newspaper people and an engrossing yarn for everyone else -- those luckless ones who have never stepped into a busy newsroom and savored its intoxication.
“As to the message, it might have been called ‘Unsafe to Ignore.’ ”
Originally published in The Providence Journal, when I was a staff writer.
EXETER — The last lunch had ended when five residents of the Ladd Center, the state’s lone institution for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, were escorted into a van. The driver took them off into the brightness of a pleasant spring day.
It was March 25, 1994.
After nine decades that began with compassion but included years of the worst neglect and abuse ever for many of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable residents, Ladd was closed.
“The beast is dead,” said Robert L. Carl Jr., the administrator who played a leading role in making Rhode Island the first state to shutter such a place. “Nazi Germany killed these people. Rhode Island made a commitment to treat them with dignity and respect. Nobody will ever be able to throw away a human being again.”
A community system years in planning had brought people then described as “retarded” out of back wards in buildings that resembled warehouses into the everyday world that most Rhode Islanders inhabited. Into the light, too, had come other individuals from private residences where families struggled with care and suffocated under the crush of stigma and shame.
The beast really was dead, Carl recalled when The Journal visited him at his Jamestown home recently. A new day really had dawned.
“Nobody had ever set up a policy that said, ‘We're not going to institutionalize; we're going to take care of everybody in the community,’” Carl said. “Nobody. Nobody had ever tried to do that in the country, in the world.”
With the aid of an attendant, two of the last five residents of the Ladd Center, Raymond Guarnieri, left, and Anthony Stanton, eat before leaving for a group home on March 25, 1994, the day Ladd closed its doors. [The Providence Journal, file / Kathy Borchers]
Ironically, in light of what would follow, humane care was the philosophy behind the General Assembly’s 1907 decision to establish a safe place for individuals deemed unable to care for themselves. At the time, many had been locked away in attics or basements, or were homeless, or incarcerated at the state poorhouse at the Howard complex in Cranston, where Eleanor Slater Hospital and the Adult Correctional Institutions stand today. There, they were further victimized.
“For a long time it had been apparent to educators and officials of the State, the conduct of whose offices brought them into contact with the defective, dependent and delinquent classes, that there was a great need of an institution in Rhode Island where boys and girls, or even young men and young women, who were classed under the general head of ‘feeble-minded’ could be cared for, properly trained and instructed, and in the end made as far as possible self-supporting …” The Journal wrote on Feb. 2, 1908, the day after Ladd opened.
Set in one building on the Hoxsie Farm, which had acres of land for future expansion, the center was called the state School for the Feeble-Minded. Its first superintendent was the young Dr. Joseph H. Ladd, who came to Rhode Island from Massachusetts.
The Ladd School, as it was later renamed, did provide sanctuary, for a time. It also served an ugly, if not officially proclaimed, purpose: it prevented its residents from marrying and having children, in accord with the national eugenics movement, which supported laws and policies aimed at preventing people judged “inferior” from reproducing, a policy implemented by Hitler. In other states, developmentally disabled women were forcibly sterilized, but Rhode Island had no such law and there is no confirmed record of it happening, according to University of Vermont Prof. Lutz Kaelber, a scholar who has researched eugenics and Nazi killings of disabled children.
By the 1950s, Ladd’s turn-of-the-century promise of safety and care had devolved into purgatory — almost literally, as a shocking photo exposé would demonstrate.
Residents of what was then known as the Exeter School go on a walk for exercise in 1941. [The Providence Journal, files]
Ladd Center residents in 1977. Deplorable conditions in the 1970s at the state-run facility prompted legal action and advocacy that eventually led to its closure. [The Providence Journal, files]
By 1956, when The Journal published the first investigation of deplorable conditions at Ladd, the old Hoxsie Farm was a sprawling complex of overcrowded red-brick buildings where lives had been swallowed, its residents’ identities often erased. Tangible evidence of that can be found at Ladd’s forgotten cemetery, where small tombstones contain only serial numbers, no names or dates of birth or death. So, too, at the potter’s field for the nameless deceased from another now-closed Rhode Island institution for the mentally ill, the Institute of Mental Health.
In their March 1956 investigation, “The Forgotten Two Per Cent,” Journal writers Selig Greenberg and George F. Troy Jr. chronicled horrors that could be traced to the early days of Ladd, when its first superintendent lobbied the General Assembly for increased financial resources — and was met with legislative disinterest, and worse.
“Dr. Ladd recalls that when he appeared before a state budget committee in 1913 to request an appropriation for teachers, he was told bluntly that ‘instead of teachers there should be established an asphyxiation chamber’ at Exeter School,” Greenberg wrote. Nazi Germany, as Carl later noted, did establish them for the developmentally disabled.
Ladd returned to Exeter after his 1913 State House appearance, The Journal wrote, “for a long and lonely siege of waiting and wrestling with inertia and neglect.”
Some progress eventually was made, but by 1956, during an era when Ladd’s population peaked at more than 1,000, The Journal found that “the legacy of gross neglect in the past and continued skimping on appropriations” had created a situation involving “the anguish of blighted lives, of the failure to salvage human material that is not beyond saving — a failure for which no dollar and cent yardstick can ever be devised.”
Remedial efforts led to improvements, but by the late 1970s, Ladd was still more warehouse than home. In the wake of scandals in many states and the landmark 1966 exposé by Burton Blatt, “Christmas in Purgatory,” which included photographs of abused and neglected Ladd residents, a consensus was emerging across the U.S. that institutions had to be closed. Publication in 1972 of Wolf Wolfensberger’s revolutionary “The Principle of Normalization in Human Services” also proved instrumental.
Onto the local scene came James V. Healey, an advocate behind a 1978 federal class-action human-rights lawsuit against the state; Ladd superintendent George W. Gunther Jr., father of a woman who lived at the center; and Carl. Gunther and Carl worked for the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals (now the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals), headed by Joseph J. Bevilacqua and his successor, Thomas D. Romeo.
The first steps in building a community system were taken, with the support of Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy and the General Assembly, where Rep. Paul V. Sherlock championed people with developmental disabilities. Time and again, voters approved bond issues to build community homes and programs.
The movement received a significant boost with publication of “The Ladd School,” a 1977 Journal series by staff writers Peter Perl, Bruce DeSilva and Thomas E. Walsh. The series documented “serious deficiencies in medical and dental services, inadequate staffing and poor training, overcrowding in some wards within the institution, improper medication, poor sanitation and physical plant,” among other conditions. Some buildings were deemed fire traps.
“A Ladd School physician has been fired for allegedly stitching wounds of two medical patients without using an anesthetic,” was but one result of the investigation.
Convinced that the very existence of Ladd was intolerable, Gov. Edward DiPrete, who followed Garrahy in office, announced in 1986 that the institution would close.
The beast is dead — but the model community system of the 1990s that replaced Ladd is inadequate a quarter of a century later, as a Journal investigation three years ago documented. Joseph Ladd’s “waiting and wrestling with inertia and neglect” are words that ring true today, albeit within a different context.
Anthony A. Antosh, director of Rhode Island College’s Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities, and state Sen. Louis DiPalma, a champion for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities who describes his ambition as being “a voice for the voiceless,” are among those leading the campaign for change.
Both praise Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals Director Rebecca Boss and her staff for their efforts in addressing the 2014 federal Department of Justice consent decree requiring Rhode Island to more thoroughly integrate individuals into the community and away from the post-Ladd model of sheltered workshops and other isolated settings. But both assert that the system remains underfunded and stuck in policies and a philosophy from an earlier century.
Antosh supports moving away from old-fashioned “person-centered planning” toward “person-centered thinking,” which he defines as ways to allow people with developmental or intellectual disabilities to have the same choices and chances that anyone has. One’s life is not fulfilled when only employment and housing needs are met, Antosh says.
He summarizes the new approach as “three big concepts.”
First, he said, is, “The person ought to be much more in charge of their own life than they now are.
“Two, think about all of life, not just work,” he said. Entertainment, recreation and relationships fit that category.
“Three, because there's so much of life that should be spent in the community doing all of those things, we need to think about how we engage the community in a very different way than we currently do," Antosh said.
A decaying building is one of the few remnants of the Ladd Center, in Exeter, which formerly housed Rhode Islanders with developmental and intellectual disabilities. [The Providence Journal / Sandor Bodo]
A key to getting there, says DiPalma, is work by the General Assembly’s Project Sustainability Commission, which he chairs. Antosh belongs, as do Boss, state Medicaid director Patrick Tigue, and other government and private officials involved with the developmentally disabled.
“The system at a macro level needs to radically change from what we're doing today,” DiPalma says. “We can't look at this from the perspective of pruning the tree.”
“In the institution days, the institution was totally in control of every minute of a person’s life,” Antosh says. “As we have gravitated toward more community services, the service provider is still largely in control of major portions of the person’s life. The revolution to me is to put the person and their family or their immediate contacts — whoever are their primary people in their lives — more in control.”
Jimmy Isom, who was born in Cranston in 1946, was sent to Ladd at the age of 6. He stayed 22 years. Retired now and living in an apartment in North Providence, he enjoyed a long career working for Stop & Shop and other grocers after leaving Ladd.
“I thought I’d never get out,” he recalled of his decades in Exeter in a recent interview. “It was no good. It was like getting locked up, almost like a prison.”
Isom is one of the former Ladd residents who is featured in the upcoming documentary “Best Judgment: Ladd School Lessons,” directed by filmmaker Jim Wolpaw.
“I’m glad I got out of Ladd School,” he says. “I don’t want to go back.”
A resident in her room at the Ladd Center in 1977. [The Providence Journal / Anestis Diakopoulos]
One 'beast' slain, but barriers remain for those with disabilities
After bearing witness to the Ladd Center's final years, writer G. Wayne Miller reflects on how treatment has evolved for those living with mental and developmental disabilities.
BY G. WAYNE MILLER
EXETER — It is rare to have a front-row seat to history, but I had one 25 years ago Monday, when the last residents left the Ladd Center and it closed for good. Rhode Island was the first state to no longer have a public institution for the developmentally and intellectually disabled, and watching those five men ride off to a better life gave us the chills.
“Us” was me; the late James V. Healey, an advocate who never accepted no for an answer; George W. Gunther Jr., father of a daughter with special needs who became Ladd superintendent vowing to one day shutter the place; and Robert L. Carl Jr., the colorful state official whose nickname, “Wolfman,” ostensibly was for his resemblance to the legendary DJ but really spoke to an almost supernatural ability to get things done. Good things, in Carl’s case.
When the van carrying the final five had disappeared into the real world — never again to be chained to their beds, have their teeth drilled without anesthetic, or be hosed down naked en masse in what purportedly constituted bathing — we gathered in Gunther’s office.
“The beast is dead,” Carl said.
I can still hear him — still remember the look on his face, a mix of elation and fatigue — for the road to March 25, 1994, had been long and hard. In my four decades as a journalist, those four words remain my favorite quote.
Together with the efforts of Carl, Healey, Gunther and many others, Providence Journal exposés of Ladd’s barbarism starting in the 1950s had played a role in killing the beast. Thanks to retired Journal editor Joel P. Rawson, who assigned me to a beat that also included the now-closed state Institute of Mental Health, another place of shame, I had covered Ladd since 1983.
By then, the age of abuse was ending.
But I had come to know that story well, from newspaper clippings and lawsuits and many hours spent with Healey and the boss of Gunther and Carl: Thomas D. Romeo, director of the state Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, now the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.
And also, of course, the hundreds of hours I spent getting to know Ladd people and former residents who had moved into the community.
My first experiences came during the year-long reporting behind my six-part series “Building new lives: A revolution in care — How Rhode Island became a leader in moving mentally ill, retarded out of state hospitals and back into the real world,” which began on Nov. 25, 1984.
Many more stories followed as the Ladd population dwindled and the community system grew. In 1990, four years after Gov. Edward DiPrete had announced that Ladd would close, I lived for a week in one of Ladd’s remaining residences to write the July 19, 1990, piece “Lorraine's world: As Ladd Center prepares to close, a new day dawns for the profoundly disabled.”
Similarly, as residents of the IMH in Cranston — another place of long-standing abuse and neglect — left for the community, I was allowed to live a week there for a Journal story.
Mental-health and developmental-disability writing had become my journalistic passions; they remain so today. And while one beast is dead, a look around reveals that other beasts are very much alive.
If only Ladd and the IMH had served as true cautionary tales.