The ProJo gives Rawson his due

When I broke the news last month that Joel P. Rawson, the executive editor of the ProJo, is retiring, Jim Romenesko seemed a bit surprised by the lack of an official announcement from the paper. That comes today, in the form of a fitting tribute by G. Wayne Miller, who gives the venerable editor appropriate credit while also offering a full-bodied picture. Particularly good are the details from some of the former ProJo types who have moved on to other places:

“He knew how to instill excitement in the craft of nonfiction writing; how to make what happened in, say, the Lower Arctic section of West Warwick seem as relevant and as dynamic as anything occurring in Manhattan or in Boston,” said Dan Barry, who was a member of The Journal’s 1994 Pulitzer-winning team and is now with The New York Times. “I wrote a magazine piece once, about a particularly troubling arson case in Providence, and he sent me an encouraging note. The note pretty much changed my life.”

Rawson’s signature impact was first felt more than 30 years ago, when he assigned staff writer Bruce Butterfield, who later moved to The Boston Globe, to write “The one defines all the others,” a front-page Sunday feature about Route 95. Published on Aug. 31, 1975, the piece depicted the highway as more of a character –– or characters –– than a ribbon of asphalt.

Rawson recalled asking Butterfield to consider Route 95, which runs the length of the state, as “its own Mississippi River with its own Huck Finn, its own stories.” Readers were intrigued –– if also, perhaps, initially puzzled — by this unconventional approach. “People wondered if I was out of my mind,” Rawson said, “but they liked it.”

In including some bits on Rawson's temper and his early penchant for screaming from desktops in the newsroom, Miller notes:

Outsiders complained that he was inaccessible, and rarely available to comment to other publications that were writing about The Journal.

Hmmm. Might the reference be to the Phoenix, to which Joel has opted not to talk about 98 percent of the time? A few days after my print followup on his impending depature, for example, he did talk with Editor & Publisher.

Anyway, Rawson, whose last day is April 29, remains a stalwart journalist and a true believer, of the good kind. I wish him well. After having had a huge impact for so long, Rawson, or more specifically, his departure, will leave the ProJo a changed institution.

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