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Little rocks, big news: We have liftoff!


Little rocks, big news: We have liftoff!

Mar 15, 2023 | 5:00 am ET
By Janine L. Weisman
Little rocks, big news: We have liftoff!
If a human being can walk on the moon, we can accomplish anything, including delivering high quality journalism to the Ocean State. (Photo by Max Dannenbaum/Getty Images)

I never forgot about those moon rocks. Their existence dropped anchor in my memory after a middle school field trip to the Rhode Island State House. It’s probably because the Apollo 11 mission had been only a dozen years earlier, still providing fresh inspiration for slashing the first two letters off the word impossible. If human beings set foot on the lunar surface, then there was no limit to where they could go.

Clear plastic bubble with five black specks in it on a brown board with little RI flag sayigngHOPE
Five black pebbles collected from the moon are on display at the Statehouse. (Photo by Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)

What did the moon rocks actually look like? All these years later, I couldn’t recall. So I recently went up the State House’s Georgia marble stairs to the second floor library to find them. I walked right by them. Turns out the five black pebbles encased in a plastic bubble on display near the door are easy to miss. They look more like mouse droppings than a symbol of America’s greatness. 

To be honest, the Rhode Island State House feels like another world to me now. A world with fewer reporters in it. 

In the basement, there used to be an office with desks shared by the Associated Press, Newport Daily News, Pawtucket Times and NBC10. I am told it sat unused for a few years until someone brought in copy machines. Now the desks are occupied by State House staff, not journalists.

The AP’s Providence bureau staff had not used the room since at least 2019. My former colleague from The Newport Daily News, Joe Baker, worked in that room from 1990 to 2011, the year the publisher decided to stop spending resources on having a full-time Statehouse reporter. Baker retired in 2016. No one could replace the keen observations and wit of veteran Pawtucket Times political reporter Jim Baron. And after Baron passed away in 2015, no other staffer from the Pawtucket Times took over his beat. NBC 10 political reporter Bill Rappleye, was a fixture in the office until he left the station in 2020 to join Rhode Island PBS. Rappleye passed away in 2021.

Only the Providence Journal maintains a full-time presence with two reporters at the State House with an office right next door to the room other journalists once shared. A few empty desks in the room offer a glimpse of the more robust staffing the newspaper had in the past.

Now, journalists mostly come in our State House to do their reporting and leave to go find a place to write their stories. Starting today, they are being joined by Rhode Island Current staffers. We are the 33rd newsroom to join a network of state capital news outlets under the national nonprofit States Newsroom. The Rhode Island Current will bring you high quality journalism focused on state government and public policy decisions affecting those who call the Ocean State home. 

No matter who you are or what part of the state you live in, you deserve news and insight that will help you make informed decisions that benefit you and your community.

We believe in access. That’s why you won’t find a paywall on stories published on our site, unlike other news outlets.

The Rhode Island Current will make our stories available for free to readers without subscription fees. Our funding comes from generous contributions from foundations and individuals who share our commitment to supporting fact-based, nonpartisan news for the public.

I’m so excited to get to work expanding the news ecosystem of our small state with a stellar three-person reporting team. Joining me are senior reporter Kevin G. Andrade and reporters Nancy Lavin and Christopher Shea. Each one has more resilience than any metamorphic rock from the hills of Georgia.

On display in the State House Library with the moon pebbles is a small Rhode Island state flag. The Apollo 11 crew carried it 239,000 miles to the moon and then 239,000 miles back to Earth. I’ve come a long way too since I became a practicing journalist in the Ocean State over 30 years ago. I’ve had to bear witness to what happens when journalism is co-opted to serve shareholders instead of readers — fewer reporters to roam the halls of the State House, attend town meetings, check police reports and hold those in power accountable.

But I also see public service journalism regaining a solid footing here in the state where I grew up to believe anything is possible. The Rhode Island Current team is honored to be part of this resurgence.