EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Anyone who worked with Sean Daly, and most who happened to be on the opposite side of the microphone from him, could see and hear that he loved his job. But after more than four decades of chasing news and often finding unique angles, perspectives and answers – he’s decided to move on to other ventures.
“Maybe teaching,” he told us recently. “I have plenty left in the tank. I just want to try something else.”
Although Daly is a journalist who could discuss the proper use of single words or short phrases for what must’ve seemed like an eternity to his various producers and editors over the past 42 years, putting his career into words doesn’t quite work. So, we didn’t, as you will see in this collection of what TV folk call ‘moments.’
“Thank you,” he said with a smile after we suggested he helped capture countless of those televised bits and pieces that he molded into daily news, if not Daly news.
“Is the irony lost on anyone in this room that we’re discussing fire safety,” he interjected during a fire code hearing at the statehouse shortly after The Station fire. Daly walked toward the crowd of public officials and business owners, gesturing to a placard on the wall.
“And the sign says not to exceed 35 people?” he asked. There were obviously far more than 35 in the room.
During the recently concluded gubernatorial political season, he chucked a haymaker toward a candidate who was explaining how they would change Rhode Island with their brilliance.
“Why are you any different from anyone else who stood in front of a podium and told us stuff that never happened?” Daly asked. The candidate’s answer was a canned rewind from one of their position papers, but the words didn’t really offer an answer.
“You have to listen,” Daly said, acknowledging that many reporters do not listen. “And you have to follow up. The questions get to the answers.”
Watching him over the years, you could often hear him listening. After one of his questions, there would be a short pause, as he calculated and aimed the follow up.
One example: Following a question about whether an accused employee would keep their job, a spokesperson said the individual would be retained if the investigation determined there was no “adverse impact.”
“Wait a minute,” Daly said. “An adverse impact? That sounds like mumbo jumbo for no, right?”
The man on the other side of slightly tilted microphone almost grinned. “That’s another way of saying it,” he said.
Over a career that touched down in three other states besides Rhode Island, he covered everything you could imagine, from Mardi Gras and hurricanes in New Orleans, to Chicago crime and politics, to those moments in Rhode Island when crime and politics collided. The variety of assignments included a purported sea monster off Aquidneck Island, political shenanigans everywhere, and a violent raid on a Narragansett Indian smoke shop in Charlestown.
“Favorite?” he asked incredulously when we asked if he had a number one moment. “I can’t even remember them all.”
But then he did recall a top spot, recalling a piece about a political heavyweight who applied for the job as Town Manager of little Jamestown.
“It’s actually with former governor Bruce Sundlun,” Daly said, demonstrating for us how the late governor answered a question. “He takes his arm around me and says, ‘Sean, let me tell you about American History’.”
The video from that day about a decade ago matched quite well with Daly’s memory.
“Our charter said the political power shall rest in the people,” explained Sundlun, who was 85 at the time.
“Now, come on,” Daly said. “This is about that? We’re all the way back to the beginning?”
“This is about that.” Sundlun answered before walking away. Daly had his favorite moment.
Daly’s critics sometimes complained he was part commentator at times, something the now-retired television journalist does not deny.
“I think I earned a bit of a license,” he said. “To let the viewer know that I’m right there with you. You’re thinking this is nuts? I’m thinking it’s nuts too. We’re on the nuts page here people.”
Some of that opinion was offered in what are known as “tags” in television, the last thing you hear from a reporter in the field. Daly’s were memorable. When we asked him to write the tag for the story about him, he offered a reference to the relatively new journalism tool – Twitter.
“Hashtag truth,” he said. (Hashtags are used to search for social media posts with common meanings.)
But then he edited himself, asking for a little time to come up with what would probably be his last tag, if not a hashtag. He got back to us the next day.
“The knowledge of a reporter,” he said in that Daly way. “A mile wide, and an inch deep. Until we meet again, Sean Daly, Eyewitness News.”
And that was that. Fourty-two years of chasing, questioning, listening and capturing moments in time, summed up in just over 3 and a half minutes. To be fair, photographer/editor/co-producer John Villella and I did not have access to Daly’s work before he entered this newsroom about a decade ago. But I think if you had never seen Daly’s reporting before, this Street Story gives you a pretty good idea of how he approached his craft.
“I did it for the viewer,” he said.