TERRY COWGILL

It’s not often that a writer gets to celebrate a decade at a first-rate media outlet. In this day and age, with so many newspapers closing and advertising drying up amid the greatest public health crisis in more than 100 years, most working journalists feel lucky to have a gig at all.

My first column here at CTNewsJunkie was the product of having read a story early in 2011 on the website of UConn’s Daily Campus about a wealthy football donor who demanded his $3 million gift be returned because Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway hadn’t adequately consulted him about the hiring of then-Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni. The story has been removed from the Daily Campus website but lives on elsewhere.

As a development professional at the time, I was appalled that a donor would expect such treatment, so I contacted CTNewsJunkie Owner and Editor Christine Stuart. We had a mutual friend in CTNJ founder Dan Levine, whom I had worked with previously at The Lakeville Journal and who now covers the West Coast federal courts for Reuters.

I felt I was well-positioned to add my voice to the UConn donor imbroglio and offered it to Christine. Fortunately, she took me up on it, and it became a regular gig – biweekly at first, then weekly later and back to twice a month in 2017 after my new day job started eating up more of my time. It has been a privilege to work with the talented and hardworking people on the CTNJ team.

Looking back over the hundreds of weeks since January 2011, patterns emerge. Anyone who doesn’t know me would probably think I should be in rehab by now. After all, one of my favorite column subjects was railing against Connecticut’s antiquated and regressive liquor laws (I call it “liquor justice”), while urging the General Assembly to get with the program and legalize recreational marijuana.

I might have occasionally been rough on Gov. Dannel Malloy, but I always gave him credit for his quixotic quest to reform regulations on alcohol that protect an entire industry at the expense of consumers. Oh, and there is the matter of state-sponsored gambling. Don’t get me started on that.

I’ve written probably a dozen columns about Connecticut’s fiscal woes. In one piece of more than nine years ago, I lamented that “the spectacle of Connecticut’s budget and labor crisis looks like a door-slamming farce – a bad comedy in which none of the shouting actors are capable of moving the plot along.” While visiting family on Cape Cod, I actually ran into a friend who asked me how a “crummy little state like Connecticut” could rack up a budget deficit of $3.7 billion. Bingo: column idea.

Another perhaps unhealthy obsession of mine has been a disturbing trend in government to weaken Connecticut’s landmark open government laws. I still say one of the happiest moments in state history occurred in 1975 when Gov. Ella T. Grasso signed Connecticut’s trailblazing Freedom of Information Act into law.

Be it in Norwalk, Newtown, the UConn Foundation, the Connecticut State Police, a baseball stadium in Hartford, or the state’s ill-fated partnership with hedge-fund king Ray Dalio, too many lawmakers work – sometimes in the middle of the night – to skirt the law or to weaken it.

I’ve also been fortunate, as part of CTNJ’s editorial board, to interview Malloy twice in his office at the Capitol. I actually found Malloy, a self-described “porcupine,” to be approachable, yet also “combative, confident, and closely attuned to the world.”

In case you were wondering, column ideas spring from casual conversations all the time. Sit at a bar or a coffee shop and strike up a conversation. Browse social media and see what people are talking about. Crowdsourcing is the mother’s milk of punditry.

That’s also how I found out about Frank The Baker from Portland, the Vincent Brothers of Enfield, the enigmatic Dan Roberti, “Derbygate” and the Bizarre Bigazzi Case.

Evidently, the most viewed op-ed was one that I least expected to get wide readership: a piece on the faded Litchfield County mill town of Winsted, whose finance director was arrested in 2013 and later convicted of stealing millions from the town. The number of Facebook shares has disappeared from the page but last time I checked it was close to 1,000 and the column made our 12 Most Read News Stories of 2013.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years – not only here but at the other online publication I work for – it’s to brace myself for criticism every time I hit the “publish” button. And if there’s a second thing I’ve learned, it’s to soak up the constructive criticism and ignore the cheap shots.

Here’s to wishing CTNJ‘s readers a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or whatever it is you celebrate this time of year. Meanwhile, I can only hope to continue writing columns for another 10 years. Thanks for reading. Stay safe and have a healthy, happy, and fulfilling 2021.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at tcowgill90@wesleyan.edu.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.