David Holahan sits at his dining room table in East Haddam where he lives with his wife, Kyn Tolson. . Madeline Papcun / CT Mirror

This is the second of an occasional series profiling Connecticut people who frequently share their insights, passions and opinions with fellow readers in CT Viewpoints commentaries.

David Holahan has been a journalist most of his adult life. Now, sitting in his dining room in East Haddam — with notes written on a few pieces of paper from a reporter’s notebook taped together — he reflects on the role journalism holds in our world. 

“Any newspaper is sort of the soul of the community,” Holahan said, taking his glasses off and resting them on the table. “It connects people, you know, ‘Who are you? What do you value? What is this community about?’” 

Holahan, 73, was born in Stamford. He is a graduate of the Yale University class of 1971, and fell into journalism shortly after graduation. 

“When I got out of school I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Holahan said. “I drifted into journalism.” 

That drifting led Holahan to a job as an ad salesman at a weekly newspaper in New Hampshire. After about six months, Holahan and a few friends started their own weekly paper in Connecticut. 

“We decided that we knew enough to start our own newspaper, which we didn’t,” he said. 

The paper was called “The Gazette,” and shortly thereafter followed “The Compass” in Mystic as he and his partners expanded their operation. 

“It was sort of like a finishing school for journalists,” Holahan said. “Not that we knew much about journalism, but we just went out and did it.” 

The papers were “part journalism, part frat house,” being run by “caffeinated 20 year olds,” Holahan said. After about eight years, the group sold them. They went out of business about five years later, Holahan said. 

Holahan himself went on to freelance for bigger daily papers for much of his career. His work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal.

On a more local level, Holahan also worked as the editor of the East Haddam News, located in the town where he and his wife, Kyn Tolson, live. Since 2015, Holahan has been a regular contributor to CT Mirror’s Viewpoints page. His commentaries last year earned him seven awards in the 2022 Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism contest. 

Holahan often highlights the environment in his work. At “The Gazette,” they did a special environmental issue each year. 

“We leapt on that right away, you know – this would have been 1973 or 1974,” Holahan said. The coverage was important because there were “threats and challenges” to the local environment even then, he added. 

“We just wanted to hold it up and say, ‘Look what we have. You should pay attention to it and take care of it,’” he said. “I was really proud of that. I continue to do stories for Connecticut Magazine about the state of the environment.”

Holahan also reflected on the role newspapers used to have in the average person’s daily life.

“My parents used to get two daily newspapers,” Holahan explained. “The paper used to be what connected you; it was how you related to the world and tried to understand it.” 

Reading the daily paper “gave everyone a common language, a common perspective,” he said. “You didn’t have to agree with every story. But at the same time, you didn’t accuse every story of being some sort of subversive plot to, you know, ‘bend your mind.’” He added air quotes to the phrase.

Holahan sees journalism as an important tool to make people think, rather than telling them what to think.

“There are things that need to be pointed out. The world is more complicated than the headbutting,” he said.

The word “headbutting” makes Holahan recall a response he got in the mail from a reader. 

“It was before the internet, so I got this letter in the mail, typed, so I opened it,” he said, miming the unfolding of the paper inside. 

“It said in the middle of the page, in capital letters,” Holahan laughed, leaning back in his chair. “It said, ‘YOU ARE A HORSE’S ASS.’” 

“I kept it for the longest time. It was great, it was so funny.” 

But beyond the joyous memory the letter gives him now, Holahan said he also appreciates that his work in journalism introduced him to such a wide variety of people. He has written profiles of such notables as “60 Minutes” correspondent Morley Safer; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne; and Jane Reynolds Rowland DeWolf, the beloved owner of a general store in Lyme. 

 “There are people in the community that deserve attention. You should put them forward, and say, ‘Here’s someone you know that you would do well to emulate,’” he said.

Thus, Holahan is both proud and thankful for his writing career.

“It was just really fun being a journalist,” Holahan said. “I would do it all over again.”