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New honor awaits McGinley, the 'Conscience of The Day'

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published February 04. 2013 4:00AM
Tim Cook/The Day
Morgan McGinley, retired editorial page editor for The Day, laughs along with family and friends at the Mystic Marriott in Groton during a July 2007 roast in his honor celebrating his many years of service at The Day.
Former editorial page editor to be inducted into New England Newspaper Hall of Fame

New London - Over a quarter century, he came to personify The Day's editorial page, whose influence at the time was often described as "outsized."

With Morgan McGinley at the helm, The Day's "institutional voice" was heard beyond southeastern Connecticut's borders, ruffling governors and inspiring kudos from McGinley's peers at newspapers - some much bigger than The Day - across the country.

McGinley, who retired in 2007 after 42 years with The Day, will be inducted Friday into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Boston.

"For several decades, Morgan's commentary was the conscience of The Day," said Gary Farrugia, the paper's publisher. "He was a thoughtful leader on local and global issues. His editorial voice resonated throughout the region, the state, and New England."

McGinley, 70, was inducted into the Connecticut Journalism Hall of Fame in 2007. He received the Academy of New England Journalists' Yankee Quill Award in 2001, the same year he was presented with the Stephen A. Collins Freedom of Information Award from the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information.

He served as president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers in 1998 and has been honored with lifetime membership in the group, which now calls itself the Association of Opinion Journalists.

McGinley's wife, Lisa McGinley, is The Day's assistant managing editor for reporting.

Maura Casey, former associate editorial page editor of The Day, recalled that McGinley headed the editorial writers' group at the same time the paper's editor and publisher, Reid MacCluggage, was president of the Associated Press Managing Editors.

"Both were heading national organizations, which said a lot about the kind of leadership we had," Casey said.

"Morgan ran one of the best editorial pages in the country," said MacCluggage, who retired in 2001. "He held politicians accountable and fought for the people's right to know. He volunteered his time to lead national and regional associations. And like all good reporters, he got out into the community."

McGinley rose to heady professional heights at his hometown paper.

After graduating from Colby College, he worked briefly at The Providence Journal, and in 1965 took a job at The Day, where his grandfather, John McGinley, had been the first reporter ever hired. The young McGinley covered cops and courts and was a copy editor, assistant city editor and night city editor before joining The Day's editorial page in 1981.

He found he liked writing opinion because it required he still be a reporter.

"First, you've got to be a good newsperson," he said of an editorial writer. "You've got to keep digging for facts. If you have the facts, it makes it easier to say what you want to say - forcefully and with conviction."

Casey recalled that McGinley demanded his writers make every effort to reach their subjects.

"We couldn't write about anything local or statewide without talking to the people involved," said Casey, who wrote for The Day from 1988 to 2006 before joining The New York Times' editorial board. "We could never rip out a story from our own paper and write about something without talking to people."

For those who take stands for a living, that can be stressful at times, particularly if you're practicing in the place where you were born.

"What's unusual about Morgan is that he was a local boy who wrote on local issues," Casey said. "He had to upset people he grew up with. But he wrote about things in such a fair way."

"He knew everyone and was well liked," said Gregory N. Stone, The Day's longtime deputy editorial page editor, whose tenure paralleled McGinley's. "In his realm, he was a good politician."

Stone remembered McGinley as a hard-working reporter, respected for his accuracy, writing and interviewing skills. McGinley liked to work a story over the phone right up to deadline, which "used to drive our old boss, Ken Grube, crazy," Stone said.

"'Just write the damn thing,' I remember Grube saying," Stone recalled.

Fairness can earn an editorial writer respect, if not always affection, McGinley learned.

"You've really got to be fair," he said. "If you later find out that something you've written is wrong, you've got to say so. You're talking about the credibility of the newspaper as an institution."

Over time, The Day's editorial page found itself on both sides of the great eminent domain debate in New London. The page during the McGinley era also will be remembered for its support of former Gov. Lowell Weicker and his state income tax and later for calling for the firing of former Gov. M. Jodi Rell's chief of staff.

McGinley said he is particularly proud of the national editorial writing fellowships won by Stone and Casey and his own role as president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers Foundation, which secured hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Minority Writers Seminar at Vanderbilt University. The program encourages minority journalists to consider opinion writing as a career.

"His contributions to journalism weren't flashy," Stone said of McGinley. "They were embedded in the day-to-day stuff he did as a small-town reporter and editor. There are a lot of readers out there who appreciated him, and I'm glad he's being recognized for what he did."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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