I recently had the chance to sit down with Brian Toolan, former national religion editor for the Associated Press, when he visited campus as a guest for Professor Jeff Benedict’s “Contemporary Issues” class in September. Toolan is also the former editor-in-chief of the Hartford Courant and former business editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. After meeting with me for a few minutes and discussing his career in journalism and his advice for today’s college students, Toolan joined Benedict to teach a room full of Southern Virginia students — both members of Benedict’s class and of Hugh Bouchelle’s course, “Writing for Digital Media.”
Q: Why did you choose to go into journalism and what steps did you take to launch your career?
Toolan: When I was a senior in college, my father was a newspaperman, but I really wasn’t certain that’s what I wanted to do. The managing editor at that paper, which was in Scranton, Pennsylvania, basically asked my father if I’d be interested in starting off [writing] … obituaries and [covering events such as] fires. I thought I’d do it for a little while and then assess, but I loved it right from the beginning. I was very lucky; I had a very good career. I went from Scranton to Dayton, Ohio, on the sports desk there, and then to a [newspaper] in Baltimore, also on sports. Then I came to the Philadelphia Daily News and eventually I was a sports editor there and then the managing editor. In 1998, I became the editor at the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. That was the best stretch of my career. We won a Pulitzer Prize and were finalists a number of other times. There’s an awful lot of talent there. It was a lot of fun. … Now I’ve got a couple of book ideas and so that’s what I’m planning to do now.
Q: What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
Toolan: Many of them came when I was at the Hartford Courant. We won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news in 1999 and it was about coverage of a disgruntled employee coming into the Connecticut State Lottery headquarters and killing six people. We also won Pulitzer Prizes for a series on bad doctors that we did. We had a photography Pulitzer Prize for a town in Connecticut that was overrun with heroin abuse and the toll it took on the town and the people that were selling and using. There were a lot of good things there. … I was proud to be a part of it. (more…)