Jay Gallagher '69

 

power of the pen

%746%left%Jay Gallagher '69, bureau chief for Gannett News Service in Albany, N.Y., first tasted the power of the pen as sports editor at the Colby Echo. After writing a column detailing what he said were lavish spring-training trips taken by Colby's baseball team, Gallagher was summoned to the athletic department for a dressing down. "I realized then that journalists could tweak the establishment, and that continues to be a fun part of the job," he said.

For Gallagher, that now means standing up to the powers that be in New York's state house, which in 2004 was called the nation's most dysfunctional legislature by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. He heads a three-person bureau that provides coverage for five clients and seven daily New York newspapers, owned by Gannett Co., with a combined circulation of 700,000.

This spring, for example, Gallagher discovered that the New York Senate didn't require members to show up at committee meetings to have their votes recorded.

"We found that almost no one shows up," said Gallagher, who, after 36 years in the newspaper business, still has a healthy sense of outrage. "There is no functioning committee structure in Albany. It's a total sham, a Potemkin democracy."

His series on New York's political and economic problems in 2004 earned him the publisher's award for in-depth reporting, the top honor from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, and the Legislative Correspondents Association annual award. In December Whitston Publishing Co. published The Politics of Decline, an expanded version of the series and Gallagher's first book.

%747%right%Gallagher grew up in Danvers, Mass., the son of journalists. After graduation from Colby (where he met his wife, Emily Kreinick Gallagher '69), he worked for two years at the Waltham (Mass.) News Tribune, writing on government and politics, including U.S. Senator John Kerry's first run for Congress. Gallager worked for three years at The Providence Journal, then moved to the now-defunct Rochester Times Union, where he worked as an editor and took over the city hall reporting beat in 1976. Over the next eight years he covered government and politics for a Gannett daily before moving to the media chain's Albany bureau in 1984.

Gallagher now writes a weekly column and news stories from the capital, looking at the issues and the politics behind the decisions that affect millions of New Yorkers. He says he enjoys the company of Albany's press corps, and that camaraderie is highlighted each June at the Legislative Correspondents Association show, a $250-per-plate political roast put on by journalists for top-ranking political leaders and lobbyists who pay to hear the writers poke fun at them.

In last year's 105th annual show, Gallagher donned a green toga and silver-sequined skullcap to appear as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani dressed up as the Statue of Liberty. With great enthusiasm, he barked out a song that noted Giuliani's support of abortion rights and questioned whether the religious right would back his dream of the GOP nomination for president.

Joining him on stage this year was the association's president, Erin Duggan '97, a reporter for the Albany Times Union, who saw a different side of her journalistic competitor backstage. Duggan pronounced Gallagher "a real ham onstage." Not that his commitment to his profession is anything but serious.

"I like the independent perch we have to observe government and the privilege to be able to ask almost anybody any question I want and get an answer," Gallagher said. "The watchdog function of journalism is worth devoting your professional life to."

,David McKay Wilson '76