CTSPJ inducts Jon Lender to Connecticut Journalism Hall of Fame

Jon Lender worked 48 years at the Hartford Courant. He started as a young correspondent just out of UCONN at the old Willimantic Bureau. He was full time a year later covering Bristol, Southington and Middletown. He moved to the main office in Hartford in 1981 and was assigned to reporting on government agencies and politicians with an emphasis on investigations.

Lender covered the administration of Gov. John Rowland for 8 years. Then he came upon information the governor had taken valuable favors from state contractors. With fellow reporters, Dave Altimari and Edmund H. Mahony, he spent months investigating. The result of those stories led to a 2004 impeachment inquiry of the governor in the legislature. Rowland resigned and was convicted on corruption charges and served time in federal prison.

The governor was not the only politician whose behavior was revealed by Lender’s diligence. From 2008 to 2021 he wrote the “Government Watch” column for the Courant. Some in public life who came under his scrutiny began to use his name as a verb. It was said they had been “Lendered.”

He believes deeply in Freedom of Information. He said:

“The FOI Act was always as basic and useful a tool as a hammer or saw. Submitting a written FOI request not only had legal force — making an official produce documents or be accused of violating the law — but it also showed simply that you meant business and would insist on getting answers.”

Why did he choose journalism? His father, as he grew up in New Jersey, brought home two newspapers a day and he started reading the sports pages every day before he was a teenager. He admired New York columnists like Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill. That first reporting job covering small CT towns paid 25-cents an inch. He says he figured he’d report until he thought of something better to do. It is the reader’s fortune he never did.

His former editor, Rick Green, says, “Jon is a methodical and persistent journalist who over a long career never lost sight of his mission to shine a light in dark places. He represents a diminishing and proud newspaper tradition of columnists who investigate and let their reporting tell the story.”

A young reporter said, Russel Blair said,

“Beyond his investigative reporting, Jon served as a key mentor to scores of young journalists during his four-plus decades at The Courant. Whether speaking to a college class or a group of Courant interns, Jon patiently gave important, practical real world advice on how to approach difficult interviews and other challenges on the job, life lessons that in many cases transcended journalism.”

He won many journalism awards. One judge wrote: “ …Lender
is from the old ‘I Smell a Rat’ school of investigative journalism. Reading one of his columns is like reading a thoroughly involving short story. The narrative is one of corruption’…”

Lender has had a remarkable career giving life to the journalistic idea of public service. His career clearly meets the standard of a “significant and enduring” contribution to Connecticut Journalism Hall of Fame.

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