New Canaanite Marks 10-Year Milestone

More marks its 10-year anniversary today, Jan. 31.

I’m going to try here to explain how the website started, how I set it up to run and what it has come to mean to me.

How the website started

My big brother Terry was still living at home when our family hit its biggest rough patch. It was just as I was starting at New Canaan High School. Our dad moved out. Some months later, Terry moved to New York City to finish high school there, things being difficult for us in New Canaan. Soon our mom—for reasons of health and self-preservation, as I have come to understand only recently—moved out of the house on Lakeview Avenue, too, leaving me and my little sister there on our own. We weren’t connected to local services, organizations or other families, though I myself would come to rely on the coach and parents of the New Canaan Y swim team.

Before it got to that point, though, it was just my mom with two teenagers at home for a time, doing her best. We kept costs down. In the winter, you could see your breath inside our house, especially at night. Even so, the furnace blew one night. It was the winter, near the holidays, and we had to find an emergency electrician.


I got my first news job 20 years ago, as a reporter at Greenwich Time newspaper, working Saturday through Wednesday. On the weekends I did general assignment work, covering a bit of everything including four car crashes that killed four teenage boys whose names I find myself reciting out loud sometimes, Frank McCourt promoting “Teacher Man” at Greenwich Library (he was living in Connecticut, and when I asked him whether he ever visited Greenwich he said, “No, I’d be too afraid of the Episcopalians”) and the annual reenactment of Gen. Israel Putnam’s horseback ride along present-day East Putnam Avenue. The weekday “beat” they assigned to me was the leftovers of the newsroom: health, housing and social services. In retrospect, that wide-ranging coverage prepared me well for future news jobs, including this one. But within a few years I’d come to dislike my schedule and resent my position at the paper, and asked for a regular beat. The city editor rebuffed me, and then all the newspapers started to falter. The Greenwich Time got a new managing editor, ownership hired an efficiency expert and reps from media companies interested in buying it started to come around. Twice within six months, all of us reporters interviewed for our own jobs.

Then three things happened pretty quickly that resulted in my getting fired. First, I reported a story about the biggest parking scofflaws in town (I’ve always loved the parking stuff). It turned out that the person who owed the most money in overdue tickets was the limited liability company representing Toyota of Greenwich (it’s not them, it’s customers who drive their cars, for example, while theirs are being repaired, but anyway). When I called the dealership for a comment, the guy told me that they were major advertisers at the paper. I said that I was a reporter, not a salesperson. Before the story ran, our new managing editor came to my desk and said that we would need to use the name of the LLC and not ‘Toyota of Greenwich.’ I said that was an embarrassment and asked that my byline be removed from the story. Second, I filed an FOI request for a consultant’s report on Greenwich Library. The library was in disarray because they’d hired this terrible, toxic director. They brought in a consultant to look at all the internal problems. The taxpayers of Greenwich supplied two-thirds of the library’s operating budget, so my view was that the consultant’s report should be public. The library denied my request, so I filed an appeal with the state FOI Commission. Without telling me, the new managing editor pulled my appeal. I confronted him in his office and he said he was working on getting the report a different way. I felt he was making nice with the library’s Board of Trustees at my expense, and so when I walked back out of the office I re-faxed (it was 2008) the appeal to Hartford. The third thing happened that same day: the city and managing editors pulled me back into the office to suspend me for insubordination—a conversation that I recorded without telling them, and they fired me the next day, citing the illicit recording as a basis.


Two years later I started a news job at that I loved, overseeing the local editors operating websites covering individual towns throughout lower Fairfield County. Whenever there was an opening in the New Canaan editor job, I would step in to report on my hometown. I was supposed to be a manager, but I preferred working as a reporter. I remember thinking at the time that if I ever won the lottery, I would step down as manager, take on the New Canaan Patch local editor role and ignore everything from headquarters. But eventually Patch also was set up to be sold, and they let nearly all of us go through three layoffs over a nine-month period. I was laid off in the third wave. 

It was Jan. 29, 2014—a Wednesday—and I called Terry afterwards. He told me that I should start my own news website covering New Canaan. He said the domain was available. I’d never had my own business. I’d never seen the underbelly of a website. And as the Toyota of Greenwich guy could attest, I’d never sold an ad. 

But I felt strongly that I could not go back to work for someone else. I drafted an “About Us” section for what the website could be, and texted it to a trusted friend—a person who never hesitated to tell me exactly what he thought about my reporting on New Canaan, good or bad: Rob Mallozzi. He encouraged me, and told me that Bob’s Sports would be my first advertiser, which it was. I reserved the domain, downloaded a free WordPress theme, found an ad server, started showing up to public meetings and launched a daily newsletter. It was Jan. 31, 2014. Our first published article was Terry’s write-up of a NCHS boys varsity basketball game that featured Zach Allen.


How I set it up to run

I had two months of federally guaranteed severance from Patch, plus another two weeks for signing an NDA. I wrote freelance articles for the Moffly magazines and found little jobs in social media management while the site got off the ground. In May, with my wife’s help, we held a “launch party” at New Canaan Olive Oil on Elm Street—a store and staff that I miss (Heidi, Caroline)—and invited prospective partners and advertisers. Tucker Murphy, head of the Chamber of Commerce and a supporter at the time, said positive things to the gathering about the work I’d been doing. By midsummer New Canaan Music, Walter Stewart’s Market, Stewarts Spirits and Karl Chevrolet came on as advertisers.

The local service organizations found out about the new website and invited me to present to them. After presenting to Rotary Club, one of its members, an older gentleman, approached me and said that he wanted to advertise his business. He just got a good feeling about me, he said with a shrug. His name was Peter Santella and he owned Santella Electric on Cross Street.


The first year of the New Canaanite was exhausting. I felt that so many people were coming to the site for the first time that I wanted it to be a very specific and good experience at all times. Many nights and early mornings I fell asleep wherever I was, slumped over a laptop (I’ve gone through four in 10 years). I was running a newsletter seven days per week, until Caren Forbes advised me that I didn’t have to. More advertisers came on, wonderful people and companies like Denise Gannalo, Rucci Law Group, Francos Wine Merchants, Kendall and Jaime Sneddon, Bankwell, Christine Saxe, Pet Pantry, April Kaynor and Kelly DeFrancesco, and I found myself seeking business advice daily from Laura Budd, the number-two at the Chamber (now the director). 

I felt that the most important thing about all of it would be the news reporting, and I felt protective of it. I wanted the advertising set up so that I would remain independent in my news coverage. I didn’t want so few advertisers that any one of them would be in a powerful enough position to lean in and influence coverage the way that Toyota of Greenwich did years before. I would never want to be beholden to any political or other special interest, because that would immediately, and rightly, damage the credibility of this news outlet. If your readers can’t trust you, nothing else matters. I also didn’t want too many advertisers, because each one is a real relationship to manage. So I have felt my way toward an equilibrium that provides independence as well as a living. It was a matter of setting the advertising slots and pricing them to achieve that goal, and only that goal.

I also decided to report exclusively on New Canaan, and set up a rule whereby all content on the site has to meet two criteria: 1. It needs to be local enough that a person would need to live in town, work in town or be from the town in order to be interested in it, and 2. It would need to look out-of-place on a website covering any other town. One of our lead stories in the early days of the New Canaanite was about a baby possum that wandered into Spencer’s Run at midday and escaped with its life. 

What it has come to mean to me

Mom found an electrician that night. Arriving at the house on Lakeview, he would have walked through the front door, into the living room, through the upstairs kitchen, down the stairs, through the downstairs kitchen and into the basement furnace room. What he saw and heard along the way would have been memorable and upsetting, I have come to understand only recently. After he fixed the furnace, mom thanked him and said she needed to set up a payment plan. He waved her off with a smile, saying, “I make my money on the people in the ridges.” 


For me, the New Canaanite has become a second chance at my hometown. Traveling through town as I do my reporting, I find that many streetscapes and scenes trigger memories of the first time around, good and bad. At times it feels like time is slowed by these layers of memories firing off. In certain moods, I find myself driving a little out of the way to go past Mill Pond and our old house. 

I find myself deeply moved at least four to five times each year, in covering the Memorial Day ceremony in Lakeview Cemetery, the 9/11 ceremony at Town Hall, the Veterans Day ceremony at God’s Acre, the Martin Luther King Jr. service at the United Methodist Church and New Canaan Police promotion and awards ceremonies. I also find myself moved by formal observances at Town Hall, such as the appointment of a prominent committee. Former Town Council Chair, now-Selectman Steve Karl always dresses up extra smart for those observances, which I find very touching.

About one year into the New Canaanite, I launched our monthly Community Coffee at New Canaan Library, thanks largely to the generosity and support of then-library director Lisa Oldham and Doug Zumbach, who has always supplied the coffee (we have our next one at 8:30 a.m. Thursday). Though things ended badly at my first newspaper job, I still miss the newsroom. It was a cynical place where reporters and photographers licked their wounds, scoffed at the mention of government officials and swapped colorful anecdotes from the strange world outside our fortress. For me, the monthly coffee at the library has taken the place of the newsroom—a time to connect in-person with my Editorial Advisory Council members (Laura Budd, Rob Mallozzi, Julia Stewart, Doug Zumbach, Michael Chen, Andrew Ault and Lisa Oldham), friends, readers and even family. My mom and brother Terry are both regulars.

My mom also is my biggest reader. Each morning after the newsletter goes out, I open the Mailchimp app to see who’s reading, and the first email address listed is always hers.

It was that way one morning in March 2020, weeks into the pandemic, when we published the obituary for Peter Santella. In talking to my mom that day, I relayed how Mr. Santella had approached me after the Rotary Club meeting to advertise, and how it was such a meaningful lift for me during that first difficult year of business. My mom paused on the phone while looking again at the obituary, and then identified him as the electrician who had come to our house on Lakeview 30 years before to fix the furnace. The obituary had been sent to me by Mr. Santella’s son-in-law, as I recall, and after talking to my mom, I reached out to him to share that story. He responded that Mr. Santella had remembered the incident, too, and that as he neared the end of his life, spoke of helping a struggling single-parent household.

I think about Mr. Santella often. I wonder how many kindnesses he quietly bestowed on the people of this community. I wonder how it was he came to touch my life twice in such ways. I wonder if he ever was kind as a result of hardship or poor treatment; I wonder if he found—as I have come to understand only recently—that the best way to move past an unkind word from another is to say something kind to a stranger. 

I’ve had the opportunity to share the story about Mr. Santella with the present-day Rotary Club, and in marking 10 years of the New Canaanite I wanted to share it more widely. It’s not often that I reflect on the origin of the site, but when I do, I think about Mr. Santella. For me, today, he captures the unique spirit of New Canaan and I think of him as a kind of guiding light for the New Canaanite, as well as for me, in what has been a life-changing rediscovery of my hometown.

Thank you so much for reading.

75 thoughts on “New Canaanite Marks 10-Year Milestone

  1. Congratulations Mike
    Your heartfelt article moved me to tears.
    I’m proud to call you my friend .
    By the way your painting of Mill Pond looks great ….

  2. Through tremendous adversity with kindness towards others you’ve achieved a remarkable career are respected loved in our hometown❤️

  3. I have good memories of your early days when I had the honor of serving as New Canaan’s Tree Warden along with my trusty assistant Bheema. Now, after living in Vermont for over ten years, I stay connected to New Canaan through reading the NewCanaanite every morning. Thank you for doing such a fine job!

  4. Thank you for sharing, Mike. And congratulations on 10 years! Local reporting is more important than ever these days, and we are so lucky to have you and The NewCanaanite as a capable, trusted and unbiased news source. Keep up the good work!

  5. Mike Dinan! Congratulations. Wonderful article. Thank you for taking the courageous leap 10 years ago to create The New Canaanite. I love reading every morning and learning something new each day even after 19 years of living in new canaan. Thank you for your support of the many important organizations that so many of us serve. Keep up the brilliant work!

  6. We moved to Vermont a little over a year ago and NewCanaanite keeps us informed about what’s going on in town. Thank you and congratulations on this milestone. Time does fly!

  7. Thank you for sharing your story Mike and thank you for always reporting on everything New Canaan. Your story and courage through your life and newcanaanite is heart warming. Happy Anniversary.

  8. Congratulations Mike! You interviewed me about the library book sale in 2014. At the time, I was fairly new to New Canaan and The New Canaanite was already so well established (and so well done) that I assumed it had been around forever. You’ve always been my main source of New Canaan news. This article is a highlight of the talented writing that makes reading the New Canaanite such a pleasure. I’ve never known New Canaan without the New Canaanite and hope I never will.

  9. Thanks for sharing your personal story showing everybody has more going on at home then people may be aware of (so perhaps lets give people a bit of a break rather than judge at first instance), thanks for the community coffee, and thanks for being a small town news source at a time of great consolidation in media.

  10. Mike: Your bi-monthly coffees are the closest thing to a New England Town Meeting without the politics but with an extra dose of humanity and information that binds us as a community. This is, indeed, a labor of love! Many thanks and much respect for sharing your serendipitous journey.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this story! Articles like this are the reason I love reading The New Canaanite every weekday morning. You always represent every aspect of the town we love. Thank You!

  12. Congratulations Mike and thanks for sharing your personal journey with us. You and the New Canaanite are pillars that hold up our town and make it the special place that it is. Thank you for the continued hard work and dedication. To many more milestones !

  13. Thank you, Mike, for sharing this moving story and for EVERYTHING you do for our community. Every day, you keep us informed and make us connected and supported. For this, we are deeply grateful. Congratulations on this wonderful milestone. Happy Anniversary!

  14. Very touching. It takes a brave man to be so honest. I definitely relate to your professional choices of putting work integrity over money. I read your articles every day and will make it a point of coming to the coffee in the future.

  15. Thank you, Mike, for sharing your story. And thank you, also, for the New Canaanite. You have done a terrific job and should feel very proud of yourself. I will never forget when I called to ask if you would run a story about my sister and our quest to get enough votes for her to be chosen to attend and walk in the (breast cancer) survivor’s parade during the Kentucky Oaks race as part of the Kentucky Derby. You did not hesitate to say “yes” and fortunately she received enough votes to attend, which had always been a dream of hers. Without a doubt, you helped make that possible. I will never forget that. Thank you, and much continued success.

  16. “The best way to move past an unkind word from another is to say something kind to a stranger.” Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, Mike. We’re so lucky to have you covering our community with integrity, honesty, and an eagle eye for the parking stuff.

  17. Congratulations Mike! What a lovely story. Keep up the good work. Reading The NewCanaanite is a daily joy. Thanks for reporting on our town.

  18. Congratulations on 10 years! Here’s to many more for the New Canaanite!
    I love your story! It resonated with me on so many levels. I admire you for your honesty, perserverance and loyalty to the town you love. I love this town as well and I love waking up to The New Canaanite every single morning – keep them coming!

  19. That’s a great story Mike. Love hearing about how you got this service off of the ground. Thanks for sharing and to many more years!

  20. Thanks for sharing your heartfelt memory. I have been coming regularly to New Canaan since the early 1980s and cherish the many years of friendships made. It wasn’t until 2016 that I finally moved to actually live here in town. Thanks for your fabulous and personal in-town reporting and for making me, a fairly recent local, feel like I’m home.

  21. What a wonderful story; I read The New Canaanite every morning. It sounds like you have come full circle and are exactly where you are supposed to be!
    My uncle was an electrician for Peter Santella for over 30 years. I loved your tribute to him. Congratulations on your success and this excellent news site.

  22. Congratulations, Mike on ten years of providing an indispensable service to our town. You are a must read at the beginning of every day. I wish you continued success.

  23. This history of the New Canaanite is wonderful. I’ve enjoyed reading it from the beginning and I continue enjoying it from Annapolis, Maryland. Here’s to several more decades of the Newcanaanite.

  24. New Canaan is as lucky to have YOU as it was to have Mr. Santella. You make this town a better place by continuing to highlight its soul. A well-deserved congratulations on your 10 years.

  25. Congrats Mike! What a great story. So moving. I feel lucky to have grown up with the Santellas (and was recently with Sharon – daughter) this past weekend. Special people – and that includes you. My dad always took our VWs to your dad so I feel a connection with you from way back. All the best!

  26. Your story, Mike, is informative and moving. I like that you put the reader first, and that you have a specific mission to be about New Canaan for people who live or work in New Canaan, rather than trying to be all things to all people. You help us to be connected as a community, and we appreciate that.

  27. Mike, you are an absolute treasure! You make all of us with a connection to New Canaan feel seen, always have time to stop and chat, thank you for the gift you keep on giving.

  28. Although I currently reside in New Mexico, you provide the link to my old home town. Your ability to convey a story through your words, is a unique and wonderful talent. Some people are lucky enough to find their niche early in life. Good for you, and all that you do for the little town of New Canaan, Ct.

  29. Dear Mike,
    Congratulations on this incredible milestone. As a fellow founder celebrating a 10th anniversary, I know how much this milestone means. Congrats on all you’ve done to cultivate the NewCanaanite’s growth and success.

  30. Mike, thank you for sharing that very wonderful and very personal story. While the beginnings of every deep-rooted New Canaan business is different in its own way, your gift for words gave this story a very intimate perspective. I can guarantee you that the entrepreneur of every longtime business in town once stood in your shoes and I am not alone in predicting that is on its way to being one of the anchors of New Canaan.

  31. Thank you so much for this article and for being our “go-to” source since moving here only to be swallowed up by the threat of COVID. Wonderful story of your founding!

  32. Congratulations, Mike! You, and, have an inspiring history. You are so needed in New Canaan, and provide a wonderful service.

  33. Thank you Mike for all your efforts and talent. The NewCanaanite is a delight to wake up to every morning, a great start to the day, It has been a pleasure to have been a small part of the journey from its beginnings. Best of luck and hope The NewCanaanite will be an integral part of New Canaan’s future.

  34. Mike, my friend, I recall you sharing these shocking childhood memories with me, and I am still in awe of your strength and resilience. Thank you for giving New Canaan another chance, by bravely launching the NewCanaanite 10 yrs ago. Your spot-on reporting never misses the mark…and, you always manage to sneak in an editorial “wink” that makes me chuckle (case in point: “I’d never had my own business. I’d never seen the underbelly of a website. And as the Toyota of Greenwich guy could attest, I’d never sold an ad.” Killer.). I won’t be able to ever drive by Toyota of Greenwich now without giving it “the bird” on your behalf. Congrats on living your dream & bringing me my Mon-Fri NC news!

  35. Congratulations to you Mike! What an amazing resource for all of us readers, and an amazing example of what real journalism looks like – and how much actual work it takes to write it.

    Additionally, as someone who spent his 20’s learning the hard way that parking ticket court is a fool’s errand, I too enjoy following the adventures and escapades of those seeking justice and relief from the most ridiculous “crime” known to humanity.

    Here’s to many more years of ace reporting!

  36. Mike
    Happy 10th Anniversary!
    We go back to your New Canaan Patch days. NewCanaanite is the first thing I read in the morning over my cup of coffee regardless of where I am (currently on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean) and the it’s the last thing I read before I sign off for the evening.
    Thank you for reporting the news to us in such a timely manner.

  37. Mike, Congratulations on 10 years! I loved reading about your periodic associations with one of my good friends, Pete Santella. Everyone has a story as you just demonstrated. Pete grew up in Darien and at 18 years old found himself in the Marine Corps in a fox hole in Korea in hand to hand combat with waves of Chinese infantry. He returned to CT and became an apprentice electrician before leveraging that experience to become CT’s largest electrical contracting firm. Eventually he got caught in a real estate market hiccup and lost virtually everything. He never walked away from his responsibilities, rebuilt his life and demonstrated what character looks like.

  38. When we need consummate investigative journalism for complex local issues, Mike nails it. When we need to be brought together as a community, Mike does it. When political leaders need a stress test, Mike delivers it. When we need a heart-warming tear-jerker, Mike shares it. You’re one of the bonds that tie Libby and me to the community, Mike, so thanks for that and for all the things you do. What’s 10 years when you could do 30?

  39. Congratulations Mike! Incredible moving and impeccably written as always. You are an asset to the community and we thank you.

  40. Thanks for sharing your moving story, Mike, and for all you do for New Canaan. I’m always grateful to be able to rely on you/newcanaanite for the straight story on so many issues (and a good chuckle now and then). Congratulations on 10 years!

  41. Mike – congrats on ten years and an incredibly inspiring run. Is fun to watch from miles away and cheer you on! Thanks for doing this…

  42. That’s a remarkable story that really speaks to your sense of community and the importance of real journalism. Congratulations!

  43. Michael, loved the story. love the site. My grandfather, Ferd Re, used to call himself a “ridge runner” too. Best wishes for continued success.

  44. Congratulations on achieving an incredible milestone! The news business is hard, time consuming and an audience can be finicky. Making a living at it is even more of a challenge. Way to go, Mike! And please keep up your great work in keeping our town informed. New Canaan is better off due to your efforts.

  45. Congratulations on 10 years, Mike! With your leadership, the New Canaanite remains reliable and relevant.
    It was so nice to read that the New Canaan Y swim team coach and families were there to support you when needed. We hope to facilitate that kind of community support at the Y every day.

  46. Congratulations, Mike! What an accomplishment – 10 years! Thank you for this beautiful and moving and terrificly written article to mark the occasion. I’m grateful for the New Canaanite – you educate, uplift, unite and at times force us to talk to each other about local issues no matter how difficult which again educates, uplifts and unites us as New Canaanites. Congrats again!

  47. Mike, you’ve won a 1st Place ribbon in showing everybody that life’s challenges, big and small, can be remedied by finding the creative juices that can brighten and nurture all our days. You’re a terrific writer, a talented painter and moreover a best friend to all New Canaanites.

  48. This has to be one of the most heartfelt, honest, true and memorable articles I’ve ever read and I want to thank you, Mr. Dinan, for sharing your story. I am honored to have shared living in your town for 30 years with my husband and 3 boys.

  49. Mike, Thank you for so generously sharing your personal story. I always look forward to reading your articles, which truly capture the essence of daily life in New Canaan. I have fond childhood family memories of Mr. & Mrs. Santella, Peter & Sharon, as well as of the Franco’s, Karl’s, Haas’, Bach’s and others about whom you’ve written, and who have added such lovely comments herein. Thank you for your commitment to journalism, and to New Canaan.

  50. Congrats, Mike! is the first thing I read every morning. You are seemingly everywhere at the same time to report on town happenings – don’t know how you do it! But thank you for doing it!

  51. Thank you for a wonderful 10 years of reporting. When something is happening in our town, you’re on it! And your care for the people involved is always evident. Here’s to the next 10!

  52. Congratulations, Michael, on your 10th anniversary of the NewCanaanite!!! What a ride! I just love reading it every morning, and it is the first thing I look forward to seeing in my email!! Your stories are spot on. You have a real gift for writing so continue to follow your dreams! I actually wish it would be a 7 day a week read!!

  53. Wow, Mike. I imagine it took quite a bit of courage for you to write this article, given that journalists don’t typically dive so deeply into personal details. I, for one, am honored and grateful that you trusted your readers enough to share your story. Your work at New Canaanite shines. It sets the bar high for local news and I’m grateful to be part of a community that is privileged enough to enjoy our own news source that is stewarded by an experienced journalist with a code of ethics that is evenly applied to sound reporting. Congratulations on your first decade. Cheers to more!

  54. Hi Mike: Congrats on your 1othAnniversary!! You have been my first read in the AM since you started. You sure can write a great story….every week!

    Jim Berry

  55. Congratulations Michael ! The New Canaanite is a treasure and valuable resource. You have done a thorough job of keeping the community informed and town government accountable.

  56. This is truly the best article I have read about New Canaan in the 32 years I have lived here. It brings to life the challenges, kindness, and love that this town has. As I read this touching story, it brought me back memories not only of my childhood, but the special memories I have of New Canaan as a community of caring people, and a respite from reading about all the destructive news of politics that separates good people from one another. Thank you Mike, for bringing joy to our lives by sharing this article and here’s to Peter Santella for being a role model in showing us that making an impact in this world is not about how much money you can make, but how many lives you can touch for the better.

  57. I really enjoyed reading your well-written story, Mike. Congrats to you and Terry on 10 years!! NewCanaanite is valued daily reading for so many in the community.

  58. Mike,

    I remember sitting with Peter that day at lunch and how everything you said hit home with the audience just like everything you have written about since that day has done the same. Congratulations on an awesome 10 years and here’s to many more. It was a shame Peter passed during Covid and we could not pay our respects but you have certainly captured his essence in telling your story. RIP Peter and thanks for all you do!

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