United Press International, then the second largest news wire service, offered Cotterell a job in Columbia, S.C., where he became a reporter in January, 1967. He later covered government and politics in Raleigh, N.C.; Birmingham, Ala.; Tallahassee, Miami and Atlanta for UPI.
In 1984, Cotterell returned to Tallahassee with the wire service, and in 1985 he moved to the Tallahassee Democrat, initially as a general assignment reporter and, within six months, joined the Democrat’s state capitol bureau. Between his first stint in Tallahassee with UPI, 1969-74, and his 27 years with the Democrat, Cotterell covered the campaigns and administrations of eight governors and countless state Cabinet officers, members of Congress and other state officers in Florida. With months of reporting on Gov. Lawton Chiles’ efforts to privatize processing of state employee health insurance claims, Cotterell was instrumental in bringing about legislative changes in how the state contracts for “outsourced” services. During the Jeb Bush administration, he wrote a series of stories about privatization of state human resources management with a company known as Convergys, including computer security breaches and improper processing of computer records by subcontractors in India. This reporting led to legislative reforms in Bush’s aggressive drive to privatize state government services.
Cotterell won a few minor awards and was honored by various service organizations, but he made a point of not entering contests -- believing that, except for truly great public service projects, journalists spend too much time handing out awards for, basically, doing their jobs.
After retiring from the Democrat in 2012, Cotterell continued covering the capitol part-time for various publications but returned to the Democrat to resume writing columns in 2013, and he also writes occasional editorials for the newspaper, focusing on state government and politics.