Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this story:
State lawmakers representing Bristol and New Britain are asking the Department of Economic and Community Development for help in saving the daily newspapers in those cities.
A letter to DECD Commissioner Joan McDonald, released Tuesday and signed by five representatives and two state senators, asks McDonald what her agency can do to save the jobs and prevent the closings.The letter, signed by Rep. Tim O’Brien, Rep. Peter Tercyak and Rep. John Geragosian, who all represent New Britain, Rep. Frank Nicastro of Bristol and Rep. Betty Boukus of Plainville, Sen. Donald DeFronzo of New Britain and Sen. Tom Colapietro of Bristol, asks for a meeting with McDonald.
The Journal Register Co., which owns The Bristol Press and The Herald of New Britain, has said it will close both those two dailies and an additional 11 Connecticut weekly papers if they are not sold by January 12.
About 100 people would lose their jobs if the papers are all closed.
Rep. Tim O’Brien, a Democrat who represents New Britain, led the effort to petition the DECD.
“The delegation in both cities felt it was important to take this step, to do whatever is possible to make sure these institutions can keep going,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien said the DECD has many different programs that might be of use in trying to save the papers.
Most of the weekly newspapers targeted for closure by the Journal Register Co. are Imprint publications operating out of the Bristol Press building. Imprint weekly newspapers slated for closure Jan. 12 by the Journal Register Co. if they are not sold are the Wethersfield Post, Newington Town Crier, Windsor Journal, Rocky Hill Post, Bloomfield Journal, Windsor Locks Journal, Avon Post, Farmington Post, Simsbury Post and the Tri-Town Post, which serves Canton, Burlington and Harwinton. Another Journal Register Co. weekly, the East Hartford Gazette, is also listed for closure.
In the letter, the lawmakers said they were concerned not only with job loss but also with preserving the papers in their role as watchdogs.
“Having a locally based newspaper is important for public accountability,” the letter to McDonald says, adding that as elected officials, they want the public to have access to independent new about their governments and communities.
The letter says the signers share the sentiments of America’s Founding Fathers that “a free press is an essential part of democracy.”
Newspapers, said O’Brien, are “the only private institution written into the Bill of Rights.” He said it is the newspaper’s job to hold elected people accountable.
Seeing newspapers close, said O’Brien, is “something that we want to avoid on so many different levels.”
The letter from the lawmakers noted that both New Britain and Bristol are struggling in the difficult economy, and the cities would suffer if they lost their papers.
The lawmakers wrote, “It would also be a detriment to the efforts of both New Britain and Bristol to rebuild our local economies if we were to lose the prestige that comes with being home to a local daily newspaper.”
Nicastro also said he wants DECD to do everything possible to save both papers.
“I can’t picture the city without a newspaper,” said Nicastro, who said his first job was as a Bristol Press carrier in the early 1950s.
Bristol lost its own radio station more than a decade ago, Nicastro said.
“Now we’re going to lose our local newspaper. That’s a travesty,” Nicastro said.
While his Democratic colleagues head for the DECD, Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican who represents Bristol, said he plans to approach the Journal Register Co. to see what he can learn and try to get things started from that angle.
“They own the papers,” said Hamzy. “They should be interested in opening up a discussion. They’re the ones that set this ultimatum.”
Hamzy, who said he reads at least three papers every day, said he will be working in concert with the rest of the delegation towards the same goal of saving the papers.
“This is not partisan,” Hamzy said.
O’Brien said local papers play a critical role as a source of information, public record and local history that records births, deaths, marriages and other events.
“People’s family histories are recorded there,’ said O’Brien.
The Journal Register Co. also owns three other dailies in Connecticut, the New Haven Register, the Middletown Press and the Register Citizen in Torrington, as well as more than two dozen other weeklies, several monthly publications, including Connecticut Magazine, as well as a handful of quarterlies and a Spanish language publication called Registro.
Here is a PDF of the letter sent to the DECD.
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