One day after the news started spreading that the Journal Register Co. plans to close The Bristol Press and a bunch of other Connecticut papers if they're not sold by January 12, I'm already tired of feeling sad or scared.
What I feel like doing now is fighting to save this critical community newspaper.
Whatever you think of the Press -- and I know some are disappointed about its inability to cover everything anymore or even to get copies delivered properly -- it has a 137-year history in town and the possibility of racking up that many more years, in some form or another. In its time, it has had great reporting and truly wretched stuff. It has had moments where it shined and times when it stunk. It has been home for powerbrokers who shaped this city, including Lou Bachman, Bart Barnes and Joe Zerbey. It has weathered floods, ownership changes and even me.
Through it all, the paper has reported who died, who was born, who got married, who got arrested, who got elected and so much more that is really the lifeblood of any town.
It has been the place that the community argued about issues, learned what was going on and what could be done if leaders and citizens made the effort.
I've had the pleasure at odd hours of pawing through folders that Bart Barnes left behind, chock full of clippings and correspondence that showed how he and others pushed for a highway, arranged for the purchase of what became the Hoppers-Birge Pond Nature Preserve, and so much more. There is so much in there to show what a newspaper can mean, what it can do.
I'm not about to defend everything that my company has done in Bristol during the past 14 years. I cringed along with the community at some decisions. I felt sorrow with every misguided budget cut that meant a weaker, smaller paper.
But I never lost the hope that the Press would rebound, that it could catapult the city to new heights if it had the right leadership and a community ready to stop bellyaching and start trying to get something done. I still think that's possible.
I don't think our readers understand that if Bristol loses this paper, it loses much more than some flimsy sheets of paper each day. It loses its soul.
A city without a newspaper lacks an identity because it doesn't have a way to talk to itself. It can't communicate beyond the narrow bounds of personal ties. It becomes a far lesser place.
Don't believe me? Go ask the people in a city that doesn't have a paper. They'll all tell you they don't know anything about what goes on in their town. Elections lose their luster. Festivals dwindle and die. Nonprofits whither. Those towns go on, of course, but they aren't what they were and they'll never be what they could become.
This is the moment, Bristol, to take charge of destiny. Buy this little paper and nourish it. Keep it alive and try to make it grow.
If the buyers see me as a problem of some sort, get rid of me. I'll survive. This isn't about me. It's about the fate of a city I've come to care deeply about.
I'll offer some ideas later about how the paper could be purchased and what could happen if we all try to do what's needed. I truly hope that Bristol can rise to the challenge because this isn't a looming tragedy, it's a glorious opportunity to take hold of this crucial institution and keep it within the community for a long, long time to come.
Don't let it slip away.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org