In a story that appears this week in the Hartford and New Haven Advocates, along with the Fairfield County Weekly, Andy Bromage miscasts what the entire effort to preserve 13 Central Connecticut newspapers is all about.
The story claims that the papers are "busy drumming up support for some kind of government-backed bailout plan."
But that's not at all what the employees of the papers are asking for and it's not what politicians are proposing.
Nobody at all -- and certainly nobody who has worked for the Journal Register Co. -- wants to see a penny of taxpayer money spent to bail out a JRC newspaper. That would be a travesty and a waste.
What we want is much less: that the state help find a buyer for The Bristol Press, the New Britain Herald and 11 crucial weeklies and to make sure that any potential buyers know about any existing government programs that might provide tax breaks or grants to help preserve these longstanding businesses.
That's it. It's exactly the same thing the state would do for most any significant enterprise in Connecticut, particularly at a time when saving every possible business is critical.
Newspapers, though, are not a typical business. They are the glue that holds communities together and a crucial cog in local economies. Lose them and you lose much more than an employer. These towns face a loss of identityand cohesion.
Professor Rich Hanley of Quinnipiac University points out in the Advocate's story that the news stories that have run about the papers are "geared toward self-preservation and their self-interest is totally clear in all this."
Of course there's self-interest in saying that the papers shouldn't be allowed to die, just as it's self-interest for a patient to seek a doctor's help in cutting out a cancer. But so what? There's no bigger story in Bristol these days than the possible closure in a little more than a month of its 137-year-old community newspaper.
What's more, if it shuts down, that will be the last story the town ever gets. All the other news now pales by comparison.
Hanley complains that the stories fail to address "whether the paper has been performing its watchdog function" and whether the JRC has provided it with sufficient funding to do its job.
I'll answer both points.
Of course we've had too little money and too few resources. We work for a company that is legendary for scraping every penny it can from its newspapers.
But if he'd read this paper over the years, Hanley would know that we nonetheless do the job the First Amendment and our community expect from us.
I could point to all sorts of examples, but our readers already know that we're watchdogs who are perfectly capable of doing more than an occasional growl. Can we cover everything we'd like? Nope. But what paper can?
Bromage gripes that "an average reader" of the stories about the need to save the Press "might conclude that JRC is using its news pages to drive a story about rescuing a failing property while avoiding full-throated coverage that might expose some ugly company truths."
Perhaps he concluded that, but I don't think an average Press reader would agree.
To begin with, I really doubt that the JRC likes these stories appearing at all. It would almost certainly prefer to have nothing much appear about the possible closure, as evidenced by its own decision at the very start to try to say nothing whatsoever about the news. (Even so, I broke the story on this blog because I'm a reporter and it was news.)
Despite the company's stance, we're writing stories anyway because this is the biggest thing going in Bristol. That's what we do. Every time.
As for avoiding coverage that "might expose some ugly company truths," well, that's probably fair. I'd like to keep getting my paycheck, thank you very much.
I don't care to test how far we can go in telling the truth about a company whose mismanagement is renowned throughout the newspaper business. At one point, for example, we had a JRC publisher who wanted to charge employees for the water they drank at the office. Really.
At this point, though, the JRC is leaving the picture, dumping these papers and moving on at long last.
So we could spend time examining how badly it botched the ownership of the papers it now plans to close - and perhaps get fired for it -- or we could focus on the opportunity that now exists to restore these papers to their communities. This is the time for looking ahead to a brighter future, not expressing the anguish we have felt under an oppressive management for far too long.
Personally, I'm disappointed the Advocate would print a story so fundamentally misguided.
Take the JRC to pieces if you like -- I'll talk to you, Andy, for that story -- but don't portray what we're doing as serving the needs of this company. That's an ugly untruth. What we're actually doing is trying to make sure these great old papers can continue to serve the needs of their readers and communties for generations to come.
If we sit back and let them die, what kind of journalists would we be?
By the way, Andy, you might have picked up a phone and called me. I'd have been happy to explain what we were doing and why. It would have saved you from putting your name to a piece that's glaringly, obviously off the mark.
We're not "Pressing for a Bailout." We're just trying to tell the whole damn world that The Bristol Press is a newspaper with good prospects in a community that cares about its survival. If that's a sin, I plead guilty.*******
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Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org