The city would lose its identity without its daily newspaper, community leaders said, voicing support for saving The Bristol Press.
It’s “virtually impossible” to imagine Bristol without a daily paper, said Frank Johnson, chairman of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. and the Bristol Zoning Commission.
“Everything that goes on in Bristol is community oriented,” said Johnson. For the community to lose its newspaper, said Johnson, is “beyond my imagination.”
But the Journal Register Co., the Pennsylvania-based newspaper chain that owns the Press, said it would close the Bristol paper and a dozen other papers in Connecticut – including The Herald, a daily in New Britain – if they are not sold by January 12.
“I don’t think anybody here has thought about what it would be like without a newspaper,” said Tom Cosgrove, a member of the downtown development board.
City Planner Alan Weiner said local papers help towns maintain individuality.
“Whether it’s The Bristol Press or any newspaper, it gives the community an identity,” said Weiner. “It provides a voice to the community.”
The newspaper’s role in getting information to citizens is crucial, according to Weiner, who said he hopes the Press will continue under new ownership.
“It’s a sad day when any community loses such an important institution as its newspaper,” Weiner said.
The closing of a newspaper is different than the loss of another business, according to Weiner.
“It’s not just another commodity,” said Weiner. “It’s not as if Bradlees is closing its doors, so I can go buy my curtains at Wal-Mart.”
John Leone, president of the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce, said the daily paper is an important way of getting news about the community.
“When and if it goes, people will miss it,” said Leone.
Weiner said, “If it’s gone, there’s going to be people in for a rude surprise.”
Leone said he's sure that the Journal Register Co. would rather sell the Press than close it.
But Leone said the company's self-imposed deadline is looming.
“There isn't a lot of time,” said Leone.
Leone said city residents won't have anywhere to turn for local news, since it won't be covered on television, The Hartford Courant has downsized and the Bristol Observer, owned by The Republican-American of Waterbury, only comes out once a week.
Leone remained hopeful the newspaper would be saved.
“There might be somebody out there,” said Leone. “I would love to see somebody give the city a Christmas present and buy the Press.”
Newspapers are part of the quality of life in a town, and like a sports team, hospital or collection of specialty shops, help define a place.
When a local paper dies, said Weiner, “another small part of that community’s soul is disappearing.”
As communities become more homogenous and lose what makes them unique, they lose their identity, said Weiner, and become interchangeable.
“Over time, what’s going to distinguish Bristol from any other place?” said Weiner.
Chris Bailey, curator of the American Clock and Watch Museum in Bristol, wondered what will fill the void in the city if the Press disappears after almost 140 years.
“Its day to day history will no longer be recorded,” said Bailey. “Bristol's history will pretty much be forgotten because it won't be recorded.”
Bailey said a town without a newspaper is “definitely” the poorer for it. While national and international news is available from many sources, Bailey said, a hometown paper is the only place to get the local scoop.
“It's the local items that are really of importance as to what was going on in the town,” said Bailey. “A town will lose a lot of its unique identity if there's no newspaper about the town.”
When the Press first began publishing in 1871, Bailey said, it was a “bright spot” in Bristol.
“There was news to be found that was important,” said Bailey, who said he wished the Press had been around decades earlier, at the height of the clock industry.
Bailey, a recognized expert in American clockmaking history, said if the paper had been around during the heyday of the clock industry, researchers would have had a much better idea of what exactly was going on then.
“The local history is important in the newspaper,” said Bailey.
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