Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this story:
Lawmakers from Bristol and New Britain will meet again next week with state economic development officials about the fate of more than a dozen threatened Central Connecticut newspapers.
Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat, said he hopes something "substantial" will come of the meeting "instead of just speculation."
The delegation of representatives and senators from New Britain and Bristol will meet with Commissioner Joan McDonald of the state Department of Economic and Community Development on Monday at 1:30 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building.
"I've heard that there's a possibility it could work out, but beyond that, I don't know," said Rep. Tim O'Brien, a New Britain Democrat. "We don't have any real heads up."
The Journal Register Co., which owns The Bristol Press and The Herald of New Britain, has said it will close the two dailies and 11 community weekly newspapers in the region by mid-January if a buyer is not found for them.
About 100 people would lose their jobs if the papers close.
Though rumors have been swirling furiously about potential buyers, there's been no solid confirmation of anything definitive.
At one of those weekly papers, the East Hartford Gazette, the longtime editor, Bill Doak, put in a bid to buy his paper.
Doak said he hasn't heard whether his offer was accepted.
"I made an offer to the broker who is handling the sale," said Doak. "The ball's in their court. I'm waiting to hear."
Doak, who has led the paper's small staff since 1987, said newspapers like the Gazette are "small town institutions."
Doak said the Gazette managed to produce and deliver a paper during the Blizzard of 1888, when Main Street had snowdrifts 24 feet high. If they could do that, Doak said, they can weather this financial storm.
"We're part of the fabric of our community," said Doak, who said people in East Hartford just can't imagine life without the Gazette.
"The town deserves to have a weekly," said Doak, who said he isn't doing it for himself. He said he loves his job, but that he'd pass it on to another generation when the time came.
"I think I have the best job in town," said Doak.
O'Brien said when he's heard from any interested parties about buying one or more of the papers, he's referred them to the DECD.
He's eager to hear what McDonald has to say on Monday, said O'Brien.
"It would be nice if we could walk out of the meeting with a clear idea of where things stand," said O'Brien. "If there's good news to tell, I'm hoping we can tell it on Monday."
But O'Brien also said he's willing to be patient if it means a positive resolution.
Still, the deadline looms.
"It's gotta come to a head real quick," said Nicastro.
Both Nicastro and O'Brien stressed that any state involvement isn't a "bailout," as some have charged.
Help in the form of bringing a buyer and seller together, a low interest loan or other economic incentive, wouldn't be anything different than the state does for any other business, they said.
O'Brien said any help would go to a new owner, not the Journal Register Co.
Doak said the state ought to look at newspapers as they are – manufacturing businesses that produce a product locally that people use on a regular basis.
"It's a manufacturing company that actually makes things," said Doak. "It's a useful product."
Nicastro, a former longtime mayor, said the papers play a vital role in the cities and must be saved.
"I'm working as hard as I can with my fellow representatives to do what's right for the people," said Nicastro.
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