December 5, 2008

Some hope from Hartford

State officials said Friday they can help find a buyer for The Bristol Press, the New Britain Herald and other Central Connecticut papers whose owner has threatened to shut them down next month.
The commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, Joan McDonald, said Friday she is "guardedly optimistic" that buyers will emerge for the papers.
She said there "could be some serious discussions" underway now for the two dailies, though she declined to go into detail.
Lawmakers said there is at least one potential buyer working with the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce and another possible purchaser eyeing the New Britain paper. They would not provide specifics.
"Things are very positive right now," said state Rep. Tim O'Brien, the New Britain Democrat who rallied legislators to action.
Ten state lawmakers, including three state senators, met behind closed doors for an hour with McDonald in a conference room in the Legislative Office Building. They spoke with the press afterward.
McDonald said lawmakers from Bristol and New Britain – as well as Gov. Jodi Rell – reached out to her to see what the state could do to help. She described the session as "extremely productive."
"We're not here to ask for a bailout," said state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat. "We're here to try to save our newspapers."
McDonald said her department can offer "our full array of services" to any potential buyers -- the same ones that any business can tap into -- that include tax breaks, tax credits, low-interest loans and job retraining money.
She said the department would also assist the paper's employees if they wished to try to take over for themselves.
"We are going to aggressively outreach to see if there are other potential buyers," said McDonald.
McDonald said the programs offered to potential newspaper buyers are the same available to any other business to help retain and create jobs.
"It's nothing over and above any programs that are already offered. It's a matter of linking any prospective buyers with those things that are available," said state Rep. Sandy Nafis, a Newington Democrat who is worried that closing the town's weekly will leave its residents
without a source of information.
"There's no favorable treatment," said McDonald. "We are not here to bail out the newspapers."
The owner of the two dailies, the Pennsylvania-based Journal Register Co., announced last month it would shut down the Press, Herald and 11 weeklies as soon as Jan.12 if they could sell them beforehand. A newspaper broker in New Mexico is in charge of finding buyers.
Sen. Donald DeFronzo, a New Britain Democrat, said he was more optimistic than he was a week ago that the both papers will survive with new ownership.
DeFronzo called it "an indication of the magnitude and depth" of the legislature's commitment to preserve the papers that three senators and seven representatives attended "the very productive and very informative" session with the commissioner.
State Rep. Betty Boukus, a Plainville Democrat whose 22nd District includes portions of both New Britain and Bristol, said it's important that any kind of economic development help is offered to whoever is interested in keeping the papers alive.
Boukus said newspapers provide the community with information in a non-partisan way so the public can know what's happening.
"They're the unsung heroes," said Boukus, who said she "can't imagine not being able to turn to a newspaper" for information, schedules, and other news.
Boukus said the papers could change under a new owner. "It may be a great deal better," Boukus said.
State Rep. John Geragosian, a New Britain Democrat, said the papers should return to local ownership or create an employee-run business.
"We have to look at a new model," said Geragosian. "We have to try to get that local flavor back."
"Newspapers are a vital part of America," said Nicastro.
There isn't a politician alive, said Nicastro, that hasn't cursed a newspaper at some point, but he said that's just the way it is.
Many newspaper readers, especially seniors, rely every day on the print edition of newspapers to get important information, said Nicastro.
"Not everybody lives on the computer," said Nicastro.
Nicastro said he was happy that the delegations from Bristol and New Britain came together with the DECD for the sake of saving the papers.
"I believe that we can do something very positive for our cities," said Nicastro. "We have to make an effort together as a team."
McDonald and several legislators said that the Journal Register Co. was not invited to the meeting. "We have not been in touch with the JRC," McDonald said.
"This was a meeting for legislative folks," DeFronzo said.
Nicastro said the company hastened the decline of its papers.
"They have dropped the ball and I think it's a shame," Nicastro said. "It's always the little people who suffer."
O'Brien said the discussions and possible state help focused on potential successors to the current owner.
"We're going to keep working," said Deputy House Speaker Demetrios Giannaros, a Farmington Democrat.
"This impacts many, many communities. We really have to find a solution," Giannaros said.
Local newspapers provide news about city and town government, schools and business, youth sports, births, deaths, marriages and more.
"You can't get that kind of news from TV," said Giannaros.
The enterprise zones in both Bristol and New Britain, Nicastro said, could provide state-sanctioned tax breaks that would go along with state programs McDonald oversees.
"It's there for anybody who comes forward," said Nicastro, who said the mayors and chambers of commerce in the cities are also committed to helping.
"What we need to do is save jobs," said Nicastro. About 100 jobs are stake at the 13 papers facing closure.
The lawmakers agreed to meet with McDonald again in about 10 days to review any progress.

Here is a statement from many of the employees of The Bristol Press.
And here is state Rep. Tim O'Brien's take on the session.
CT News Junkie's story is here.
Hartford Courant reporter Chris Keating's report on the meeting is here.
Sen. Donald DeFronzo has a press release here.
The Republican-American in Waterbury has a story about it here.
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Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

3 comments:

Bob Jelenic said...

B.a.i.l.o.u.t.

It would be wonderful for your community if there really were legitimate buyers out there, but I honestly cannot believe it. I'm sure the politicians weren't lying. They surely did speak to people who expressed some level of interest or curiousity. But in the end, buying the paper will be easy. Finding the money to operate it, will be hard.

We all know that JRC did a terrible job of running these newspapers, and that's the major reason for their unfortunate demise. Still, other, more-respected newspaper companies are struggling to stay alive. JRC or no JRC, newspapers are in big trouble.

Anonymous said...

Are you signing on from Hell, Bob? Because you're dead now, so shut up.

Anonymous said...

Telling that the Press didn't use the portion of your story that quoted Nicastro criticizing the JRC.