In a column for tomorrow's Hartford Business Journal, Laurence Cohen compares The Bristol Press and New Britain Herald to "sick puppies" whose corporate owner plans to take them out back and shoot them by the end of the year.
Very nice, on so many levels.
Cohen, of course, has his facts all mixed up and his conclusion is almost idiotic.
What is true is that the Journal Register Co., which owns the dailies, is "a basket-case media holding company," and that it says it will shutter the two papers next month, along with 11 Central Connecticut weeklies, unless a buyer emerges.
Cohen, who also has a column in The Hartford Courant, writes that "savvy investors have not exactly been lining up around the block to put in an offer. The economy is terrible, the newspaper business is even more terrible and two struggling papers in blue-collar factory towns that don’t have any factories is far, far down on the list of attractive investments."
As it happens, he's wrong. There are at least two offers on the table -- one of them solely for The Bristol Press -- and perhaps others. I have no inside knowledge, but I do talk to people in the community who know a little bit about what's going on.
Cohen, naturally, has fallen for the lie that politicians and state economic development officials are looking into some sort of bailout for the papers.
That misinformation seems to be confined to Tribune Co. columnists and a handful of faraway conservative bloggers who mostly apologize for their error when the facts are pointed out to them. I don't mind the bloggers who are mixed up, but how come Cohen, Stan Simpson and Kevin Rennie can't bother to learn the facts before they bat out a column?
What Cohen says in his wrongheaded piece is that "community leaders, politicians and state economic development bureaucrats" have "come together in a big sloppy mess to conjure up state incentives, loans or tax breaks to keep" the two dailies afloat.
It is a fact that our community, political leaders and state economic development officials are trying to help find buyers for the papers. But they're not conjuring up anything at all. They've simply agreed to make sure any potential buyer knows what programs are available to any business for low-interest loans, tax breaks for new equipment and the like.
Whether that matters or not, I have no idea. It isn't hurting, though, to try.
In any case, when Cohen predicts that "no formal government assistance specifically targeting the papers" is going to be coming down the pike, he's not exactly hitting the Lotto. He's just saying what everyone involved has said from day one. That's the kind of brilliant insight the Hartford Business Journal is paying Cohen good money to deliver?
I'm still waiting for someone out there in the media -- the Hartford Business Journal is certainly up to the job -- to explain why The Bristol Press is not simply yet another casualty of hard times for newspapers. It's the victim of a ruthless corporation that stripped the 126-year-old paper of its ability to function coherently -- to deliver copies to subscribers, bill advertisers properly, greet customers pleasantly and so much more, Then having plundered what it could, the JRC declared the paper incapable of making money.
When the JRC bought The Bristol Press, the paper had the highest penetration rate of any paper in any city in New England, with 70 percent of families subscribing. It made money hand over fist. The JRC took that golden goose, wrung its neck, stole all the eggs and now has the temerity to complain that it can't make a profit so the paper has to close.
That's the real story, not a mythical 'bailout.'
I'm not sure why Cohen is itching to see sick puppies shot. He's clearly got some personal issues. But he should not know that any dog can come back to bite you.
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