December 6, 2008

Waterbury paper says state should not help Press, Herald

The Republican-American has an editorial today that makes the case for rejecting any state help for the JRC papers slated to close next month. It's worth reading because the argument it makes has some validity.
But it's nonetheless wrong.
To begin with, government already provides plenty of help for newspapers, from the lucrative publication of legal notices to cut-rate mailing costs. I think they're exempt from sales tax, too, thanks to plenty of lobbying by newspaper executives. Heck, there's even a press room at the state Capitol, space provided right there at the heart of things for the media to do its work.
None of that bothers me. It's a recognition of the reality that government and the newspapers that cover its actions are already tied together in many, many ways.
Maybe I'm naive, but I don't see how a group of new local owners of the Press getting a low interest loan from the state or a tax break for new computers or something is going to make a damn bit of difference how I write a story or how it gets played in the paper.
Oh, yeah, that tax break for new computers? Newspapers already get that, too.
Is ESPN, the biggest media giant in Connecticut, going to skew its coverage to benefit the state government because it got hundreds of millions in tax breaks, road improvements and such? I don't think so. I'd be kind of surprised if the people who actually do the reporting there are even dimly aware of the government's helping hand that made its growth more likely.
There is, in short, a real world that trumps the theoretical divide that should separate watchdogs from those they watch. That fence is already down, if it was ever otherwise, and what the state development officials are offering is no more than they would do for any business.
I recognize, of course, that newspapers are not just any business. But their very uniqueness is what makes it especially important to save them.
I would also point out that the editorial's list of dead papers includes only one from a town that doesn't still have a former competitor in business. Only in Ansonia, where the Evening Sentinel folded, is there nothing left. And I'd argue with anyone who wanted to claim that the Naugatuck Valley is not now largely ignored by the press, to its detriment. The lack of a paper there has contributed to the crippled economy that afflicts most of the towns near Ansonia. It's actually a perfect example of why it's so crucial to save the Press.
We are, for better or worse, already beholden in some way to "the coercive powers that be" and yet we go on, poking and prodding the beast that is our government, demanding that it do better, reach higher and run more efficiently.
A loan or yet another tax break isn't going to change that relationship one iota.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at


concerned conservative said...

Thank goodness for the Waterbury Republican.

AnonymousWestconnStudent said...

and what the state development officials are offering is no more than they would do for any business.

Or no different than what business would look for when deciding where they want to settle, or whether to stay or move, etc.

Keep up the good work steve.

Anonymous said...

I think the point of the editorial is not that the state shouldn't provide the help it would provide any other business or medium. It isn't even against providing those services to new ownership.

It's against a "bailout" -- the sort of thing that's happening on a national scale -- where government provides funding to keep a failing business operational because it's "too important to fail." That's a questionable model to begin with, but especially so when dealing with independent media. To their credit, the officials who gathered in Hartford on this subject this week said several times they were not proposing a "bailout."

Nevertheless, any new owners or successors to these papers should be very careful about drawing the line to keep their independence.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a Republican-American staffer but not one who writes editorials. We wish you well, and recently did a front page story about your plight.

Steve Collins said...

Maybe so, but what's the point of writing an editorial against a bailout that nobody's seeking?

Anonymous said...

Kinda lends credence to my theory that the Rep-Am will start to cover Bristol and expand their marketshare once the BP is dead. Steve - send you're resume before Adam Benson does!

Adam Benson said...

If the Press folds and Waterbury does decide to pay more attention directly to Bristol news, it's unlikely it would come in the form of robust coverage.
Oftentimes when outlying metropolitan communities lose their daily and bigger publications sense an opportunity, they establish one or two-person bureaus to cover mostly breaking news and ceremonial events.
You still won't get high school sports coverage, wedding/obituary announcements, daily arrest reports and any number of other roles the Press fills daily.
Clearly if Waterbury WAS interested in aggressively covering Bristol, they would already be doing so, as they did for years until the mid-1990s.

Steve Collins said...

You looked good on TV. Has Hollywood come calling yet?

Adam Benson said...

Yeah. My hair is getting was cast as the villain in the next James Bond movie.
Guess I don't need this newspaper job so much after all!

Anonymous said...

(Trying again because of page crash.)

Steve, the answer to your question is that the editorial was probably written before, not after, the "this is not a bailout" press conference. We would have known the meeting was coming, but not the outcome.

As for the post by the other Anonymous, we've heard no talk about expanding into Bristol.

Anonymous said...

The Waterbury Republican-American just laid off 10 people last week. Doesn't sound like they're in a position to be expanding at all.

Anonymous said...

The Republican American owns the Bristol Observer...