January 1, 2009

JI editor sure doesn't sound like he's buying newspapers

Read Journal Inquirer Managing Editor Chris Powell's latest column and you sure don't get a sense that he's advising anyone to snap up The Bristol Press or, especially, The New Britain Herald.
In a lucid argument that state tax breaks aren't going to make a difference to newspaper owners, Powell points the finger at the real problem: that Connecticut's cities are too poor to support dailies anymore, except maybe in Stamford.
"The decline of newspapers reflects community disintegration," Powell correctly argues, and the way to save them is to fix our state, our society, ourselves.
"Newspapers don't need tax breaks," Powell says in the piece. "They need what the state itself needs, a middle class – self-sufficient households with two parents who are involved with their kids, schools, churches, civic groups, and such, interests that attach people to community and thus, almost inevitably, to newspapers, the chroniclers of community."
In New Britain, where The Herald is struggling, 40 percent of the residents speak something other than English as their first language, Powell says. How are they going to become readers of the community daily?
"New Britain is desperately poor," Powell says, and lacks the sort of rich suburbs that might make it possible for a daily to survive anyway.
"So among Connecticut's cities New Britain probably is least able to support a daily paper," Powell says, which ought to put to rest any thought that the JI is going to buy it.
On the other hand, Powell's column seems to contain a hint of interest in an old plan to come at The Hartford Courant from its fat, wealthy and uncompetitive suburbs.
I know that West Hartford, where almost everyone seems to get the Courant, feels that it's mostly ignored by the paper. The West Hartford News, the Journal Register Co.-owned weekly, doesn't fill the vacuum at all.
I'm not sure the JI has the financial werewithal or interest in trying to have some kind of JI West that could take the Courant on from the other side of the state capital, but it might.
Maybe we'll know more in the coming week.
I'm skeptical the JI is coming to our rescue, but I do know that whatever happens to us, Hartford's decisionmakers should pay attention to Powell's policy prescriptions.
We don't need the whole state to keep slipping down the slippery path that has swallowed up too many of its cities and too many of its residents' dreams.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Anonymous said...

Well, consider this. From a news coverage perspective, the Middletown Press is BY FAR the worst of the three JRC papers in Central Connecticut. Yet it is the only one that is staying afloat, because Middletown has a lot more going for it as a community than, say, New Britain. For all the folks who argue that the quality of the papers is the reason, this would seem to argue against that.

Steve Collins said...

I have long thought the JRC's biggest mistake -- though there have been many -- was making New Britain the centerpiece of its Central Connecticut newspaper holdings. Bristol has so much more going for it than New Britain, and has for many years.

Anonymous said...

Gee, maybe improving the education of our people, locally and statewide, might help!


Anonymous said...

Maybe Middletown is the fair-haired child of the JRC because its employees were carried on the payroll of other papers. Or maybe because some JRC bigshot lives near there and the commute is shorter.

Anonymous said...

You know, Steve, if the paper goes away, I'm going to miss reading your stuff. If they made any mistake in Bristol it was not having you write much more, about whatever you wanted. You're a gifted writer.

Concerned Conservative said...

A "JI West" would be nice mainly because Chris Powell is an excellent editorial writer. It would be a refreshing change from the overt liberalism that commonly characterizes the Bristol Press.

Steve Collins said...

You know, Concerned Conservative, I'm about ready to KO all your comments. I'm kind of sick of reading the constant prattle about how "liberal" the Press is, a notion that is preposterous on its face to most of our readers.
You are welcome to your opinion, of course, but I don't have to give you a forum to express it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Concerned Conservative said...


Although it is a certain fact that I have not read even half of the Editorials in the Bristol Press, ones that have even a minute tinge of ideology in them (and there has been many) have tilted to the left hand of the political spectrum. I am sorry you (and your perception of the majority) do not have the sense to recognize this.

And your threat to "KO" my comments really doesn't matter, because soon the free market is about to KO your employer.

Anonymous said...

I hope the phony concerned citizen has to file for bankruptcy now that he can't screw people out of any more money. They ran out now what "concerned citizen?

Art Costa said...

You know, Concerned Conservative, I'm about ready to KO all your comments. I'm kind of sick of reading the constant prattle about how "liberal" the Press is, a notion that is preposterous on its face to most of our readers. You are welcome to your opinion, of course, but I don't have to give you a forum to express it.

Now, that would be a welcomed decision. It isn't that I don't entertain, appreciate, or embrace elements of the conservative canon. It's simple. Some people do a good job of engaging me with thoughtful, conservative arguments. CC isn't one of them.

Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

As much as I admire Chris Powell, and respect his opinion, his argument always seems to reduce every issue to blame Democrats, Liberals and public school education. So politicians are to blame for the fact that Connecticut's cities are home to illiterate non-newspaper subscribers, and that is really what is at the heart of the demise of the New Britain Herald and Hartford Courant bankruptcy. Powell wants politicians to first 'fix' all the ills of our urban core before they do anything else. Please. So simple even a caveman could do it?

Perhaps history might offer a more realisitic lesson and newspaper analysis. All these troubles newspapers grew up and prospered alongside, and during the heyday, of Connecticut's great transforming Industrial Revolution when we, as a state, went from rural communities to industrial machine-powered producers. The Herald was founded by the Vance family in 1880 when New Britain was already the center of industrial commerce. The notion of a "middle class" was a novel concept just coming into existence. In Hartford Sam Colt, the greatest industrialist of them all, would be known for creating urban villages alongside his factory. Less well known today is the incentive to have all his factory managers and supervisors build homes alongside his, creating a middle class society in the city's neighborhoods based on the worker's standing in Colt's own factory. New Britain's city map of the same period shows a similar infrastructure with mansions of factory giants built right in the city within a short carriage ride of the factory gate. Mr. Potter in the Jimmy Stewart movie 'It's a Wonderful Life' would have felt right at home.

The Herald's early issues chronicled horrific industrial accidents commonplace at the time; boiler explosions, workers falling into vats of molten tar, workers maimed and crushed by gears and railcars. That ran 'below the fold' on top was news of Europe and New York, stories about the price of coal and war in foreign lands. It was a booming time in our nation's history.

New Britain and Hartford, like all New England industrial cities, were chockablock with unschooled, uneducated and illiterate immigrants. They came for the promise of a better life in America, and were willing to work 24-hour shifts, 7 days a week. That was the reality of those times.

Would returning to that era fix the Herald, too? Were those days better for everyone? Perhaps Chris Powell knows best. But the cautionary tale is realizing why New Britain was founded. It wasn't for its great natural beauty. It was a swamp. But the location was very convenient for commerce. Around that swamp grew what would be known as "Hardware City" for its many ingenious modern factories producing brilliant brass hardware and the like.

Manchester, where the Journal Inquirer is based, and Bristol, home of the Bristol Press, share a similar history as multi-faceted New England manufacturing centers.

Of course Powell is probably not suggesting politicians could turn back the clock, or even that they should. And I agree with the premise that everyone should read the newspaper. But before we put the newspaper industry - and it is really just that, an industry, nothing more and nothing less - we should sober up and remember newspapers thrived because they were great democratizing tools, not because they might have fostered liberal or conservative causes, or promoted the deployment of public education. No, it was the industries themselves that led the push to make workers more literate, not so they could subscribe to the local newspaper, but so they could read a set of blueprints, use decimals to operate a set of calipers or calculate the optimum cost in materials in order to figure if making a screw was profitable or not. And so New Britain became the center for public school education in Connecticut and is the founding place of the first large-scale state teachers college, the New Britain Normal School, now Central Connecticut State University. Then, at the turn of the 20th Century, even children of factory workers could gain access to an education, and women could be provided for with a non-farming, non-factory-floor career path.

Politicians and newspapers can't fix the ills of our cities. Their job is one of responding to and honestly chronicling the needs and conditions of the society they are both part of. Dismissing cities as being 'hopeless' and without merit is akin to dismissing all the people who have lives there and ever lived there. That isn't just a silly thing for a newspaper editor to do, it is arrogant and unproductive.

Concerned Conservative said...

Art Kosta:

The fact that you're the President of the local AFT and knowing how well known that organization is for their conservative policy/agenda and conservative idelogical train of thought, your comments are well noted.

I'm sure you're above "tit for tat" remarks. And I will surely subject my next proposed comment with much more scrutiny because of your criticism.

Frank said...

I would have liked to read those deleted comments. We aren't all the same, and that's what makes life interesting. It is what makes this blog interesting. Or did.

Steve Collins said...

Somebody compared our incoming president to a baboon. You really don't want to read that sort of drivel. I'm sorry I accidentally posted it at all.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Steve would print those ridiculous comments if the poster would provide legitimate information such as an Email address etc.

Anonymous said...

To say the Middletown Press is the worst of the three JRC papers in Central Connecticut is quite funny. The editor of the Middletown Press is the same editor who oversees Bristol and New Britain. If Middletown is the worst and is the only one surviving, maybe the editor isn't focusing his efforts in the right place.