Six months ago, media commentator Pauil Janensch predicted that within a year a newspaper company would declare bankruptcy and a daily newspaper would go out of business. One of those predictions has come true and the other probably will, as Janensch explains.
I wish I had been wrong. But last week Tribune Company filed for federal bankruptcy protection. The media giant owns the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s primary news provider, plus Channel 61, Channel 20 and the Advocate weeklies.
Tribune, parent of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and other media properties, will continue to operate. But the filing is just another in a string of bad news about the media, especially newspapers.
The E.W. Scripps Company wants to sell the Denver Rocky Mountain News, Colorado’s oldest newspaper. The McClatchy Company is reported trying to sell the Miami Herald. The Gannett Company, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, began laying off 10 percent of its work force.
As for my prediction that a daily newspaper will simply disappear, it looks like not one but two will fold, and both in Connecticut. The Journal-Register Company announced it will shut down the New Britain Herald and the Bristol Press plus a dozen weeklies in the state if buyers cannot be found by January 12th.
What is the problem? The general economic downturn and a migration of classified advertising, for cars, housing and jobs, to the Internet. New Britain and Bristol each needs its own hometown source of news.
Some Connecticut state lawmakers propose that the state help out perhaps by offering incentives to possible buyers, including tax credits and low-interest loans. I think that’s a terrible idea. The state is having its own financial problems.
But besides that, a provider of news should not be subsidized, directly or indirectly, government, local, state or federal. A news organization is supposed to serve as a watchdog and inform the public when government is corrupt or incompetent. How reliable would a watchdog be if it was fed goodies by a wolf who wants to eat some of the chickens?
What about a local independent publication, not printed on presses and not distributed by trucks but delivered on line? Maybe a non-profit supported by foundation money. There are five around the country, including the New Haven Independent. I have misgivings about a news provider being a recipient of charity. But that’s better than being dependent on government.
Media commentator Paul Janensch is a former newspaper editor who teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.