The Journal Register Company announced last week that it will close two of its Connecticut daily newspapers and 11 Connecticut weeklies if buyers cannot be found by January 12. Media commentator Paul Janensch tells us why this is terrible news.
Six months ago, I predicted that within a year, a daily newspaper would go out of business somewhere in the U.S. Now it looks like not one, but two dailies will fold, and both are in Connecticut - the New Britain Herald and the Bristol Press. This is a cruel blow for the employees who will lose their jobs, and also for the towns of New Britain and Bristol.
Journal Register’s three other Connecticut dailies - in New Haven, Middletown and Torrington - and Connecticut magazine will continue to be published. The company - which is based in Yardley, Pennsylvania - owns a total of 22 daily newspapers and about 300 non-daily publications.
All newspaper companies are having problems with declining circulation and advertising. But Journal Register is among those in the deepest financial trouble. The company is known for being a skinflint. The problem with that is you have no cushion when times get tough, especially if you are carrying a heavy debt load. Its stock has been de-listed by the New York Stock Exchange, and is selling for about a penny a share.
New Britain and Bristol are distinct communities, each with its own unique character. New Britain is home to Central Connecticut State University and Stanley Tool Works. Neighboring Bristol is home to the ESPN sports network. When the newspapers are gone, who will cover town government, the schools, the zoning commission, crimes, fires and traffic accidents? What about obituaries and high school sports?
The two towns are close to Hartford, but the Hartford Courant is cutting back, so don’t expect the Courant to fill the gap. What about Hartford-based radio and television? Hah! Do you expect a radio or TV station to cover a meeting of the school board?
I see one ray of hope. What about a local independent online publication? It would be staffed by professionals but not be burdened with the costs of printing and distribution. There are five around the country. Each is a stand-alone and not tied to a traditional newspaper. All are non-profit. One is the New Haven Independent.
The towns of New Britain and Bristol deserve their own daily newspapers. I wonder if each could have a new one - not tossed onto the driveway - but distributed by the Internet.
Media commentator Paul Janensch is a former newspaper editor who teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University.