Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Tight Squeeze

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Tight Squeeze

Article excerpt

The national headlines about a proposed "bailout" from the state of Connecticut were inaccurate, but The Bristol Press and The Herald of New Britain could serve as a case study in the debate over local vs. national ownership. Recently sold by Journal Register Co. to a lone businessman, Central Connecticut Communications owner Michael E. Schroeder, the two dailies southwest of Hartford have been viewed as economically troubled, in large part due to their besieged, out-of-state former owners.

Journal Register -- which continues to own three other dailies in the state, including the New Haven Register -- is one of four non-Connecticut companies to operate newspapers in the Nutmeg State, and has been criticized as being too hands-off and lacking in any sort of community feel. While the industry is on a downward slide nearly everywhere, several local newspaper owners claim chain ownership is to blame for a good deal of the issues many Connecticut dailies are facing.

"Most of the problems we are seeing in Connecticut have more to do with the debt load and structure of the national companies than the local paper," says Jonathan Kellogg, executive editor of the Republican-American in Waterbury, a family-owned daily southwest of Hartford. "Some of the [difficulties] you have seen with the chains has nothing to do with journalism."

Schroeder, heralded as a savior by some in Bristol and New Britain, has a background that includes 15 years in news and business-side posts at Newsday, as well as a failed free Boston weekly in 2008 -- and he claims his local touch will make all the difference in its ownership. Although he has most recently resided in Huntington, N.Y., and has never lived in Connecticut, Schroeder vowed to move to his newspapers' circulation area by mid-winter and enter his new business with full force. "I am looking forward to being part of the community and rebuilding these newspapers," he tells E&P. "I believe you have to be part of the community you are serving. You can't phone it in."

As if to prove his point, once the deal was finalized, Schroeder personally delivered copies of the Jan. 26 edition to the two papers' longest-known subscribers.

Marc Levy, who edited both the Bristol Press and the Herald for nearly two years before Schroeder came in and plans to stay on, agrees: "It stands a better chance of doing better if we have local ownership that is, at the least, able to make fast decisions," he says. "The structure of some of the media companies makes that difficult." (Journal Register officials did not respond to several requests for comment.)

In recent years, however, several dailies including The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis found hope in new owners after their national chains faltered -- but wound up in just as bad or worse financial shape. Simply having a local owner is hardly enough to ensure success.

A closer look at Connecticut newspapers finds the ownership argument being fought there every day. "There is a very strong newspaper connection in these communities," says Tom Baden, editor of The Connecticut Post, one of four Hearst dailies in the state that had been controlled by MediaNews Group until last year.

The trickle-down effectConnecticut might be the last place you'd look to find signs of newspaper-industry strain. A relatively well-off state, it boasts 17 daily papers -- despite being a fraction of the geographic size of, say, Oregon, which also has 17 -- and has been "one of the best newspaper markets in the country," says William Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group (which once owned the Bristol Press and recently sold The Connecticut Post to Hearst). "It has a highly educated population that is very interested in local affairs," he adds. "Readership penetration is quite high."

With a loyal readership base and families who tend to remain there for generations, "there are still a number of people in Connecticut who will buy as many papers as are available," says Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, one of several locally owned dailies: "We have always had the highest per capita newspaper readership. …

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