Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An ode to a community newspaper, near death

UPDATE, Dec. 23: Qunnipiac University journalism professor and former metro editor Paul Janensch warns in The Connecticut Post of Bridgeport, a Hearst daily, against anything resembling a government bailout: "You can't expect a watchdog to bite the hand that feeds it. New Britain and Bristol each deserve its own newspaper to cover town news. What about an online publication, not printed on presses and not distributed by trucks but delivered over the Internet? Around the country, there are five online nonprofit publications, each supported by foundation money. One is the New Haven Independent. I have misgivings about a news provider being a recipient of charity. But that's better than being beholden to government." (Read more)

In Bristol, Conn., a community newspaper is about to die. The Bristol Press, its sister New Britain Herald and 11 affiliated weeklies in the Hartford area are at the mercy of the bankrupt Journal Register Co., the highly tenuous credit market and the efforts of some politicians -- politicians! -- who are trying to find a buyer for the paper(s) and contemplating tax breaks and other incentives.

We reported that two days ago. The same day, in The New York Times, Dan Barry used his "This Land" column to write an ode to the Press, and to the press: "The newspaper matters because it contains the intense coverage of sports at the high school and City Hall level; the listings of births, deaths and potluck suppers. ... In the 1910s it was anti-immigrant and anti-labor. In the 1920s it warned local members of the Ku Klux Klan that it knew their names. In the 1940s it published the names of 139 uniformed men from Bristol who were killed in World War II. And in the 1980s its local owners sold The Press to an out-of-town conglomerate that proved to be too fond of junk bonds."

Editor William Sarno (left, in Times photo by Angel Franco) "wonders about stories untold if The Bristol Press were to fold. Stories like that of Matt Lavoie, a Bristol boy who became an Army corporal, went to Iraq and nearly died in a roadside bombing. That was front-page news here, as was the “pasta supper fund-raiser” for the soldier, held at Nuchie’s Restaurant.

"Who knows what will replace The Bristol Press if it becomes another business out of time in this old city of watches and clocks? Maybe a weekly newspaper will step up to serve the community’s needs, or a well-crafted Web site dedicated to all things Bristol will appear. For now, a heavy-hearted editor will continue to be who he is, and do what he does. And a small band of reporters, working for a small, imperfect newspaper, will record for posterity the challenges facing a wounded soldier; the fire that roared through an animal shelter and the number of cats (30) and dogs (9) saved; the death of an 88-year-old woman named Henrietta; and the birth of a girl named Ava Marie." That is community journalism. (Read more)

For Press reporter Steve Collins' blog on efforts to save the paper, click here. For his regular blog, click here.

1 comment:

Steve Collins said...

Thank you.