Good news about the media is rare, and, when it occurs, it’s tempting to just nod and slowly back away. That’s basically what happened when Michael Schroeder rescued several small-town Connecticut newspapers in 2008. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other national organs jumped on his last-second bid. Since then, though, no one’s checked in to see how he’s changed the papers—or if he’s got a realistic chance at turning them around.
My new cover story at the New Haven Advocate tries to remedy that. James Smith, Schroeder’s top editor, gave me free reign in his newsroom at the New Britain Herald (“I like cooperating with the free press,” he said), and I spent a couple of days talking to reporters and readers, in addition to Smith and Schroeder.
In the last few years, Connecticut newspapers have lost local readers at a much faster clip than the rest of the country, so the state of the Herald might offer some clues for other areas. Of course, everything’s shifting quickly—that link, to a Hartford Business Journal story from 2007, names the big papers as hot buys and the small ones as toxic assets. At the very least, though, Schroeder’s Herald offers a chance to study a smaller paper, instead of the NYT– and WSJ-level stuff that dominates so much of the metamedia discourse.
Here’s some context I couldn’t work into the story.
- As I mention in the story, New Britain newspaper readers split between the Herald and the Hartford Courant. No one’s more excited that 2009 is coming to a close than the Courant. In the last year, America’s oldest continually published newspaper lost its top two editors, its Washington bureau, its top local political reporter, and, in the most public embarrassment, George Gombossy, the consumer columnist who says he lost his job for writing stories critical of Courant advertisers. Not surprisingly, the Courant‘s also lost more than 20,000 subscribers in that same period—including one New Britain man who told me about the time Gombossy helped him get his money back from a local Best Buy.
- If you’re interested in the sordid history of the Journal-Register Company, which, from 1995 to 2008, owned and tortured the Herald, start with this great American Journalism Review story. This Philadelphia CityPaper story outlines the JRC’s nasty reaction to that story; this Forbes feature is also worth reading. As I mention in my story, the JRC promised to make only “minimal changes” when they bought the Herald—then laid off a dozen people in their first week.