Where has the Courant Gone?

By: Bob Rinker

“Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…What’s that you say Mrs. Robinson? Joltin Joe has left and gone away…”

These are the lyrics from a Simon and Garfunkel song recorded on February 2, 1968. The same can be said of the newspaper, the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s paper of record. Where have you gone???

The Hartford Courant, the longest continuously published newspaper in the country, is on a death spiral. The overlords of the Tribune Company and the hedge fund guys seeking to buy it out are having a fire sale of its assets. The overlords have stopped printing the newspaper in Hartford. They have abandoned their modernized print operation and have laid off 150 workers. The newspaper will now be printed in Springfield, Massachusetts; so much for getting the latest news. The overlords have even put up for sale their iconic building in Hartford’s Capitol district.

Over the years, we have seen the changes. Remember, if you were a sports fan, you could pick up the Courant in the morning and read the late sports scores from the West Coast? Today, you are lucky to find the score of UConn men’s or women’s basketball game if the game started after 8:00 p.m. Remember when the Courant had local bureaus and in your regional edition you could read stories about what was going on in your town? Today, the B section as it is called is more about obituaries than local news. As pointed out to me by a retiree member if it were not for the obits (you pay to have an obituary published in the Courant), there would be nothing in the B section. You are lucky to read one story a month about your local town.

There are two staples of a good newspaper; its reporters and its editorial board. Its reporting staff is a shadow of their former selves. The Capitol Bureau used to have five reporters and an editor. Today, they have Chris Keating. Many of the reporters have departed to Hearst Media that publishes the CT Post and the CT Mirror (online newspaper). There used to be a reporter in every town in the Hartford area. There was even once a labor reporter. Yes, a labor reporter that reported on issues affecting the labor movement in Connecticut. The labor reporting is now done by the business reporter.

There is no longer an editorial board. In fact, there are no longer daily editorials written by the editorial staff. I remember the days when some of us state employee union leaders we made our pilgrimage to the editorial board room of the Courant to debate and sometimes argue with the editorial board staff about its editorial content on state employees. Now, on at least three days a week, the editorials are content bought from the Tribune Content Services or the New York Times. It used to be a pleasure reading locally written Op-Eds and letters to the editors. I may not have agreed with them, but it gave me a sense of what Nutmeggers were thinking about relative to current events.

The Courant has effectively contracted out its newspaper. Not only buying editorial content, it buys news stories from the CT Mirror and other sources. The other day I was reading a news story from Keith Phaneuf in the Courant and I realized that it seemed familiar to me. I then realized it was the same story published in the CT Mirror two days before it appeared in the Courant. The Courant used to have a policy that if a story was published in another newspaper the Courant would not cover the story. It depended on its reporters to get the story first.

Andrew Krieg, a former reporter for the Courant wrote the book, Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted American’s Oldest Newspaper. The book was published in 1988. So we should have seen the demise of the Courant long ago. The reason the book was of interest to CSEA members is that it contains a chapter about our P-4 bridge safety inspectors. The book detailed how the then editor and publisher had the reporters make up a story that our members were not fully conducting bridge safety inspections. The reason for the falsehoods was so that the Courant could win a Pulitzer Prize for reporting like its sister paper, the Kansas City Star. While Governor O’Neill called for the firing of our members based upon the story, we defended our members and none of the discipline held up, but our members went to hell and back.

I still get the Courant every day, but fewer people do. My subscription on a yearly basis is over $800. The solution for the Courant is for it to gain local control and ownership of the newspaper. Or pretty soon, its’ use will be to as my grandmother described some newspaper in her days as, “It is only good for lining the bird cage, and wrapping dead fish.”

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