I had the privilege of raising money for Hartford's Camp Courant back in the early 1990s. For one year I walked to a small cubicle assigned me in advertising at the newspaper's 285 Broad Street offices to seek support for the century-old free day camp serving thousands of Hartford's 5-12 year olds. Every day I would go down a corridor passing stacks and stacks of the newspapers left for easy reference -- an experience akin to a kid in a candy store for someone like me whose first job out of journalism school was covering city hall, state government and anything else newsworthy for a weekly paper. In the early 1990s the Courant didn't publish just one or two editions, but more than 10 different "zoned" editions. Bureaus from the Shoreline to the Northwest hills were plentiful and the "oldest continuously published newspaper" in the country probably had three or four times the number of people in editorial and news than is the case now. Before online news took hold, CT's biggest daily offered a news digest every day at 3 p.m. faxed on one sheet to subscribers who wanted tomorrow's headline and stories a day early. I remember senior managers saying that lay offs just didn't happen at a paper that was so dominant in its circulation area.
All of this is a sentimental way of saying that things have changed drastically for our metropolitan newspaper of record. Until a few years ago, even as the internet became pervasive ,the Courant was a public utility for news and commerce that thoroughly "penetrated" the marketplace of ideas and business.
The business models of the linear age and the increasing concentration of newspapers into a few corporate hands are decimating what's left of newsrooms -- last week's Courant layoffs of State House reporter Mark Pazniokas and others being the latest blow to good reporting and decent coverage in the capital city. You would think the Courant would want to sell off some physical assets, or rent some of the empty cubicles on Broad Street to maintain that kind of experience and talent, if only for a while longer.
Here in New Britain the dismantling of the metropolitan newspaper is complete. The bureau and home to a string of good journalists through the years (Lisa Chedekel, Joanne Klimkiewicz, Mike McIntire to name a few) on South Street quietly closed, consolidated to a regional Middletown office. Gone is the coverage of important City Council meetings and other government actions on a regular basis. The reporters who are left are gamely covering many more towns and doing what they can to deliver the news regionally and with less space in the print edition.
To some extent the revival of The Herald and its new local ownership has abated a total news blackout of what's happening in politics and government.
And there is still the largely untapped potential of local journalism to define itself in cyberspace: "The ease of blogging and exchanges of opinions online are addressing some gaps in the greatly diminished coverage of the dailies. It's also true that there is infinitely more news and opinion available globally for any interested reader," a recent blog noted about saving the hometown dailies.
But the situation remains difficult for an effective "Fourth Estate" locally and regionally. The further erosion of reporting and coverage by the Courant is a painful reminder that a void in how we keep the politicians honest and stay informed will get worse before it gets better.
(You can make a donation to Camp Courant at the above referenced website. It's a nonprofit bearing the newspaper's name that is a very worthy cause in Hartford)