The Hartford Courant Celebrates 250th Anniversary: Witness to History

 

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On March 7, 1998, Connecticut was stunned by a horrific workplace slaughter when a disgruntled employee murdered four senior staff before taking his own life at the Connecticut Lottery Headquarters in Newington.

In response, the staff of the Hartford Courant jumped into the thick it—just as they have done for every major breaking news story in the state’s history. The newsroom was a hive of activity, collecting facts, making phone calls and trying to piece together what happened for an anxious and confused public. Many of the reporters knew the victims—particularly Lottery President Otho Brown and former New Britain Mayor Linda A. Blogoslawski Mlynarczyk, who served as the lottery’s chief financial officer—which made covering the story particularly difficult.  

“They were somewhat more than sources,” former Courant columnist Susan Campbell, who was part of that staff, says of the relationships between the reporters and the victims. “But those people who knew the dead were right in there with the rest of us making phone calls, driving to the Lottery, writing on deadline. It was the height of professionalism.”

“That was an example of [the management] very soundly deploying reporters,” says staff writer Josh Kovner, who was one of 13 assigned to cover the story. “I did one of the victim stories. You go to the street and round up as much as you can to try to convey the loss.”

The day after the shooting the Hartford Courant published 13 stories, 13 photographs, two diagrams, two chronologies and three informational boxes.

“That story was covered on a lot of different levels,” recalls Kovner. “[Someone covering] gambling issues in Connecticut was right on it…the police and breaking news element was covered and then there was the depth of feature writing, the victim profiles. There were a lot of angles and a lot of strong photography.”

Click here for a timeline of the Hartford Courant's history.
 

For the effort, the Hartford Courant received a Pulitzer Prize in the breaking news category in 1999—the second in the newspaper’s history. (Staff writers Robert S. Capers and Eric Lipton won a Pulitzer in the explanatory journalism category for their coverage of the flaws in the Hubble Space Telescope in 1992.) Then publisher Marty Petty said at the time that winning for breaking news was an honor because it recognized the coordination and cooperation of the entire staff.

Yet another tragic shooting, this one in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, again pulled the Courant’s staff together to produce a round of impressive and impactful journalism. They hit the ground running with the story that would shape not just Connecticut’s history, but that of the entire nation as media outlets from around the country touched down to cover the aftermath.

Two reporters, Kovner and Alaine Griffin, remained entrenched in the story for a year, uncovering layers long after the national media had moved on. They focused on the relationship between shooter Adam Lanza and his mother Nancy. They produced a series of articles and teamed up with PBS Frontline for a documentary titled, “Raising Adam Lanza.”

“Sandy Hook was off the charts. It just kept getting worse—minute by minute, hour by hour,” recalls Kovner.

The pair was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2013 for their work surrounding the shooting in the breaking news category; they won several Society of Professional Journalists awards.

“We’re the storytellers of Connecticut,” current Editor Andrew Julien says in his sunlit office adjacent to the newspaper’s sprawling newsroom in the historic office at 285 Broad Street. “What’s kept us going is generation after generation coming into the fold looking for information—and we’ve provided that.”
 

The Hartford Courant Celebrates 250th Anniversary: Witness to History

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