Who Controls the Connecticut Media?
The Manchester Journal-Inquirer newsroom.
Jared Ramsdell / Journal Inquirer
(page 1 of 5)
In December 2008, Michael Schroeder picked up a copy of the New York Times, read Dan Barry’s “This Land” column about two dying newspapers in Connecticut, then threw away the newspaper without a second thought.
Schroeder was living on Long Island, working as a consultant for a medical products catalog, a career in newspapers and a stint at newspaper ownership already under his belt. The economy had killed his first business venture, a Monday-through-Friday newspaper called BostonNOW with a circulation of 135,000. A second stab at owning a newspaper wasn’t on his radar.
That is, until, a few days later when he ran into an old friend, Harry Binder, of Binder and Binder Social Security advocates fame. Binder had read the same article, and was struck with a different thought: Here was an opportunity. “He asked, did I ever think about doing something like this,” Schroeder recalled recently, sitting in a conference room at the headquarters for the New Britain Herald, one of the two papers mentioned in the article. “I said, ‘Not really.’”
And yet, after that conversation something clicked for Schroeder. Together he and Binder talked about buying the New Britain Herald and Bristol Press—Binder funding the purchase and Schroeder running operations. Three days later, Schroeder was sitting in a meeting with the mayors of Bristol and New Britain, asking if the residents there might accept an outsider like himself. Three weeks later, he had the keys to the New Britain Herald in his hand. (Binder was unable to be reached for comment regarding this story.)
NEWS COVERAGE of the sale painted Schroeder as a savior for the small-town newspaper in Connecticut. His quotes about revitalizing community journalism invigorated industry conversations at a particularly depressing time for the business. Advertising revenues for newspapers in America had shrunk by 23 percent between 2006 and 2008, according to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2009 State of the Media report. Staffs and content were trimmed in 2008, hoping to stay ahead of the trends. Circulation continued its downward spiral. “It was the year no one seemed to want to buy newspapers anymore,” the Pew report stated. Yet here was a guy coming in from out of town to save two dying newspapers.
“We made a commitment to community journalism,” Schroeder says. “We were going to put out a respectable community newspaper that would build community. We even added a line to our masthead on the editorial page that says ‘It takes a newspaper to build a community.’”
Almost five years later, while Schroeder continues pushing forward with his plans, his dramatic purchase has faded to the periphery. But his story could become instructive as the state—and the nation—watches several other prominent newspapers go through ownership changes. The moral being: this is not necessarily the end.
August was a particularly volatile month for big news organizations. John W. Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, purchased the Boston Globe for $70 million—a steal by most estimates. A couple days later, the owner of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, bought the Washington Post for $250 million. Later, AOL announced it was closing or selling some 300 hyperlocal Patch.com sites, including several in Connecticut.
Closer to home, the Hartford Courant is poised for a change. The newspaper’s corporate owner, Tribune Co., is coming out of its bankruptcy filing and doing a lot of corporate reorganizing, and its future potentially hangs in the balance. As Tribune works through its next steps, the big picture question remains: What will happen to the state’s largest paper—the oldest continuously published newspaper in the country?