Who Controls the Connecticut Media?
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THE QUESTION of how to fund news has been left largely unanswered as the news industry faces other major changes. Newspapers missed out on the Internet boat. Bloggers started publishing in a fresh way, and newspaper owners were left to catch up on the new ways people were getting their news. Advertisers cut back because of the recession. People started posting free classifieds on sites such as Craigslist instead of paying their local paper for space.
Chains like Tribune, saddled with debt at the wrong time, were in a crunch. So they found places to cut costs. Independently owned newspapers faced the same challenges. Even papers such as the Washington Post, which seemed to be doing everything right, were on a slow financial decline.
“It’s almost like who is the best butler on the Titanic,” Strupp says. “The business is such a mess that it’s hard to gauge who is making the best of the situation.”
Likewise, it’s hard to know which ownership model might be the most advantageous.
“The chains do have that advantage as they’ve got some central facility that can share the costs of the local operation,” says Powell. “On the other hand, the ownership, Tribune’s problems for example, can be a real burden on the operation. I think the people at the Courant would agree that their affiliation with the Tribune Co. over the last several years has weakened them, not strengthened them.”
The Journal-Inquirer is one of many independent newspapers that also had to make cuts, mostly by attrition, Powell says. Almost two years ago, the Journal-Inquirer started having its news staff take at least one unpaid furlough day per month. The paper has also switched to a higher deductable medical insurance plan, and reduced other benefits.
Several papers—such as the Waterbury Republican American and the New Haven Register—have outsourced printing to keep their resources concentrated on news production.
“There are economies of scale,” says Jon Kellogg, the executive editor for the Republican American. “Let’s say we have a full-time press crew and they have a seven-and-a-half, eight-hour day. If the press is only running three hours a day, what are they doing with the other five hours?” Add maintenance and newsprint costs, and the effects of downsizing the size and pages of most daily newspapers, and you’ve got a lot of unneeded costs.
Other groups of newspapers have consolidated editing efforts. Hearst Corporation’s Connecticut newspapers, including the Connecticut Post, Stamford Advocate and Danbury News-Times, have instituted a central copy desk in Bridgeport. So while the Advocate and News-Times used to have their own editing staff, now the papers are edited and laid out alongside the Connecticut Post.
“The universal desk is nothing new,” Strupp says. “It’s effective in cutting costs. It’s not as effective in doing the editing and the oversight of individual stories. When you have any universal desk of anything, you have more copy coming in and fewer eyes on each story.”
“Everyone sees this as a death watch on newspapers,” Croteau says. “And because of that, they are looking for short-term answers that keep them in business from one quarter to another . . . Maybe that’s not a reasonable view.”
While profit margins in newspapers have historically been large, Croteau says media owners should refocus, and take the mentality of grocery store owners, where profit margins are much smaller. “We produce perishable things in great quantity every day,” says Croteau.