December 3, 2008

The Advocate blows it


In a story that appears this week in the Hartford and New Haven Advocates, along with the Fairfield County Weekly, Andy Bromage miscasts what the entire effort to preserve 13 Central Connecticut newspapers is all about.
The story claims that the papers are "busy drumming up support for some kind of government-backed bailout plan."
But that's not at all what the employees of the papers are asking for and it's not what politicians are proposing.
Nobody at all -- and certainly nobody who has worked for the Journal Register Co. -- wants to see a penny of taxpayer money spent to bail out a JRC newspaper. That would be a travesty and a waste.
What we want is much less: that the state help find a buyer for The Bristol Press, the New Britain Herald and 11 crucial weeklies and to make sure that any potential buyers know about any existing government programs that might provide tax breaks or grants to help preserve these longstanding businesses.
That's it. It's exactly the same thing the state would do for most any significant enterprise in Connecticut, particularly at a time when saving every possible business is critical.
Newspapers, though, are not a typical business. They are the glue that holds communities together and a crucial cog in local economies. Lose them and you lose much more than an employer. These towns face a loss of identityand cohesion.
Professor Rich Hanley of Quinnipiac University points out in the Advocate's story that the news stories that have run about the papers are "geared toward self-preservation and their self-interest is totally clear in all this."
No duh.
Of course there's self-interest in saying that the papers shouldn't be allowed to die, just as it's self-interest for a patient to seek a doctor's help in cutting out a cancer. But so what? There's no bigger story in Bristol these days than the possible closure in a little more than a month of its 137-year-old community newspaper.
What's more, if it shuts down, that will be the last story the town ever gets. All the other news now  pales by comparison.
Hanley complains that the stories fail to address "whether the paper has been performing its watchdog function" and whether the JRC has provided it with sufficient funding to do its job.
I'll answer both points.
Of course we've had too little money and too few resources. We work for a company that is legendary for scraping every penny it can from its newspapers.
But if he'd read this paper over the years, Hanley would know that we nonetheless do the job the First Amendment and our community expect from us.
I could point to all sorts of examples, but our readers already know that we're watchdogs who are perfectly capable of doing more than an occasional growl. Can we cover everything we'd like? Nope. But what paper can?
Bromage gripes that "an average reader" of the stories about the need to save the Press "might conclude that JRC is using its news pages to drive a story about rescuing a failing property while avoiding full-throated coverage that might expose some ugly company truths."
Perhaps he concluded that, but I don't think an average Press reader would agree.
To begin with, I really doubt that the JRC likes these stories appearing at all. It would almost certainly prefer to have nothing much appear about the possible closure, as evidenced by its own decision at the very start to try to say nothing whatsoever about the news. (Even so, I broke the story on this blog because I'm a reporter and it was news.)
Despite the company's stance, we're writing stories anyway because this is the biggest thing going in Bristol. That's what we do. Every time.
As for avoiding coverage that "might expose some ugly company truths," well, that's probably fair. I'd like to keep getting my paycheck, thank you very much.
I don't care to test how far we can go in telling the truth about a company whose mismanagement is renowned throughout the newspaper business. At one point, for example, we had a JRC publisher who wanted to charge employees for the water they drank at the office. Really.
At this point, though, the JRC is leaving the picture, dumping these papers and moving on at long last.
So we could spend time examining how badly it botched the ownership of the papers it now plans to close - and perhaps get fired for it -- or we could focus on the opportunity that now exists to restore these papers to their communities. This is the time for looking ahead to a brighter future, not expressing the anguish we have felt under an oppressive management for far too long.
Personally, I'm disappointed the Advocate would print a story so fundamentally misguided.
Take the JRC to pieces if you like -- I'll talk to you, Andy, for that story -- but don't portray what we're doing as serving the needs of this company. That's an ugly untruth. What we're actually doing is trying to make sure these great old papers can continue to serve the needs of their readers and communties for generations to come.
If we sit back and let them die, what kind of journalists would we be?
By the way, Andy, you might have picked up a phone and called me. I'd have been happy to explain what we were doing and why. It would have saved you from putting your name to a piece that's glaringly, obviously off the mark.
We're not "Pressing for a Bailout." We're just trying to tell the whole damn world that The Bristol Press is a newspaper with good prospects in a community that cares about its survival. If that's a sin, I plead guilty.
*******
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

11 comments:

Poboy said...

"Nobody at all -- and certainly nobody who has worked for the Journal Register Co. -- wants to see a penny of taxpayer money spent to bail out a JRC newspaper."

Personally, I don't want to see a penny of anyone's money going to JRC.
JRC's stock is worth about a penny a share. Figure out the value of the Press based on the current stock price and I'll support any effort to save the paper.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Steve, for setting the record straight, again. You must get tired of having to do that, though. Just wanted you to know it's appreciated.

Frank said...

It is very rare that one newspaper (or newspaperperson) will badmouth another paper.

Bob Jelenic said...

Steve, I think your passion and desperation have once again gotten the best of you. I just read the Advocate story and it is not worthy of the lashing you just gave it. While you and your cohorts might not be seeking the same type of baliout that Wall St. got and Detroit is seeking, you are seeking and applauding gov't interference. It is a form of a bailout. Businesses are put up for sale or announce plans to close all of the time, and rarely, if ever, do you see any kind of gov't involvement -- certainly not to this level. I view this as the possibility of a smaller-level bailout. I've seen similar things posted on other blogs, and saw you comment on at least one of those blogs.

I know you are doing your job. And I have grown to understand your passion more than I did previously, but I think you are so caught up in all of this that you don't realize the large number of people outside of your community, and maybe even inside your community, who don't agree with you.

The Advocate story was just a different take on the situation, but it was a fair take. Should the Advocate do an entire story on how out of control you have gotten or how no one should listen to a word you say because you are clearly biased? Journalistic integrity and ethics demands that someone with such a vested interest in a topic should not be writing anything except a hard news angle on that topic, yet the Advocate or other media mediums aren't calling you out for that.

Steve Collins said...

Bob Jelenic,
What you have to say is a little harsh, but fair.
I would say that my bias and passion is obvious to anyone who reads this blog. And I haven't written news stories about this whole topic since the first one in part because I don't want to mix my clear bias with the need to tell what people are saying.
Our self-interest in all of this is so stunningly obvious that I don't think there's any need for the Advocate or anyone to point it out. Of course it exists. Only an idiot would deny it.
I might well write some "hard news" on the issue before we're through, because we have a small staff and sometimes, there's just no choice. But when I do, it will be a fair, balanced accounting of whatever transpired. I'm a professional.
There is no journalistic reason that I can't spout off on this blog or anywhere else as long as I'm not using the newspaper to mask my opinion as news. And I'm not.
In fact, on this matter, I'm making my personal biases clear as day so readers, listeners, viewers or anyone who takes any notice of what I say can ignore me or not as they choose.
I'm not in this to save my job, because the smartest way to do that is probably to shut the heck up and hope for the best. I'm in this to save The Bristol Press, for a million reasons that I've only begun to cite.

Poboy said...

"Journalistic integrity and ethics"

Jelenic does not know the meaning of these words. Read this article called "Welcome to the Machine"

http://tinyurl.com/6fnjmz

or this one called "The Wrath of Robert"

http://tinyurl.com/6fnjmz

and read this from Fundinguniverse.com

“ For 1997 JRC reported combined revenues of $359.4 million. Net income FELL to $23.0 million as a result of a one-time pretax charge of $31.9 million related to management bonuses and incentive plans in connection with the IPO. For 1997 Jelenic received $11 MILLION in executive compensation, including a one-time $10.5 MILLION bonus AND a salary of $825,000. It was nearly NINE TIMES more than the $1.35 million he earned in 1997. In 1996 he received about $1 million in salary and bonus, comparable with salaries of some of the newspaper industry's biggest players.

It will give you some insight as to where Jelenic is coming from. This man has sucked the value out of every local newspaper he got his hand on, IMHO. How can he sleep at night?

Anonymous said...

Keep fighting, Steve. We're with you.

Anonymous said...

Jelenic,
Aren't you dead yet?
Hurry up.

Anonymous said...

The Advocate writer is clearly not a professional since he, an outsider, merely took potshots at our community paper and the people there who are doing what they can to save it. He didn't even bother talking to anyone at the Press, but apparently felt justified lobbing grenades at it. It's not like Steve has been reluctant to be interviewed, after all.

Tim Gamache said...

Mr.Jelenic: While I don't know you personally,I have to say you sound very much like one of our infamous "bean counters" whose only interest is the "bottom line."Instead of finding ways to make the newspaper more viable by putting some revenue INTO the publications,JRC chose to "milk" the papers dry until there was nothing left to save.I'm not positive, but it sure sounds to me like you have a personal,vested interest in JRC.If that is the case,I would suggest you take your "hit" like a man and accept some responsibility for the demise of these publications.These papers were in trouble long before this current economic crisis.Instead of taking steps to prevent the need to sell these publications,JRC chose to "line their pockets" as much as possible before putting them up for sale.Wether JRC is willing/able to accept it or not,they ARE reponsible in a large part for Bristol( a municipality of 60K+) being in the position of losing its' one and only daily newspaper.Without the Press,trying to communicate ANYTHING to the populace will be next to impossible.Even with all these negative ramifications, my "gut" tells me the "bean counters" at JRC will STILL be sleeping well nights.

Tim Gamache said...

I will express my condolences to Mr. Jelenics' family.I will also stand behind my earlier remarks regarding JRCs' role in relation to the predicament in which the Bristol Press finds itself.