Hard times ahead for daily Register

New Haven’s only daily paper may still be coming out every day, but as the New Haven Register’s newsroom continues to bleed staff due to budget constraints, community members say its coverage of the city has become thinner.

Since the beginning of the year, 22 newsroom positions at the Register have been eliminated through personnel transfers, voluntary departures and layoffs. Newsroom cuts are not unique to the Register — newspapers all over the country are being forced to scale back — and former Register reporters said the blame for the Register’s anemic city coverage lies with the financial troubles of its parent company, Journal Register Co. But with the loss of city editor David McClendon last Friday and City Hall reporter Andy Bromage last month, the Register’s financial constraints show no sign of letting up.

Budgetary constraints enforced by its parent company are forcing the New Haven Register to operate on a shortage of staff.
Paul Ramirez
Budgetary constraints enforced by its parent company are forcing the New Haven Register to operate on a shortage of staff.

Not the newsroom it was

New Haven is a one-newspaper town. Other publications, such as the weekly New Haven Advocate and the year-old New Haven Independent Web site have faithful Elm City readerships. But when it comes to traditional daily news coverage, the Register is, in many respects, the only game in town.

Paul Bass ’82, a former reporter for the Register, ex-editor of the Advocate and the founder of the Independent, said the Register used to do an extremely thorough job of covering all things New Haven. But recently, Bass said, there has been a drop-off in the depth of the Register’s coverage of New Haven, especially as financial considerations have caused the Register’s parent company to enact budget cuts.

“Before, they covered the city like a blanket — it was really a paper of record,” Bass said. “But to please the short-term desire of shareholders, [the Journal-Register Company] has cut, cut, cut.”

Register editor in chief Jack Kramer and publisher Kevin Walsh declined to comment for this story.

Bromage — the Register reporter who left the paper in September to become the managing editor of the Advocate — said the Register’s newsroom had lost some of its energy as a result of the cuts.

“The Register hasn’t been thriving lately, I don’t think that’s any secret,” Bromage said. “When I left the Register, it wasn’t the newsroom that it was when I joined four years ago.”

As newsroom positions have been eliminated, community members like Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, said they have noticed a difference in the quality of the Register’s coverage.

“We’d like to see more in-depth local coverage of issues,” Farwell said. “How else do you inform people who have a project that’s going to affect a neighborhood, or make public officials accountable, if you don’t know what’s happening?”

Jane Mills, a freelance journalist who covers New Haven courts, said the Register has a relatively small amount of content each day, and it is focused on profits rather than developing the talents of its reporters.

But some community members said they do not see any major problems with the Register’s coverage.

“I’m one of the few people who happen to love the Register,” Ward 7 Alderwoman Bitsie Clark said. “If you are living in a city like New Haven and you have to get news quickly, it is perfect for that.”

Less money, less coverage

In 2000, Lansing, Mich., had a population of 119,128. New Haven, Conn., had a population of 123,626.

But while the metro desk of the Lansing State Journal — where former Register city editor McClendon will start work as deputy metro editor this month — has an editor, two assistant editors, a deputy editor and 15 reporters, the Register’s city desk has just one editor and seven reporters.

“[The Register’s editors] are interested in pursuing the fascinating stories of impact, but obviously, it’s challenging to do all that with the staff size we have,” McClendon said.

Farwell said an example of the problems created by the newsroom cuts was the reassignment of the Register’s former court reporter to another beat. Randall Beach, a senior columnist on the Register, was then assigned to the court beat, a step that former Advocate editor Mark Oppenheimer ’96 said was unfortunate for both Beach and the Register’s readership due to the potential conflicts of interest.

Bromage said the Register’s curtailed coverage was the result of decisions made by the Register’s parent company, Journal Register Co.

“The quality of the Register has suffered, through no fault of the editor or the newsroom — this is a corporate problem of the Journal Register Company’s making,” Bromage said.

But Oppenheimer, who does not subscribe to the Register, said spending was the only way to reinvigorate the Register.

“The Register really has to spend money to make money — they have to reinvest in reporting, they have to hire more staff,” Oppenheimer said. “What would make me subscribe to the Register? If they had more news.”

Cuts around the nation

The Register is not the only Connecticut paper to face budget reductions.

Other newspapers owned by the Journal Register have had to adjust their operations as a result of budget constraints. In May, three central Connecticut newspapers — the Herald of New Britain, the Bristol Press and the Middletown Press — switched to the smaller tabloid format as the Journal Register tried to boost advertising revenue and reverse circulation losses, the Associated Press reported.

But the drive to boost profits through budget reductions is not limited to just the Journal Register — newsroom cuts are prevalent across the country, Oppenheimer said. He said the Tribune Company — which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, among a number of other city papers — has forced its newspapers, including the Hartford Courant, to make budget cuts that have reduced their coverage.

Courant Assistant Politics Editor Jenifer Frank said editors at the Courant have become accustomed to being told by the Tribune to reduce the paper’s budget at the end of every year.

“It’s the way of the world now because these companies have to answer to shareholders who are demanding ever-higher profits and are not happy with a mere 20 percent profit margin,” Frank said.

The Courant has reduced its staff significantly through buyouts and layoffs over the past few years, which has meant, among other things, that coverage of the state legislature is less thorough, Frank said.

Carol Bass, who worked at the Advocate for nine years, said she lamented the constant newsroom cuts from corporations interested in ever-higher profits.

“They’re cutting to the point where they’ve cut all of the fat, and a lot of the muscle, and they’re getting down to the bone,” Bass said. “Pretty soon, they’re going have to change something, because they’re not going to have anything left to sell.”

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