Bristol, Conn., may be home to the international headquarters of ESPN, but it may soon be forced to forego its only daily newspaper.
In a concession to the increasing unprofitability of small newspapers, the Journal Register Co., the parent company that owns several Connecticut papers, including the New Haven Register, announced Monday that if The Herald of New Britain and the Bristol Press do not find buyers soon, they will be shut down by Jan. 12. As Internet media expands and advertising profits fall, the closures are the latest casualties of a “terrible time” in the newspaper industry, Yale Journalism Initiative Director Mark Oppenheimer ’96 GRD ’03 said.
The company, which owns three other daily newspapers and 17 weekly newspapers across Connecticut, will also close up to 11 of its weekly newspapers in addition to the daily Herald and Bristol Press, Ed Gunderson, the publisher of the Journal Register Co., said.
He informed employees at all 13 papers Monday of his decision in a brief, blunt memo distributed to the staff.
“In the event that there is no buyer, then we anticipate that the facility will be shut down,” he wrote.
The closures come as no surprise to investors and observers, who have seen the company struggle more and more over the past few years. Despite being traded as high as $23.875 a decade ago, JRC’s stock has plummeted to less than a penny a share, and the company is saddled with heavy debts.
“The JRC is an especially badly run company,” Oppenheimer said. “While some companies have done all they can to stem their losses, the JRC has not.”
Over 100 newsroom staff, advertising representatives and circulation directors across the 13 publications could lose their jobs in January.
Gunderson did not offer much hope to the employees in his statement, telling them, “You will not have the right to displace other employees.” In some layoff schemes, senior employees can displace other employees with less seniority.
Interviewed employees at both daily newspapers described the newsrooms’ mood as “worried,” not only about the future of the two publications but also about the hole in local community coverage the closures would create.
“There are people who’ve been here years and years. They live here and have families and have kids going into college,” said Marc Levy, the executive editor of both papers.
JRC’s newspapers are mostly small publications that report on births, deaths, local issues and community news. The Herald has been in print since 1880, while the Bristol Press was founded in 1871.
Since no other newspapers provide extensive local coverage of Bristol and New Britain and citizen journalism can only go so far, two employees said, the two communities stand to lose out in the long term.
“A community newspaper … is really the only way that people in a small city have to talk to one another to find out what’s going on,” said Bristol Press reporter Steve Collins, who writes a blog about journalism issues. “Without them, a community doesn’t really have an identity. It doesn’t exist to the rest of the world.”
But Collins and Levy both said they were unsure whether the communities would recognize the impact the loss of both papers would have.
Although the employees said they did not know of any potential buyers for their newspapers, Collins, at least, said he remains hopeful. He has already outlined seven scenarios to save the Bristol Press, suggesting a range of buyers, from a group of locals all the way up to Google.
Although editor Levy cautioned that all plans to negotiate with buyers were “totally nebulous” because both newspapers are currently so unprofitable, he said the possibility of a buyer would always exist.
“Maybe there’s a potential buyer for one or more of these properties, and they just want to wait till the very end,” he said.
Still, Levy said he was confident that journalism will eventually find its niche again.
“Eventually there will be a paying model for journalism again,” he said. “This moment will pass. This economy will pass.”