Paul Bass ’82, a giant in local life, steps down as New Haven Independent editor
Bass will return to full-time reporting as managing editor Tom Breen steps up to oversee the nonprofit outlet’s daily operations.
Courtesy of Paul Bass
After 17 years, Paul Bass ’82 will step down from his role as editor of the New Haven Independent and return to full-time reporting.
A lifelong reporter, Bass launched the Independent in 2005 after stints at various area papers. The paper’s online-only format and Bass’ strong community ties gave his scrappy newsroom a competitive edge against legacy papers in decline. Produced with a small budget and tight team of reporters, the Independent’s production of daily stories and deep-dive investigations have received national recognition from media experts and organizations as a uniquely successful and hyperlocal form of journalism.
“I saw that big corporations are buying up local media, eviscerating their newsrooms,” Bass said. “So I felt the need to be a new model for local news.”
Tom Breen, who came to the Independent in 2015 and served as managing editor, will now oversee the paper’s day-to-day operations.
Produced in conjunction with the Online Journalism Project, a non-profit organization that promotes local reporting across Connecticut, the Independent is funded largely by charitable donations. That makes public service the newsroom’s primary motivation, Bass says, rather than clicks and ad revenue.
“I believe that local news is the raw material of democracy,” Bass said. “And if you don’t have fair, smart, citizen-engaged, two-way, local news reporting and debate, you don’t have the means with which to have a democratic system.”
The Independent began as just a supplement to traditional news. But demand from avid readers pushed Bass to raise money, hire a staff and grow the publication.
Over four decades, New Haven has experienced rapid downtown development, declining crime rates and a blossoming arts scene but also corruption scandals, reckonings with police brutality and perennial budget woes. Bass has been here to capture it all.
“New Haven has always had personality,” Bass explained. “It’s always been down-to-earth. It’s always been small enough where you can make a difference and big enough that it’s interesting.”
Bass’ journalistic skills started young. He created a newspaper for his neighborhood when he was 8 and wrote for his school papers in middle and high school. Bass arrived at Yale in 1978 and wrote for the News for two years before being taken on by the New Haven Register and Advocate.
Bass, now 62, hopes this move will allow him to keep doing what he loves without getting burned out. As Bass transitions to his new role, focusing more on writing and supporting the Online Journalism Project, he will also help support Breen as he takes over the role of editor.
“It’s healthy to have talented younger people assume positions of leadership in all sectors, including journalism,” Bass added.
Although Breen has been interested in writing since an early age and wrote for a magazine in college, he did not begin pursuing a career in journalism until he came to New Haven.
Breen started working in New Haven in 2010 at Yale University Press and began freelancing for the Independent in 2015, writing movie reviews and interviewing local filmmakers after work. Over the next three years, Bass started giving Breen more stories on more topics, eventually leading Breen to take a full time position at the Independent in 2018.
“It really is a trailblazer in the world of nonprofit, online, local journalism …the Independent has been and continues to be rooted in the community that we write about,” Breen said. “I just love it so much.”
As editor, Breen hopes to live up to the legacy Bass has left and the high standard for journalism that he fostered at the Independent. More than just writing articles and covering events, Breen is also focused on maintaining the local and community-first approach that Bass has cultivated. For Breen, what makes the Independent special is that readers know that the articles are written by their neighbors.
“The Independent’s coverage has a mission,” Breen explained. “It’s not just news for news’ sake. It is to make this a more vibrant, engaged, informed, democratic community. We do our small part to make people feel more connected to one another and more involved in public life.”
Over the Independent’s nearly two decades in New Haven, Bass has helped train numerous reporters and introduce students — including many current and former staffers of the News — to the journalism field.
Alex Werrell ’13 GRD ‘19, an English and Art History teacher at Taft and former resident of New Haven, praised Bass not only for his faithful coverage of local issues but also for helping recruit and encourage students journalists of all ages.
“I think one of the most impressive things about the Independent is just the amount of ground and time they are able to cover with these reporters, these journalists,” Werrell said. “They don’t discriminate between the importance of events. If it’s in New Haven, if it concerns New Haven, if it involves New Haven, the first source that I go to is the Independent.”
Ko Lyn Cheang ’21, now a reporter at the Indianapolis Star, was another student journalist who came up under Bass.
“I’ll always be really grateful to him for that because he takes chances on student journalists who may not have a ton of prior experience but have a heart for local reporting,” Cheang said. “Paul was just incredibly encouraging at a time when I was still finding my feet as a journalist … The internship was, without a doubt, one of the best journalism experiences. A lot of what he taught me that summer I continue to carry with me till today.”
Bass is originally from White Plains, New York.