Falling circulation. Sluggish ad revenue. Draconian newsroom cuts. Ever wonder what the Hartford Courant’s top executives think of their realm? Catch a glimpse in an excerpt from the newspaper’s internal news letter, where two employees ask Courant Publisher Jack Davis the tough questions.
EMPLOYEE: Hi Jack. Please help me to understand the Courant’s logic in not providing news coverage to certain towns. At a time when our circulation and advertising is down, the main complaint I hear from customers or potential customers is that The Courant doesn’t cover news in their town so why should they buy or advertise with us. This is the reason for lack of sales of subscriptions and advertising in some towns.I have talked to customers who express their concerns about the lack of news coverage for their towns. They said they feel as though The Courant doesn’t care about their town, but yet we call ourselves a statewide paper. Somehow I see news coverage as being an essential ingredient to making a full loaf of bread. People like seeing news about their town. They like seeing pictures of their children and reading stories of important events in their towns. If they knew the Courant was taking these pictures and writing these stories, they would buy the paper to read them. If people are reading the paper, advertisers will want to get on board.Another complaint I have heard and seen is the fact that our Connecticut Section is supposed to be zoned containing news, ads, etc. pertaining to a particular area in the state. But yet, day after day I find this is not true. Shoreline news in a zone 3 edition of the paper and no news regarding some of the towns in zone 3? I could be wrong but doesn’t this defeat the purpose of having 6 zones?JACK: The balance of news stories is a difficult, daily conversation in the news department. I have asked Brian Toolan, Sr. VP and Editor, to comment further.BRIAN: The Courant has a dual mission: Be the paper of record for Connecticut and provide as much news as possible on the cities and towns in the core of our market.Making good on that second part of the mission has become more difficult as the size of the newsroom staff has decreased. There was a time, 20 or 30 years ago, when The Courant had a story every day from each of the 67 towns in our core market. That doesn’t happen today, and that’s not all bad. Currently we may use stories in several editions because their specific content or timeliness are of common interest. However, today, we do a better job of covering other things, like statewide issues and developments that have meaning for all the state’s citizens, like arts and entertainment and popular culture, like college and professional sports and local business. The Courant didn’t have a standalone business section until the early 1990s.Also, we’ve created good weekly sections such as At Home, Sidelines and Courtside, Flavor, Sunday Arts, Sunday Life.The questioner makes a good point. I do wish we covered town news with a volume and quality that is better than we can provide today. But I also think The Courant has a statewide mindset that partially offsets the diminishment of town news.The other thing to remember is that in every newspaper market in the nation, the readers’ main desire is for news about where I live. And, to some degree, we’ll never be able to meet that desire.EMPLOYEE: How can you justify past expenses like the hiring an outside advertising consultant (which came up with the series of television ads) as we layoff newsroom staff? Don’t you think we need to find ways to make the actual product better before we rent slurpee machines and celebrate an ad campaign for a product that continues to suffer as a result of a decimated news staff? Can you offer reporters a morale booster? Why should we continue to believe this newspaper will continue to be a quality one when the bottom line drops lower and lower?JACK: Yes, I think it entirely appropriate to inform employees of a new branding campaign, which was designed to retain and gain market share by reinforcing our influence and emotional connection with our readers.In recent years we have reduced staff company-wide, while maintaining our high standards and the quality of our paper. Brian Toolan pointed out a few examples above (see previous letter). We support employees in their efforts by engaging outside consultants when necessary. This is done in News as well—to supplement what we may not be able to produce in-house.I understand not every decision will be welcomed or understood. However, we will continue to be a quality newspaper because we spend when necessary, and make the hard decisions.