Christine Stuart photo

State officials said five potential buyers for some or all of the daily and weekly newspapers put up for sale by the Journal Register Publishing Co. have emerged over the past few weeks.

Economic Development Commissioner Joan McDonald said she remains “guardedly optimistic” a deal will be reached, but is not involved in the negotiations between the newspapers and the potential buyers.

After her first meeting with lawmakers from New Britain and Bristol—home to the two daily newspapers—McDonald said she sent out 16 letters to perspective buyers in the newspaper industry.

Christine Stuart photo

Since the Dec. 10 letter went out McDonald said her office has received one response from the letter, one from the news reports of the meeting, one referral from state Rep. Tim O’Brien, D-New Britain, and two referrals from Dirks, Van Essen and Murray, the brokerage firm from New Mexico retained by the Journal Register Co. to manage the sale of the papers.

“We’re very pleased over these past few weeks that our efforts have succeeded in getting the word out about the plight of these papers to potential buyers,” O’Brien said. “At this point it’s in their hands.”

State lawmakers said they will step back as the negotiations between Dirks, Van Essen, and Murray and the five potential buyers continue. Should a buyer step forward, McDonald said the state would sit down with it and provide technical assistance, low-cost financing opportunities, and access to tax incentives.

O’Brien was quick to point out that any incentives for the newspapers would be offered to any other industry or business looking to maintain jobs in the state.

Rep. Frank Nicastro, D-Bristol, said it appears like negotiations are getting serious.

While none of the names of the five potential buyers were revealed, New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart said he spoke with one of the perspective buyers Monday who is “looking to maintain the hometown nature of these papers.”

Nicastro said he has received hundreds of phone calls from constituents about the possible closing of these community newspapers. “The majority of people were asking us to do anything we can to save our local newspapers,” he said.

Journal Register plans to close The New Britain Herald, The Bristol Press and 11 weekly publications if a buyer is not found by Jan. 12.

Click here to read Bristol Press reporter Steve Collins’ blog about Monday’s press conference. And here for the story on the Register’s weeklies.