George Gombossy

A consumer columnist for more than 40 years, George Gombossy, wondered how management at the Hartford Courant would explain his departure, especially after he launched a new blog which reported the unflattering story about an advertiser that it refused to run.

After eliminating his position, Gombossy launched his new consumer blog site called CT Watchdog and ran the story about Sleepy’s which the Courant had been holding since Aug. 2. “This was the first time in my 40 years at The Courant that an investigation by the attorney general was withheld from the public,” Gombossy said in his editor’s note.

In response to articles and blog posts that Gombossy was actually fired over the article, Naedine Hazell, who is in charge of print operations at the Courant sent out a memo to all staff updating them on his departure.

“Since the elimination of George Gombossy’s position at the Courant, there’s been a great deal of conjecture and misinformation floated in the blogosphere,” Hazell wrote. “First of all, there is no relationship between the change in that job and any story George was working on.”

She goes on to say it’s common practice to hold stories for more reporting or comment.

Gombossy wondered Monday what questions he hadn’t answered.

Gombossy said he was told one day after the column on Sleepy’s was submitted to his editor that his job was being eliminated and he should immediately report to Human Resources.

Human Resources gave him two weeks before kicking out the door after 40 years.

Gombossy says that after an advertiser complained about one of his column’s in May a new policy was implemented. The new policy, “required me and all reporters and columnists to notify Jeff Levine or Naedine Hazell of any stories or columns that even had a negative tinge about a KEY advertiser.”

While the Courant traditionally turns down requests for comment about personnel issues they had a statement prepared Monday in response to Gombossy’s departure.

A Tribune company spokeswoman emailed a statement saying, “The overriding consideration on stories reported by the Hartford Courant is making sure the facts are thoroughly checked out and correct. Our advertisers have no influence on what we report, including stories that may include them. This is a long time Courant policy.”

The statement goes onto say, “While Mr. Gombossy’s position was eliminated, he was made aware of the newly-defined consumer reporter position that will be combined with our newspaper, television station and Web site. He did not express interest.”

Gombossy says there are several reasons he did not express interest in the new hybrid, Courant-Fox 61 position.

“I wasn’t asked to apply for the job, nor was it offered to me, and it was set at half my salary,” he said.

And he said while his departing column took aim at Connecticut Light and Power, the utility to his knowledge is not one of the Courant’s “prime advertisers.”