Friday, January 09, 2009

Newspaper RIP... for real

And I'm sad and angry. The Pictorial Gazette, where I had the most fun, learned the most and did my best work is no more. It's a small drop in the deluge of foundering newspapers nationwide, I know, but it certainly hits home. It was a good paper when I was there -- we won several new England Press Association awards. I actually quit in protest over the firing of another employee, high-minded person that I was (not to mention mortgage-less).

Here's the story from another paper on Dec. 20, 2008:

Journal Register Apparently Shuts Several Papers
Weeklies owned by parent of New Haven Register covered shoreline towns

Five weekly newspapers serving towns along the Connecticut shoreline, along with several others in the New Haven area, appear to have been shuttered by their parent company, Journal Register Co., which also publishes the New Haven Register.

Employees who worked for Pictorial Gazette, Branford Review, Clinton Recorder, Main Street News, East Haven Advertiser and a handful of ElmCity weekly newspapers were notified at a staff meeting Thursday afternoon that Thursday would be their last day, said Joyce Mletschnig, who until Thursday was the Gazette's associate editor.

The Gazette serves Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Chester, Deep River and Essex, said Mletschnig. Each weekly had a circulation of about 2,000 to 3,000, as well as a Web site. Friday, the papers' Web sites were still online.

”They announced that our jobs had been terminated,” said Mletschnig, 63. “And that we all had done a good job, and it wasn't our fault. It was the economy, bad revenues.”

Mletschnig said John Slater, general manager of the Shore Line and Elm City weeklies, told her Thursday not to bother finishing work on the Gazette, which is published on Tuesdays.

Future plans are unclear for the group of weeklies -- six along the shoreline plus a weekender, Shore View, and eight Elm City weeklies. Mletschnig said Shore Line Times, which covers Guilford and Madison, does not appear to have been eliminated, but that information provided at the meeting was vague.

In all, 21 employees were laid off Thursday, according to a source with extensive knowledge of the weekly papers' operations who wished to remain anonymous, as the person is still employed by the company.

Calls to John Slater, general manager of the Shore Line and Elm City weeklies, were not returned Friday. Calls to Gary Struening, vice president of finance at the Yardley, Pa.-based Journal Register, were also not returned.

Jack Kramer, editor of the New Haven Register, acknowledged Friday that some changes had been made to the weeklies but directed all questions to Slater. The Journal Register closed three weekly newspapers in Philadelphia last Thursday, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. The struggling company also announced last month that it would close two daily Connecticut papers -- The Bristol Press and The New Britain Herald -- in January if the papers are not sold by then.

The company has been operating with about $650 million in debt and is under a forbearance agreement with its lenders.

Mletschnig, the Pictorial Gazette editor, said Friday that the weeklies' employees knew of the parent company's financial troubles and weren't completely surprised by Thursday's news.

”I'm close to retirement and being there 20 years, I got a decent severance,” Mletschnig said. “But you know, I'm thinking now, what am I going to do? I still would like to work. There were some people … (who) were the breadwinners of the family. They're in a bit of trouble.”

Several points of note. I have friends who worked at the New Haven Register and they assure me that the Journal Register Co. has always been noteworthy for its crapitude even in a world where many newspaper are poorly run from a business standpoint. But they reached new heights by closing the paper with zero wanting just before Christmas as good old Slater just tells Joyce "not to bother finishing the paper." Ever.

Some reader comments to the story were also rather painful:
This problem does not speak to the newspaper industry's problems, really. It is more about Journal Register being deep in debt and running THEIR papers into the ground so they can't survive this economy. We need to be sure to remember that.

People blame the Internet for "stealing" readers of print newspapers, but this argument really only applies to national news. You can't read about your town's Board of Selectmen on Yahoo news. Someone still has to report and write the news, whether it be local or national, and it looks like there is no longer a healthy business model for local news in any medium. As another reader comment said:
Yes, newspapers need to make changes, but if they are not supported, then good luck to you in the community you live in... who will keep your local gov't in check? Who will tell you what is going on with your taxes or school system?All I can say is if you think that newspapers do not matter, good luck to you.

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