First, a disclosure: I have a soft spot for the Hartford Courant. It’s my hometown daily. I interned there twice during college, and they later hired me for two freelance stints when I was between jobs. As an intern, back in 2006 and then 2007, the newsroom was an inspiring place—Matthew Kauffman and Lisa Chedekel won a Dart Award for their series about mentally ill soldiers who were redeployed, and I sat among career reporters talented enough to work at the biggest publications but who chose to remain in Connecticut, working for “America’s Oldest Continuously Published Newspaper.”
Things have changed since then.
The Courant—owned by Tribune since 2000, when the Chicago-based company merged with then-owner, Times Mirror—was caught in the fallout from Tribune’s bankruptcy in late 2008. The newsroom has shrunk from some 400 employees 15 years ago to fewer than 150 today.
The most recent buyout offer, which expired last week, has resulted in the loss of nine more newsroom staffers, including rock critic Eric Danton, columnist Susan Campbell, night editor Nancy Gallinger, reporter Mark Spencer, reader-submitted articles editors Mary Wilson and Sandra James, newsroom assistant Lynne Maston, and sports reporter Shawn Courchesne. I don’t know who the ninth person is, or whether this buyout will be enough to avert layoffs. (update: I’m told the nine employees won’t know officially if their buyout requests are accepted until Friday.)
The buyout was offered to the finance, advertising, circulation and print-side departments, but not Web staff or the TV staff from FOX CT, which took over a sizable chunk of the newsroom in 2009. (When the newsroom was renovated to include a TV studio, old carpeting was replaced everywhere except beneath the print reporters’ cubicles, creating a stark, visual line between the new and the no-longer-valued.)
The writing would seem to be on the wall for the paper whose staff quasi-affectionately calls it “Mother Courant.” But I can’t help hoping, magical thinking though it may be, that the paper that made me want to be a journalist will somehow continue its tradition of great reporting through the digital shift and despite its negligent ownership.