By Julie Reynolds
Workers at the 256-year-old Hartford Courant learned Friday that their beloved Broad Street newsroom and offices, occupied for more than seven decades, will soon be closing.
“This is outrageous. Just another reason why our current economic order, with private equity firms and billionaires pulling all the strings, is terrible for our nation,” U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) responded in a Twitter post.
Connecticut Congressman John Larson told the Courant: “This announcement is very disappointing and I hope Tribune Publishing reverses this decision.”
The Courant is the sixth Tribune Publishing newspaper to close this year, after staff began working from home in March due to the global pandemic. Founded in 1764, the Courant is considered the oldest newspaper still being published in North America.
Other Tribune newsroom closures include The Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, The Capital in Annapolis, Md., The Carroll County Times (Md.), the Orlando Sentinel and the New York Daily News.
In a recent email to staff, Courant publisher and editor-in-chief Andrew Julien called the announcement “a decision about real estate needs” made during “a difficult and challenging time on both the public health and economic fronts.”
Workers were told the offices will permanently close on Dec. 27. In October, the Courant announced it would shut down its printing presses and outsource the work, resulting in the loss of 151 jobs.
Russell Blair, a content editor at the Courant, posted this photo and comment on Twitter:
Happier days at Broad Street. This photo was taken in 2014 for the @hartfordcourant 250th anniversary. We just learned today that @tribpub will permanently close our newsroom there with no plans for a new space. If you care about local news, visit https://t.co/dwBlmy3tvF. pic.twitter.com/yRo8wzIFSa
— Russell Blair (@RussellBlairCT) December 4, 2020
The Tribune closures come as the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which owns around a third of Tribune stock and controls three of its seven board seats, has extended its extreme cost-slashing business model to Tribune properties. In its latest quarterly report to the SEC, Tribune admitted it has defaulted on rent payments and was being sued by several landlords.
Alden, which also owns the MNG Enterprises newspaper chain, has already shut down newsrooms in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and recently moved The Boston Herald’s offices to much smaller quarters in Lowell, Mass.
Alden is also closing offices at MNG’s East Bay Times in Northern California. Employees, most of whom have worked from home during the pandemic, were told they had until Dec. 8 to remove their belongings from the newspaper’s Oakland and Walnut Creek offices.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin expressed concern over the shutdown.
“It’s a sad day and a tough blow to see the Tribune Publishing Company close the newsroom and physical headquarters of the oldest continuously published newspaper in America,” Bronin told the Courant. “…As more and more papers get acquired by hedge funds focused on the bottom line, we should all worry deeply about the relentless pressures and constant chipping away at the resources dedicated to local news.”
The Harford Courant Guild also released an emailed statement calling newsrooms “the heart of the newspaper.”
“At 285 Broad Street, newspaper staff hash out ideas, meet with sources, recuperate after traumatic days and craft the stories that reverberate across the state,” the Guild stated.
“The decision to close the building is a slap in the face to the reporters, editors, columnists and advertising staff who have worked for decades to produce the state’s largest newspaper. The closure is further evidence that Tribune Publishing, and vulture hedge fund Alden Global Capital, care only about profits, not about the newspapers they own or the communities they serve.”
“We condemn Tribune and Alden”
On Tuesday the Courant Guild reported that the majority of workers at the seven Guild units at Tribune Publishing agreed to take their company-allotted paid time off before the end of the year to protest the closures.
“We condemn Tribune and Alden for balancing their books on the backs of staff,” the Guild tweeted. “We will not let Tribune and Alden exploit us, just to line the pockets of shareholders and predatory hedge funds.”
In September, Hartford’s City Council unanimously passed a resolution that refers to Alden as a “destroyer of newspapers.” It asks the hedge fund’s executives to appear before the council to answer demands that Alden “cease any further layoffs or buyouts that have decimated the staff, and aggressively work to hire more journalists to publish this important national resource.”
The council also asked Alden to “consider in good faith any offers from outside entities that would return Tribune Publishing newspapers to civic-minded ownership.”
You can sign a petition and learn more about Courant workers’ efforts to find new owners for the paper at saveourcourant.org.
Featured photo: The Hartford Courant Building | Sage Ross Wikimedia, Creative Commons License