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Hartford Courant should not be afraid to cut journalism by 25%, too 6/30/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in NewspaperCuts.
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Reading her column, you can feel the pain of Hartford Courant’s managing editor Barbara T. Roessner, whose paper needs to cut staff and newsprint by 25% to stay in business. The dramatic changes that will be made reveal her priorities, which largely make a lot of sense. There will be more emphasis on stories within Connecticut, exclusive stories which more directly affect readers’ lives. For similar reasons, there will be more local stories. And, only a small amount of space will be used for stories that don’t require much detail, leaving more space for those that do.

But her column also shows the tell-tale signs of push-back from journalism-thinking that could possibly get in the way of the paper’s survival. It seems axiomatic that their circulation declines must have something to do with readers being somewhat dissatisfied with the content, but it is unclear that the Courant is ready to consider the differences between what their journalists and their readers want. The column equates the shrinking number of newspaper pages devoted to the journalism that their own journalists “hold dear” with the fear of losing readers. The column also indicates that the Courant will “concentrate our best journalists on the work that has the greatest impact — aggressive investigative or ‘watchdog’ stories that unearth wrongdoing or reveal threats to your health and safety.” It cites a report on water quality as a “superb example.” Given the paper’s dire straits, shouldn’t the best staffers be focused on stories that have the most circulation impact, rather than societal impact? It may be tough medicine to swallow, but a paper in trouble must take its readers’ tastes more seriously than those of its journalists.

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