The Short List Mourns The Demise Of Small-Town Newspapers

Dec 13, 2019

In western Massachusetts this week, the Athol Daily News shut its office in town. The paper will still be published, but will be based some 25 miles away in Greenfield. 

Staff were cut in what the paper's parent company said is a cost-cutting move

Susannah Whipps, Athol's state representative, said she understands the expense of running a daily paper.

"The Athol Daily News has been a staple in the community for decades, for as long as I can remember," she said. "So it's disappointing. It's also sad to see people losing their jobs just a couple of weeks before Christmas."

Seven people were laid off, according to the publisher, at the Athol paper, the Greenfield Recorder and Daily Hampshire Gazette — all owned by Newspapers of New England (NNE).

Panelist Kristin Palpini said it was shocking in the first place when NNE bought the Athol paper.

"It didn't seem to make sense to me," Palpini said. "I was still at the Advocate at the time. And and with all the issues — financial — that we were having, it seemed weird to invest in another, smaller newspaper that needed an infusion of money. So I don't know how they thought they were going to keep this going in the first place. And it's very sad."

The Hartford Courant is owned by Tribune Publishing, a big chunk of which is now owned by a hedge fund known for slashing costs and jobs at local papers. Reporters delivered a petition this week asking Tribune to consider selling the company's papers to local owners (PDF).

"That's something, I think, that a lot of folks in Connecticut have wanted for a long time," said panelist Susan Bigelow. "We don't want to see the same thing that is happening to so many other papers happen to the Courant — not just because of state news, but also because of local news."

Bigelow said larger papers in the state have often pulled their reporters off coverage of smaller towns, which means a lot of news there goes unreported.

Palpini noted The Berkshire Eagle is a newspaper that was bought "by the community, and has seen some success," she said. "So there's hope."

The Boston marathon bombing case was back in federal court this week. Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev argued to the appeals court judges that he should be removed from death row. They said the district court judge should have moved the trial from Boston and done more to address social media use among jurors.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and the state's Democratic legislative leaders are again looking to trucks-only tolls as part of the answer to the state's long-term transportation infrastructure problems.

And Springfield-based Merriam-Webster's 2019 word of the year is the pronoun "they." To qualify, the word must show significant frequency in lookups over the past 12 months, and it must have also seen a significant increase in lookups over the previous year. Runners-up included "impeach," "crawdad," "quid pro quo" and "egregious."

Guests:

  • Kristin Palpini, veteran western Mass. journalist 
  • Susan Bigelow, columnist, CT News Junkie

Listen to The Short List Podcast.

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