In the hardcopy edition of Sunday’s Connecticut Post two stories above the fold featuring the state’s largest city screamed nearly the entire front page: “Bridgeport in shock,” a story about residents mourning the shooting death of 14-year-old Justin Thompson and “Can city workers win city contracts?” referencing the investigation of the city’s construction management and Minority Business Enterprise programs that has led to the suspension of three city employees. Could this be the start of increased coverage of the city by this institutional news source?
The Post is headquartered on State Street where its printing presses a few blocks closer to Park Avenue crank out the hardcopy editions of sister newspapers from Greenwich, Stamford and Danbury, owned by Hearst, a Fairfield County influential triangle that places Hearst up there with the Hartford Courant in Connecticut’s journalistic relevance.
The Post for years had essentially abandoned coverage of the city; they had gotten lazy, particularly as it applied to coverage of politics and government. A flashpoint of its feeble political coverage came in 2008 when not one word was mentioned about Auden Grogins’ challenge of incumbent State Rep. Bob Keeley, the longest-serving legislator in the city’s history, until she had knocked off Keeley in a Democratic primary. Oops! (We’d better play this one on the front page.) They did.
They seem to be doing much better. In recent years election coverage has increased. The Post has many solid journalists. It’s a question, however, of how bodies are deployed. That decision is generally in the hands of News Editor Tom Baden who appears earnest in producing a more complete news product. In his defense he is handcuffed by the news budget shoveled by Hearst’s corporate bean counters who embrace demographics. (Gee, folks in Trumbull and Monroe and Fairfield read more than city folks. They have more money to appeal to advertisers.) It’s horseshit.
I don’t know Baden well but I do know this: when I write to him he generally writes me back. I have bugged him from time to time about slotting a full-time City Hall reporter. It’s incomprehensible the Post does not have one to cover the state’s largest city.
The Post has many fine reporters, young and veteran: Keila Torres Ocasio, Tim Loh, Michael Mayko, John Burgeson and several others. Keila, day in and day out, grinds out the Bridgeport stuff. The kid is marvelous at cranking copy and she’s smart. She doesn’t get it right all of the time (who does?) but most of the time she’s solid. She cannot do it alone. Loh, a 2007 alumnus of the University of Notre Dame, is bright and a quick learner. Mayko is an experienced news gatherer and Burgeson has an artist’s touch for turning a phrase. (I’m not even including scribes such as Capitol Reporter Ken Dixon, who’s as good as anyone in the state at what he does.)
Hearst newspapers thought it worthy to embed a reporter that led to an exhaustive, and entertaining, series of stories covering Governor Dannel Malloy’s first year in office. Understandably it was a fit for its newspaper triangle. When I ask my friends at the Post why it doesn’t accord the state’s largest city a full-time City Hall reporter the standard answer is well, there’s a whole city out there to cover. Translation: we’d rather have them as general assignment reporters. It’s an attitude that’s a disservice to readers, especially when they have the horses to do the job.
Nothing is more important than covering City Hall. Every time a City Hall decision maker puts his/her feet down on the floor in the morning, head on a pillow at night, and everything else in between they’re impacting the lives of the taxpayers financing their salaries.
You stick Torres and Loh in City Hall every day and now they build contacts, relationships, knowledge. (That prehistoric noise you just heard was Keila and Tim saying Lennie, leave us alone! We’ve got enough to do). Well, Baden should stick them inside the building every day. (That double prehistoric noise you just heard was from Baden telling me to worry about my little webzine.)
What the hell is the point of all of this? Government officials who could be subject to scrutiny love it when scribes don’t cover them. When they know a reporter is around they’re less likely to do something stupid. Every time a major decision is made by government officials they will ask the question: what’s the Post going to do about this? They won’t ask it if no one cares.
Maybe, just maybe, we’re seeing a trend of more consistent coverage.