• Powell, The Journal Inquirer, And Economic Literacy

    June 6, 2023
    Powell, Pesci Substack

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    The Journal Inquirer (JI), one of the last independent newspapers in Connecticut, is now a part of the Hearst Media chain. Hearst has been growing by leaps and bounds in the state during the last decade. At the same time, many newspapers in Connecticut have shrunk in size, the result, some people seem to think, of ad revenue smaller newspapers have lost to internet sites and a declining newspaper reading public. Surviving papers are now seeking to recover the lost revenue by erecting “pay walls.”

    Like most besieged businesses, newspapers also are attempting to recoup lost revenue through staff reductions, reductions in the size of the product – both candy bars and newspapers are much smaller than they had been in the past – and sell-offs to larger chains that operate according to the social Darwinian principles of monopolistic “red in tooth and claw” giant corporations. The first principle of the successful mega-firm is: Buy out your predator before he swallows you.

    The Hartford Business Journal (HBJ) mentioned the sale to Hearst in a story titled Hearst completes JI acquisition; offers jobs to half of newspaper’s staff: “Hearst Connecticut said it operates 16 websites and more than 20 print publications, including a number of weekly newspapers.”

    Independence does matter in journalism. The original Hearst, William Randolph, was fiercely independent, inventive, expansionary and feverishly competitive. “You furnish the pictures,” he wrote to artist Fredrick Remington, then on site in Cuba, “and I’ll furnish the war.” The Spanish-American war commenced after pictures of the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor appeared in Hearst papers. Orson Welles’ movie “Citizen Kane,” which features a leading character suspiciously like Hearst, may have taken some liberties with the facts of Hearst’s life, but in the main it was on point.

    An HBJ reporter mentioned Chris Powell in an interview on an AM radio station. AM, the reader may have heard, has been put on a list of vanishing species. The reporter speculated that the new arrangement might or might not make room for Powell’s frequent commentaries.

    Powell was for many years both the Managing Editor and the Editorial Page Editor of the JI. Upon his retirement, he was still writing op-ed pieces for the JI.

    How important is Powell in this new scheme of things? Will Hearst carry him, now that it has bought the JI? Always fiercely independent, Powell may be the vanishing canary in Connecticut’s media mine shaft. The open question in state media circles is: Will Hearst continue to carry Powell’s columns?

    Like most news media in New England, Hearst is struggling against a leftist tropism. The media in the increasingly neo-progressive Northeast corridor tends to lean to the left on most issues of importance because many neo-progressive politicians in New England have shifted left during the last few decades, and what Karl Marx used to call “the correlation of forces” here in the Northeast is now solidly leftist. The offspring of a one party state is a one party media.

    Papers covering the news of the lamented disappearance of an independent media – at most a one day story – also covered at the same time the forward progress through Connecticut’s Education Committee of Senate Bill (SB) 1165.

    CTMirror reported that the ambitious bill will, according to State Representative Cory Paris, “ultimately set many young people across our state, at a pivotal life stage throughout their educational career, on a path making good financial decisions and place them on a path for a brighter future.”

    Paris did not tell us whether the high school course would also be mandatory for state politicians responsible for Connecticut’s less bright $53 billion financial debt.

    Of all the columnists, editors and reporters I’ve known, directly or indirectly, Powell, my first editor, was the most welcoming to controversy. In plain speech, controversy, always controversial, is a binary account of true facts and opinion. And news stories are always at first incomplete accounts on the way to completion. The complete account is the end product of a search for truth. This process is killed in the crib by editors who are unwilling to allow opposing points of view in newspapers. As Managing Editor and Editorial Page Editor of the Journal Inquirer for many years, Powell welcomed controversy every bit as much as great defenders of freedom of speech in past times such as John Stewart Mill.

    Mill’s declaration of freedom of speech was uncompromising: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

    It is unitary reporting and unitary political parties that will be the death of both politics and news reporting.

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    Don Pesci

    Don Pesci is a political columnist of long standing, about 40 years, who has written for various state newspapers, among them The Journal Inquirer, the Waterbury Republican American, the New London Day, the Litchfield County Times, the Torrington Register Citizen and other Register Citizen papers. He maintains a blog, among the oldest of its kind in Connecticut, which serves as a repository and archive, for his columns; there are approximately 3,000 entrees in Connecticut Commentary: Red Notes From A Blue State, virtually all of them political columns stretching back to 2004. He also appears once a week Wednesdays on 1080 WTIC Newstalk radio with Will Marotti.

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