Here's Hoping This Treasured Paper Is Always Free To Be Au Courant
September 29 2006
Dear David Chase,
You don't know me, but I am a 20-year employee of The Hartford Courant, America's oldest continuously published newspaper, a newspaper that I love and one that represents an idea that I love even more.
I am writing because there is talk that you and your family are considering purchasing The Courant, or at least considering being part of a new ownership team should The Courant's present owner, Tribune Co., sell.
We can get into a discussion about the merits of local vs. absentee ownership of America's media - and I'd be happy to do that. Call me? But what I'd like to do is talk about the kind of boss I want to work for. That is cheeky of me, I know. But after 27 years in the news business, cheeky is all I've got.
When newspapers do what we're supposed to do, we are a vital part of our democracy, as much a part of the landscape as town meetings and campaign signs. When we are hitting our marks, people want The Courant in their homes. They may throw us across the room in anger some mornings, but they keep coming back. When we fulfill our mission - to use the highest journalistic standards to inform our fellow citizens about what is going on so they can make good decisions about their lives - we create a product that sells itself.
In this I am a big fan of that old populist John Dewey when he answered Walter Lippmann's call for an oligarchy back in the last century.
Dewey, a Vermont native, said an oligarchy is precisely what we don't need, and even though it is true, as Lippmann said, that democracy is a messy and tedious business, the alternative is something far less. Dewey knew that, to have a true democracy, we must have an unencumbered press. Otherwise we have a citizenry that relies too much on self-proclaimed experts. Otherwise we have a disenfranchised citizenry that can't even bother to vote; we have a society whose members all go slurp from the corporate trough, content when we ought to be angry, and angry when our favorite reality show is interrupted for a news break.
And the reading public sees right through it when we don't do our jobs.
(Can you hear, as do I, the strains of "This Land Is Your Land" swelling in the background? Cue the band, won't you?)
I'm sorry. It's hard not to get corny in this, the only job I ever wanted. My idea of democracy was forged watching my grandfather - Lloyd Marrs, Citizen - shake out the Joplin Globe every morning while he listened to the radio farm reports. You read the newspaper, and you go vote; read the newspaper, and go vote.
Here is where you come in. Knowing the local landscape as you do, you can set realistic profit goals. You can give allegiance to your hometown company and pour more of its profits - and we always make a profit - back into the enterprise. You can attend to the business end of things and then - and I mean this with the greatest respect - step the hell back and let us do our jobs. History is littered with the corpses of rich men who wanted to dabble in journalism. Journalism is not for dabblers.
And if you take the plunge, I can promise you this: The Courant will be like no other property you've owned. You will have employees who are tenacious and question everything - at least we're supposed to. You may not understand why we are so contentious, but at least you'll have fun.
And you will - I promise - make money.
My fondest prayer has been that distant owners will finally tire of us, as a cat will with a mouse. Local ownership isn't the only answer to pulling us from our much-publicized unease, but I think it's a good start. So yes. Cue the band.
Susan Campbell is at scampbell@ courant.com. or 860-241-6454.