The sale of the Record-Journal building to the city would improve the newspaper’s financial position in the short term while helping with the move to a more efficient work space in the future. It would keep about 100 jobs in downtown Meriden for at least the next two years and prevent the shuttering of another vacant building. It fits in with the city’s plans to replace outdated public housing for the poor with mixed-income development as part of a transit-oriented district served by commuter rail between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield.
The purchase would be made with federal Housing and Urban Development grant money as the city seeks a private developer for the site, with the newspaper either remaining on a portion of the property under new ownership or moving to another privately owned site, preferably downtown. After outsourcing printing a few years ago and consolidating departments, the company only uses about a third of its building, which has been on the market since July 2012.
And yet, for all the sense it makes from a public policy and business standpoint, the deal would hardly be worth it if it compromised the Record-Journal’s viability as a credible news source. This is a newspaper, after all, and even temporary city ownership of the building is less than ideal.
But the ethical challenges this arrangement presents are certainly not insurmountable and won’t erode the newspaper’s journalistic integrity if we continue to observe the strict separation between the business and news sides of the operation.
That’s the plan, as always.
To date, we’ve provided honest and diligent coverage of the purchase and lease agreements, as we would for any other high-profile transaction between the city and a private business.
Newsroom employees were not privy to negotiations between the newspaper’s chief financial officer and the city manager, nor would that have been appropriate. When we became aware of those talks we didn’t sit on the story or approach it any differently.
As the City Council considers whether to approve the deal, the goal of the news staff remains only to inform the debate objectively and independent of internal business considerations.
If the agreement is approved, you won’t see any change in this newspaper’s long tradition of uncompromising watchdog journalism, just as the concerns of advertising and circulation have not been allowed to affect editorial decision-making in the past.
While the situation may be unique in this case, the need to guard against conflicts of interest and prevent business considerations from influencing coverage is hardly foreign territory for this or any other credible news organization.
I’m proud to say the Record-Journal has covered many difficult but important stories over the years where the only community institution willing to confront the issue at hand was the local newspaper — and often it did so in the face of withering criticism from public officials. That’s a testament to the ownership of the paper and the professionals who work here.
The R-J didn’t back down then and we have no intention of backing down in the future.
Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3