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After trying to buck trend, CT newspaper founded with Ralph Nader’s help succumbs to financial woes

Standing in a local bookstore, Andy Thibault, Editor and Publisher of The Winsted Citizen, left, looks over the paper's first issue with town planner Lance Hansen, center, as Winsted economic development director Ted Shafer, right, looks over his own copy, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Winsted, Conn.
Jessica Hill
/
AP
Andy Thibault, Editor and Publisher of The Winsted Citizen, left, looks over the paper's first issue with town planner Lance Hansen, center, as Winsted economic development director Ted Shafer, right, looks over his own copy, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Winsted, Ct.

After trying to buck a national trend of media closures and downsizing, a small Connecticut newspaper founded earlier this year with Ralph Nader’s help has succumbed to financial problems and will be shutting down.

An oversight board voted Monday to close the Winsted Citizen, a broadsheet that served Nader’s hometown and surrounding area in the northwestern hills of the state since February.

Andy Thibault, a veteran journalist who led the paper as editor and publisher, announced the closure in a memo to staff.

“We beat the Grim Reaper every month for most of the year,” Thibault wrote. ”Our best month financially resulted in our lowest deficit. Now, our quest regrettably has become the impossible dream. It sure was great — despite numerous stumbles, obstacles and heartaches — while it lasted.”

Nader, 89, the noted consumer advocate and four-time presidential candidate, did not answer the phone at his Winsted home Monday morning.

The Citizen’s fate is similar to those of other newspapers that have been dying at an alarming rate because of declining ad and circulation revenue. The U.S. has lost nearly 2,900 newspapers since 2005, including more than 130 confirmed closings or mergers over the past year, according to a report released this month by the Northwestern/Medill Local News Initiative.

By the end of next year, it is expected that about a third of U.S. newspapers will have closed since 2005, the report said.

In an interview with The Associated Press in February, Nader lamented the losses of the long-gone Winsted daily paper he delivered while growing up and a modern successor paper that stopped publishing in 2017.

“After awhile it all congeals and you start losing history,” he said. “Every year you don’t have a newspaper, you lose that connection.”

Nader had hoped the Citizen would become a model for the country, saying people were tired of reading news online and missed the feel of holding a newspaper to read about their town. He invested $15,000 to help it start up, and the plan was to have advertising, donations and subscriptions sustain monthly editions.

The paper published nine editions and listed 17 reporters on its early mastheads. Its motto: “It’s your paper. We work for you.”

In his memo to staff, Thibault said the Citizen managed to increase ad revenue and circulation but could not overcome an “untenable deficit.”

“Many staff members became donors of services rather than wage earners,” he wrote, “This was the result of under-capitalization.”

The money problems appeared to have started early. Funding for the second edition fell through and the Citizen formed a partnership with the online news provider ctexaminer.com, which posted Citizen stories while the paper shared CT Examiner articles, Thibault said.

Thibault said CT Examiner has agreed to consider publishing work by former Citizen staffers.

The Citizen was overseen by the nonprofit Connecticut News Consortium, whose board voted to close it Monday.

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