Independent, Afternoon Daily Grows

By: Lucia Moses

Lucy Bartlett Crosbie, 72, was barely out of her teens when she took command of her family’s paper, The Chronicle in Willimantic, Conn. Then, as now, would-be buyers occasionally came knocking. A repeated caller was Thomas J. Dodd, a future U.S. senator and father of current Sen. Chris Dodd. “You know, I’d really like to buy this paper from you, little lady,” Crosbie recalled the elder Dodd saying.

But Crosbie, who served as publisher for 39 years, was committed to keeping the paper in family hands. On Jan. 4, the paper marked its 125th year of family ownership, dating back to 1877 when John McDonald, Crosbie’s great-grandfather, first published its forerunner, the Willimantic Enterprise. It was renamed The Chronicle two years later. Today, she is an active president, while her sons, Kevin and Vincent, serve as publisher and board member, respectively.

The Chronicle belongs to an elite group in U.S. newspaperdom, as Santa Fe, N.M.-based Dirks, Van Essen & Murray counts only 15 dailies that have been owned by the same company for 130 years or more. New England “used to be one of the last bastions of strong, independent newspapers,” said Morley L. Piper, executive director of the New England Newspaper Association, “but I think that’s changed a lot.”

The Chronicle has also bucked the trend toward morning publication. While the number of p.m. papers dwindles, The Chronicle is holding its own as an afternoon paper surrounded by a.m. dailies.

Willimantic, a former mill town now dominated by colleges and farms, supplies a modest but stable advertising and readership base. New-circulation-start and retention efforts helped boost daily circulation 7.81% in one year — to 10,423, as of March 31, 2001, from 9,668, as of March 31, 2000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations — although some of those gains were lost as the year went on.

While the market may be slow on growth, Lucy Crosbie is confident that local news and good service will keep The Chronicle strong. “We’re optimistic about the future,” she said. “If not, Kevin and Vincent and I would be on a beach somewhere instead of working like crazy.”

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